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After the Season of Storms

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"Mycroft."

Mycroft looked up at Greg Lestrade, who stood in the open doorway of the small infirmary. There was an expression of concern on his face. "Is she secured?" Mycroft asked.

"Yeah. Yeah, she's locked away. Hasn't said a word since we got to her. She's been completely unresponsive."

The news was an immense relief. If Eurus hadn't spoken to him, then Greg was still safe. Uncompromised. "Sherlock?"

"He's okay." Greg moved toward him, one hand extended cautiously. "John's okay. They're both alive, relatively unharmed, like I told you on the phone. How about you?"

Mycroft rose from the infirmary bed he'd been sitting on. He'd awakened in Eurus's cell, lying on the floor next to the body of the Governor, not knowing what had happened to Sherlock and John. Though he'd examined the cell thoroughly and was entirely familiar with the intricacies of its security system, there was no way for him to escape. It had been several stressful hours before Lady Smallwood's people arrived to let him out. "Fine," Mycroft said, though the slight tremor in his voice betrayed him.

Greg's hand rested gently on Mycroft's upper arm. "You don't look fine, Mycroft. You look like you've been through the wars. And I know you were involved in that explosion at Baker Street yesterday." He took a brief glance at his watch. "Day before yesterday, now. Has a doctor seen you?"

Mycroft shook his head. "Everyone here was compromised. No one could be trusted."

"All right, then. I'm here to take you home, but maybe we should see your doctor before that happens, once we're out of here." Greg's voice was soft and reassuring and he rubbed Mycroft's arm gently. Mycroft blinked a couple of times, trying to process the situation and the storm of alien emotions sweeping through him, confusing and barely identifiable.

"I… Yes, I suppose that would be wise. We were drugged at least once. I'm uncertain what was used, or what, if anything, was done to us while we were unconscious." He leaned slightly into Greg's touch, not realizing he had done so until Greg's hand slipped round him to rest against his lower back. Ordinarily, his first instinct would have been to shy away from such contact, but some animal part of him needed the reassurance after the terror he'd been through, and he didn't object.

"You're shaking." Greg guided him carefully out of the room.

"I hadn't noticed." Why hadn't he noticed? What else hadn't he noticed? "The past couple of days have been, well, a bit traumatic."

"A bit." Greg shook his head and put his arm around Mycroft. "You're cold, too. Where's your coat? You'll need one for the trip back."

"I don't know."

Greg sighed. "Right. Well, we'll commandeer one for you if we have to. There must be one about somewhere. Until then -- " He pulled his own coat off and draped it over Mycroft's shoulders. "Use mine until we get you another. I don't like you being so cold right now."

It was still warm from Greg's body. It smelled of him, of the salt air outside and the sea spray, with a very slight hint of cigarette smoke. Mycroft tugged it around himself, burrowing into that warmth. Greg's arm tucked around him again. "Thank you," Mycroft murmured.

He walked with Greg as the man asked after Mycroft's coat and arranged to have Mycroft's doctor available when they arrived in London. It didn't take long to turn up the coat and Mycroft returned Greg's to him, then put his own coat on. He found nothing in his pockets. "My phone is missing," he said, as they made their way to the lift that would take them to the helipad on the roof.

"You think she could break your encryption in the time it was in her hands?" Greg asked.

Mycroft nodded. "If she wished, yes. It would be child's play for her. That said, I brought a burner. There was nothing of consequence on it. I was concerned that there might be problems once we arrived. I considered it a necessary precaution."

"Like leaving Lady Smallwood with instructions to contact me if you didn't check in by a certain time?"

"Precisely." Mycroft sighed as they entered the lift. "I don't suppose you have a cigarette? It's been a very bad day."

Greg nodded. "I think so." He checked the breast pocket of his coat and pulled out a rumpled pack. "Yeah," he said, looking at it. "Got one left." He shook it partly out of the pack and offered it to Mycroft, who took it gratefully. The lift doors opened and they exited onto an enclosed area of the roof. Greg lit it for him, his hands close to Mycroft's face. The flame was warm and the bite of the tobacco smoke in his lungs eased some of the tension he felt. "Why me, though?" Greg asked as they walked out into the windy night. "I would have thought you'd have the MI5 lads here and whatnot. It's not like we're anywhere near London. I've got no authority out here. I mean, I don't even have clearance to know about places like this, much less to actually be here messing about with people like your sister."

"Your security clearance is much higher than you realize, Greg. And you're here because, frankly, you're the only person I've found I can trust." Mycroft could see the warring pride and confusion in Greg's face, but the man didn't respond. Security was heavier than usual due to the circumstances, and the helicopter was ready for departure, its engines making conversation difficult. Once Mycroft finished his cigarette, Greg steadied him as he climbed into the passenger compartment, and followed him in.

Private conversation wasn't possible during the flight, but it was too noisy to truly relax. He tried to make sense of what had happened, but found it hard to focus and spent long periods just staring out the window into the darkness, watching the scattered lights of the countryside passing below them. Mycroft nodded off several times, but roused with a start as he began to fall asleep. He was jittery by the time they arrived in London, his ears ringing despite the protective headsets. The sound and vibration had been exhausting and he was half dead on his feet when Greg helped him out onto the landing pad. He stumbled slightly and Greg wrapped an arm around him to steady him.

Mycroft's PA met them as they entered the building they'd landed on. "Sir, I've got your doctor waiting downstairs." She gave Greg a brief glance, noting the protective arm around Mycroft's back, but said nothing about it.

Mycroft nodded. "Thank you, Christina."

"Lady Smallwood is waiting to debrief you after your exam."

Mycroft frowned. "At this hour? Really. Sleep sometime this week should at least be penciled into my agenda." He followed her, with Greg silently supporting him as they walked.

"She is concerned, sir. The reports we received were contradictory at best."

"I'm kind of surprised she didn't meet you herself," Greg said. "This doesn't strike me as your normal remit, after all. I always thought you were more the desk type."

"Generally speaking, yes. There have been a few occasions, however, when" -- Mycroft grimaced -- "legwork has been necessary. I'm capable, but I loathe it." He shuddered, remembering the rescue mission to extract Sherlock after his faked suicide. The thought of his brother's battered, bloody form in the torturer's cell snapped him back to the moment only hours ago when he watched Sherlock put a gun to his own head, and his breath caught. Mycroft stumbled again, suddenly lightheaded and dizzy. It wasn't visible to Christina, who walked ahead of them, but Greg's arm tightened around him, and the look of concern on the man's face deepened.

"How much further?" Greg asked. Mycroft could hear the worry in his voice.

"A short trip in the lift, and then over to another wing of the building. Ten minutes, perhaps," Christina answered.

"You going to make it that far?" Greg's voice was quiet and close to Mycroft's ear.

Mycroft nodded. "I'm fine," he insisted with a grumble.

"You're not, but I'll take your word that you can walk that much further before you fall over."

Mycroft sighed the sigh of the put-upon, but it didn't come off as haughtily as he'd intended. It felt more like deflation. "I'm exhausted and somewhat stressed, not injured."

"And I've seen your brother faceplant in his food mid-sentence from exhaustion on more than one occasion," Greg countered. "You're human, not a machine, no matter how much you might claim otherwise."

Mycroft could only aspire to the status of machinery. His all-too-human biology was betraying him at every turn, leaving him feeling more like a quivering mess than a manifestation of his preferred and carefully cultivated image. He despised his own weakness and the transparency of his inadequacy. He hated feeling weak, and resented how much he needed Greg's arm around him, even as he craved the security of it. Greg's warm hand rubbed Mycroft's side reassuringly as they entered the lift and Mycroft let Greg bear some of his weight while they waited for it to descend.

Mycroft's doctor greeted him with questions about what had happened, which Mycroft answered as briefly as possible. He was asked when he'd last eaten or slept, and was given a cursory physical exam, though it did include blood and urine samples, considering the fact that Mycroft had, in fact, been unconscious due to sedation during the course of the ordeal.

"We'll have your lab results available tomorrow, but my initial impression is that there was no permanent harm done. Of course, you will be required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation," Dr. Trelane said, "considering what's happened. That must be done by Thursday, latest." Mycroft agreed to the appointment, albeit reluctantly, knowing that the doctor had the power to put him on mandatory medical leave if necessary.

Greg had waited outside the consulting office for him, and Christina led them to Lady Smallwood's office for the debriefing.

"You may stay, as I need to debrief you, as well, DCI Lestrade. Aside from your participation in the retrieval of Eurus Holmes, your lengthy association with the Holmes family would seem to provide you with a unique perspective that might be of some use to me in evaluating the situation."

"Of course, Lady Smallwood," Greg answered. He sat next to Mycroft, hovering a bit without quite seeming to. "That said, I would like to note that Mr. Holmes does appear to be in pretty desperate need of some food and sleep, so I'd like to beg your indulgence to make this brief and to do a more in-depth follow-up in a day or two on his behalf, as I doubt he'd make the request himself."

A hint of a smile touched her lips. "Mycroft?"

He hesitated for a moment. "I'm afraid the Inspector is correct. Ordinarily, I wouldn't make such a request, but it has been… it's been a very trying past few days, and I find I should very much like to give as brief a report as might be acceptable, and then elaborate when I've had some time to recover from the experience a bit." The thought of rest tugged at him like the tide and he found himself growing less steady by the moment.

"Entirely reasonable," she responded. "Given the situation leading up to this, I would suggest you take two or three days off when we're done here, and report back for the in-depth debriefing once you've had some rest."

"Thank you."

Lady Smallwood nodded. "Now, let's hear the essential details."

Mycroft offered an extremely edited version of the events of the night, which took about fifteen minutes. He spoke of their arrival at the facility, the psychological tortures that Eurus had subjected them to, including the situation with the girl in the plane, and the murders. Mycroft found himself hesitating as he described the choice Eurus had given Sherlock, and the pressure he had attempted to bring to bear so that his brother would choose to kill him, instead of John Watson.

Lady Smallwood said little, but took notes. Greg said nothing at all as he listened to Mycroft's report, but the expression on his face was tight and grim, and there was worry in his eyes when he looked at Mycroft.

"Eurus Holmes was nearly catatonic when I arrived at Musgrave," Greg said. "She didn't speak to anyone while she was in my presence. Dr Watson was rescued from a well where he'd been imprisoned; he'd been chained to the bottom of it, and water was being pumped in. The well contained the bones of a child, presumably those of Victor Trevor, who went missing in the 70s. Watson and Sherlock were, like Mycroft here, relatively unharmed physically speaking, but suffering from a good deal of psychological stress due to the extreme circumstances of the past day or so. They were going to be evaluated by emergency medical personnel after I departed from the scene." He looked over at Mycroft. "There was no girl in a plane. It was all your sister. Part of that sick game she was playing with you all."

Lady Smallwood asked a few more questions of him and then dismissed them both with instructions for Mycroft to report back to her on Thursday for a full debriefing.

Christina was waiting outside Lady Smallwood's office with hot takeaway when they left. "I got enough for both of you," she said, nodding to Greg.

"God, that smells fantastic. I could murder a curry right about now." Greg's stomach gave a muted gurgle and Mycroft realized that he, also, must have spent far too many hours without sleep or food since this had all begun.

"Thank you, Christina," Mycroft said. "I'll take the bags. There's no need for you to stay on any later. I can get home on my own. I will be in touch tomorrow, but I won't be in the office. I will, most likely, be back on Friday."

"Of course, sir." She nodded and handed him the bags. "Please get some rest. You look done in." A glance passed between Christina and Greg, and Greg nodded to her.

"We'd best go so we can eat before the food gets cold. My flat isn't that far from here." Mycroft tried to ignore the fact that he was swaying slightly as he stood in the hallway.

"Yeah, sounds like a plan," Greg said, taking the bags from Mycroft as Christina departed. He tucked an arm around Mycroft again, steadying him. "It sounds like you really did go through hell out there." His voice was quiet and Mycroft could hear the concern in it. "And Musgrave, that was where you grew up?"

Mycroft nodded as they walked. "Until Eurus set fire to it. We had to move after that. As you saw, the place was unsalvageable." Even after all these years, the loss still ached in him. He'd thought the old wounds had long ago scarred over, but this had torn him open and he was still reeling.

"I'm sorry."

"It was harder on Sherlock."

"It would be hard on anybody, Mycroft." Greg shook his head and sighed. "He's worried about you, you know. Told me you needed looking after. I was going to come anyway, but that was a bit of a shock, I have to admit."

Shock was an apt word -- Mycroft felt it, too. "I hardly know what to think right now." He started to speak but hesitated for a moment, trying to clear his head. There were too many emotions and they fogged his mind terribly. "I'm not sure I'm thinking very clearly at all, actually." And the fact that he could admit this to anyone was simply further evidence of how shattered he was.

"Couldn't hardly blame you if you're not."

Both of them fell silent as they entered the lift, and neither of them spoke during the drive, both men lost in their own thoughts. Greg sat close to Mycroft, their arms brushing from time to time as the car moved. When they arrived at Mycroft's flat, he invited Greg inside.

It took only a few minutes to boil water for some tea and put the food on plates, and they sat across from one another at the table. Ordinarily, if he were going to have a few days away from work, he'd have gone to the country house but, after Sherlock and John had invaded the place and deliberately terrified him, Mycroft felt far too exposed there. He was fairly certain the flat hadn't been compromised.

They ate, still quiet, mostly from exhaustion. When they were finished they carried the dishes to the kitchen and put them in the sink. "Just leave them," Mycroft said. "I'm not fit to deal with them tonight."

"You going to be able to sleep, do you think?" Greg put a hand on Mycroft's shoulder. It was warm and steady.

Mycroft shrugged. "I'm a little surprised I haven't simply passed out at the table." While the food and tea had helped a little, Mycroft still felt entirely out of sorts.

"I suppose I should head home, let you get some rest." He seemed reluctant, but turned to go.

Mycroft hesitated a moment, then said, "Wait, please." Greg turned back to him, a question in his eyes. "I just… after all that's happened, I'm…" There was an awkward pause.

"Do you want some company, Mycroft? If it'll put your mind at ease, I can sleep on the sofa. Have somebody here in case you need to talk, or whatever. It's not unreasonable after everything you've been through recently. It's okay to ask for some help, and I'm happy to do that if you want."

Both options left Mycroft feeling anxious, though for different reasons. "I… If you're sure. I'd hate to impose."

"It's no imposition. To be honest, I didn't much like the idea of leaving you here alone tonight. I'd feel better if you let me stay, just to make sure you're all right. I think I'd sleep better knowing you have somebody here."

Mycroft nodded. "Very well, then. Thank you. But there's no need for you to sleep on the sofa. I've a guest room. I can send someone to your flat for a change of clothes in the morning if you like."

"Sounds good."

Mycroft showed Greg to the guest room. "There's an en suite through that door," he said, "and there are towels and all the necessities that you'll require."

Greg nodded. "That's great, thanks." They stood for a moment, looking at one another. "If you need to talk at any point, Mycroft, just ask. It's okay if you wake me up. I'm here to help if you need it."

"Perhaps in the morning? I'm dead on my feet."

"Right. Before you go, though, is it okay if I try something? I mean, you don't have to say yes, but I'd like you to at least give it a try for a minute before you push me away."

Mycroft looked at him and raised a weary eyebrow. "You're going to hug me, aren't you?" He wasn't sure if he was alarmed or reassured.

"Well, yeah. I know some people don't like being touched and I've never been sure if you were one of them, or if maybe you just didn't have people touch you often enough to really know how to cope with it. You're still looking really rough, though, and I thought maybe it might help."

Mycroft opened his mouth to say no, but he allowed himself to consider it instead of simply reacting. Greg had touched him a number of times since he'd come to bring him home from Sherrinford. Rather than making him uncomfortable, though, Mycroft had actually found it steadying, much to his surprise. Hesitantly, he nodded. "I... can try."

Greg didn't say anything. He moved carefully into Mycroft's space and put his arms around him, then gently drew him close. Mycroft stood there stiffly for a few moments, arms at his sides, uncertain what to do with them.

"It's okay to hug me back if you're comfortable with that," Greg murmured.

Slowly, awkwardly, Mycroft returned the embrace. It took a little while to relax into it, but once he did, he realized that it was… warm. Greg's arms were warm and strong, and he was very gently rubbing Mycroft's back. "This is… much more pleasant than I would have thought," he whispered.

"Good. That's good." They stood like that for several minutes and, as Mycroft became more at ease with it, the growing physical and emotional warmth bloomed into a feeling of safety. He rested his chin on Greg's shoulder, eyes closed, and took a slow, deep breath. "You've finally stopped shaking," Greg said, his voice soft and gentle in Mycroft's ear.

"This is vaguely embarrassing, but I find that I don't want to let go." He hadn't realized how chilly he'd been before, and how much he had needed this. Even the tea and takeaway hadn't properly warmed him through.

Greg chuckled, and Mycroft tightened his arms around the man. "It's okay," Greg said. "Do you want to sit, then? Might be more comfortable. You really do need to sleep at some point." Mycroft nodded and Greg shifted them over a little so they could sit on the bed, still holding one another. "It's okay, Mycroft," Greg whispered. "It's okay to need somebody once in a while. It's okay to let somebody take care of you for a change. You're always taking care of everyone else and trying not to let them know that's what you're doing."

"I thought… I was quite certain I was going to die," Mycroft said. "I'd accepted the inevitable." He'd not intended to talk, but the situation had left him feeling raw and battered. There were too many years of painful silence behind all of it, and he was suddenly desperate for someone to know the weight of everything he'd carried alone for so long. "John and Sherlock, they propped themselves up, told themselves they had to be soldiers. I'm not a soldier, Greg, I'm an analyst. Sherlock wanted me to murder a man and I couldn't do it. I couldn't kill him. He shot himself, and Eurus murdered his wife anyway, and…"

"No, stop," Greg said. "It wasn't your fault. Nothing you did was going to save them, Mycroft. That wasn't the game she was playing."

"I should have… I make decisions regularly that cost lives, Greg. When we believed there was a child in a pilotless plane heading for a city, I didn't hesitate to offer a solution that would sacrifice the plane, and the child, for the larger number of people who would die if the plane went down in a heavily populated urban area. The decisions I've made, the orders I have given, the stupid things I've done, like letting Eurus have unsupervised access to Moriarty, have led to any number of deaths. Yet I couldn't take a gun in my hand and shoot one innocent man, not even when he begged me to, for the sake of his wife." Mycroft's voice shook as he flashed back into the moment when Sherlock had matter-of-factly held the gun out to him, believing that Mycroft would be perfectly capable of murdering someone in cold blood.

Sherlock had thought Mycroft could kill someone with his own hands. Sherlock, who had shot Magnussen in front of Mycroft without regard for the consequences, leaving him traumatized and scrambling to cover for him, hoping to save his brother's life, to shield him from treason charges, to keep him out of prison. He shuddered and Greg's arms tightened around him further. Mycroft's fingers fisted in Greg's shirt and he clung to him, ashamed to feel this kind of weakness and need, but devastated by all that had happened.

"On balance, Mycroft," Greg murmured, "I suspect those decisions have saved more lives than they cost. Someone has to make the hard choices. They're hard for a reason. And I don't believe for a moment that you're either stupid or evil."

Mycroft shook his head. "You don't know me very well. No one does, really."

"Well enough. And I think Sherlock has finally had his eyes shocked open enough to start to see you as you are, not as the monster he's been imagining all these years."

"I never gave him reason to believe otherwise."

Greg's fingers threaded through Mycroft's hair, slow and gentle. The touch was shockingly intimate even as it was comforting. Everything about what Greg was doing had Mycroft off balance, while drowning in an extremely disconcerting longing for more. "He was deliberately ignoring everything you ever did to help him, everything you ever did to try to save him from himself and from the messes he was continually getting into. I've seen you with him when he's been at his worst, and I know some of what he's done to you. You think I don't know that he's assaulted you on more than one occasion when he's been high? That he's hurt you? That I don't know the vicious things he says to you when he's angry?"

Mycroft drew a breath to object, but Greg kept on, not letting him speak. "Yeah, I've heard you claim that caring isn't an advantage, but it's always been so bloody obvious to me that you were mostly trying to convince yourself, and I finally understand why. You've had to deal with this alone for decades. You've had to keep these secrets that have been tearing you up and the only thing you could do was convince yourself that you didn't feel anything at all. Everything you've done, one way or another, it's all been trying to protect Sherlock, to protect your parents, to protect everyone around you. You try to convince people that you don't have any feelings and you've probably got a lot of people fooled. But I'm not, and I never have been."

"I've treated you miserably as well."

Mycroft felt Greg shrug. "Sometimes, yeah. Your brother's treated me worse, and on more occasions." Greg sighed. "You're a good man, Mycroft. I know you don't believe it, but it's true."

"I shan't argue it with you right now. I'm too exhausted to think clearly." He could feel himself starting to shut down entirely. Between the intense emotions, the physical exertions of the past couple of days, and the desperate uncertainties he felt, everything had begun to go a bit grey around the edges. His exhaustion was turning to vertigo and a painful dulling of his mind.

"Right," Greg said, gently shifting his weight. "Let's get you to bed, then, before you pass out right here."

Mycroft nodded and staggered to his feet with Greg's help. Greg took some of his weight as they walked to Mycroft's bedroom and helped him get his shoes off. Mycroft declined his offer of further assistance, not wanting the embarrassment of needing someone to undress him and get him into his pyjamas. "I'll see you in the morning," Greg said, giving Mycroft's shoulder a squeeze. He left and Mycroft only got his pyjama trousers on before he got into bed and surrendered to unconsciousness.

***

Sleep proved to be more elusive than Mycroft would have wished. Nightmares woke him repeatedly, though he did manage to get a little rest. Unable to shake the anxiety that gripped him, Mycroft got a book and tried to read; he wasn't able to focus and quit when he realized that he'd been reading the same paragraph repeatedly for the better part of the last thirty minutes.

Putting the book back on his bedside table, he called Christina and asked her to arrange for his mandatory psych evaluation, and to bring some of Greg's clothing 'round. It took her less than twenty minutes to schedule his appointment, and Greg's clean clothes arrived within the hour.

Greg was still asleep, but there was evidence that he'd had a restless night as well. Mycroft debated waking him, uncertain and knowing the man needed the sleep.

The text tone for Sherlock interrupted his thoughts. We're going to have to tell Mummy.

"Oh, good lord," Mycroft grumbled, rubbing his face with one hand. The very idea alarmed him. Telling his parents would be a disaster. He called Sherlock, slightly surprised when his brother actually answered. "We can't tell Mummy, Sherlock. Can you imagine the explosion?"

"Bits of it have been in the news already," Sherlock said. "They need to know what happened and why. You can't keep trying to hide this, Mycroft. It's going to be bad enough as it is. Maintaining denial will only make things worse. You know what will happen if she has to call you about it."

Mycroft couldn't help grimacing at the thought. "I'm beginning to think fleeing the country might be a viable option."

"You can't run from this, brother mine." Sherlock's voice lost some of its sharpness. "I know this was a mess."

"We both know Mummy is going to blame me for all of it, which is why I have no interest in revealing Eurus's continued existence. She'll want to see her, Sherlock, but she can't. You know how she is. And now you know why I've tried so hard to keep this away from the family."

"It's done, Mycroft. This isn't something you can engineer, the way you did with the video of Magnussen."

Mycroft scrubbed his face with the palm of one hand, still aching from that debacle as much as anything else. "No doubt another of my many 'spectacular failures' when it comes to attempting to protect you," he said. The entire situation had haunted his nightmares for months, and he couldn't help the sarcastic snap in his voice as he used Mummy's words. "Eurus wanted to kill you, Sherlock, from the time we were children. How could I allow her anywhere near you? How could I --" Mycroft's voice cracked and he fell silent, trying to hold himself together, despising the fact that it was suddenly so difficult.

"Is Greg still there?" Sherlock asked. "I assume so."

"In the guest room. Why?" He could hear his voice shaking.

"Talk to him. I sent him because you need someone to look after you right now. I'll call Mummy."

"Not at their house!" Mycroft insisted. He needed that much, at least.

"Your club, then. Pick me up in three hours." Sherlock rang off before Mycroft could respond, and he stared at the phone in his hand. Mycroft had never known Sherlock to use Greg's given name before. It was always some random name starting with G, or just Lestrade. The change was almost as much of a shock as finding out that Sherlock had told Greg to come to him had been. His entire world seemed to have been turned on its ear. He wasn't certain he could cope with any of it right now.

Setting the phone down, Mycroft looked over toward the guest room, only to see Greg standing there in the door, wearing pyjama trousers and a bathrobe. "Mycroft? I heard you talking. You sounded upset. Are you all right?" He looked a bit bleary, his short grey hair spiked in odd directions from his few hours of sleep. The fact that Mycroft found his appearance endearing was alarming.

"Sherlock is insisting that I have to tell Mummy about what happened."

"I take it that's not high on your list of things to do today."

Mycroft sighed. "It's trailing significantly behind family Christmas, actually. And you're aware of what happened last Christmas."

"Ouch."

"Indeed."

"Is there anything I can do that will help?"

"Sadly, no. Sherlock wants me to have him picked up in three hours. Presumably I'll have to arrange to have my parents delivered to my office at the Diogenes as well." Mycroft dropped his elbows onto his knees and buried his face in his hands. He heard Greg move behind him and felt warm hands on his shoulders.

"Then call Christina and have her arrange it. Get a little distance from the whole thing to pull yourself together long enough to talk to them." Greg's fingers squeezed gently and kneaded the tight muscles, thumbs pressing into the ligaments along Mycroft's spine and sliding up the back of his neck. "I wish you didn't have to deal with them today. You really need a break from anything stressful."

"That was never my fate," Mycroft said, not lifting his face from his hands. He shouldn't give in to this, he thought. He certainly didn't deserve to have anyone treat him with this sort of kindness, but he was still too emotionally drained to resist accepting what Greg offered.

Greg gave a sad sigh and his hands slipped down Mycroft's shoulders, then his arms circled Mycroft and he held him, his cheek pressed to Mycroft's temple. "I have to get to work soon, but you can call me when you're done with your parents, if you like." Mycroft raised his head a little and wrapped his arms around Greg's, pressing them closer. The fingers of Greg's left hand tangled with Mycroft's and tightened briefly. "Let me take you out for dinner tonight, okay?"

"I've taken more than enough of your time already." He didn't let go of Greg's arms. Part of him wanted to never let go of them, or of the unwarranted feeling of safety he had in the man's embrace.

"Bollocks. I'm offering because I want to, and because I'm concerned about you. I'm the one who gets to decide if you're taking up too much of my time, not you."

"Greg--"

"Oi, it is my time. If I want to spend it with you, that's my choice. You can say no if you really don't want my company, but don't pretend that I'm being forced into this." Greg released Mycroft and stepped back from the chair.

Mycroft looked up at him. "A fair point, I agree. I'll see how things go. I may be in no mood to have anyone around afterward."

"Fair enough," Greg said. "But if you need me, I'm available. If you want to talk, or if you just want to sit there and have some dinner without saying a word, it's all fine with me."

Mycroft tilted his head slightly, contemplating the situation. "What did you have in mind?"

Greg shrugged. "No idea, yet. If you have a preference, let me know. If you're not sure or you can't make up your mind, I can decide when we get to it. Sometimes, when people get too stressed, they can find it hard to make a decision about simple stuff. It's okay if you're not sure what you might want, and I certainly don't expect you to know right now. We've got all day to figure it out."

"We have a tentative agreement, then." Mycroft stood as Greg smiled. "It seems both of us have things we must attend to. Your clothing for the day is on the kitchen table. Christina sends her regards. I'll have a driver take you to work when you're ready."

Greg nodded. "Thanks. Easier than getting a cab."

Mycroft turned toward his own room then looked back at Greg. "Thank you. I do appreciate your being here last night."

"It's all good, Mycroft." Greg made his way to the kitchen for his clothing, and Mycroft went to arrange transportation for his parents and get himself ready for a trying day.

***

Sherlock arrived at the Diogenes shortly before their parents did. "Why did you have to insist upon this today Sherlock?" Mycroft grumbled. He really felt in no condition to be dealing with Mummy's judgmental attitude and what was sure to be Sherlock's glee at his discomfort.

"Because it will only be worse if we wait. You know that. We should get it over with quickly." Sherlock leaned against the wall and stared at Mycroft, impatient and restless.

Mycroft hunched slightly behind his desk, shoulders slumped, not wanting to deal with the situation at all. "It will only be over quickly for you. I shall never be allowed to forget that I lied to her, regardless of my reasons or how terribly dangerous Eurus is, and always has been."

"What's the situation out there now?"

Mycroft sighed. "She hasn't spoken a word. Won't respond to anything, won't acknowledge anyone. Nothing seems to reach her at all. I doubt anything will again."

"What did--" Sherlock was interrupted by the arrival of their parents.

"Mikey, why did you call us to this ridiculous club of yours, and what on earth happened last night at Musgrave?" Mummy was in fine form, and Father, as usual, trailed quietly in her wake.

"It's Mycroft, Mummy. You know that, as you're the one who named me." Of course she would open with that persistent irritant, infantilizing him and trying to diminish him. "Please, have a seat. Would either of you like some tea or coffee?" He gestured at the chairs in front of his desk. Father sat, but Mummy remained on her feet. Sherlock leaned against the door behind them, arms crossed, head down.

"No, I'd like to know what's going on, and what it is that you've done this time."

Mycroft sighed and braced himself. "Eurus happened yesterday. She's still alive, Mummy."

"Alive? For all these years? How is that even possible?" The shock on her face was painful but not at all surprising.

"What Uncle Rudy began…" Mycroft hesitated, not able to look at her. "I thought it best to continue."

"I'm not asking how you did it, idiot boy -- I'm asking how could you?"

"I was trying to be kind," Mycroft said, looking up hesitantly.

"Kind?" Mummy gasped and repeated, "Kind? You told us that our daughter was dead!"

"Better than tell you what she had become," Mycroft said, regretful. "I'm sorry."

Father stood and leaned on the desk, glowering down at Mycroft. "Whatever she became, whatever she is now, Mycroft, she remains our daughter."

"And my sister," Mycroft reminded them, wishing that they understood how painful this was for him, as well, but knowing they never would.

"Then you should have done better," Mummy snapped at him.

Sherlock murmured, "He did his best."

Mummy's fury was unabated. "Then he's very limited."

Mycroft looked over at Sherlock, surprised by his unprecedented, if quiet, defense.

Father asked, "Where is she?"

"Back in Sherrinford, secure this time," Mycroft told him. "People have died. Without doubt she will kill again if she has the opportunity. There’s no possibility she’ll ever be able to leave." They had to be made to understand how dangerous Eurus was, how impossible the entire situation had been -- still was. Sherlock nodded to him, silent.

Father leaned down and demanded, "When can we see her?"

"There's no point."

"How dare you say that!" Mummy was furious and Mycroft knew there was nothing he could do to change that.

Mycroft closed his eyes and focused, becoming insistent himself, despite everything. "She won’t talk. She won’t communicate with anyone in any way. She has passed beyond our view." Mycroft looked up to see Sherlock staring at the floor. He turned his attention to Mummy. "There are no words that can reach her now."

Mummy looked over at Sherlock. "Sherlock." She gave him a questioning look. "Well? You were always the grownup. What do we do now?"

Her words cut deep. Mycroft knew that she was in deep denial about Sherlock's drug abuse, and about his frequently infantile behavior, but he had accepted long ago that Sherlock was her darling and that her eldest child would never be anything more than a failure to her. He tried to shut the emotions down; right now, hurt and anger would be of no use. Sherlock said nothing, but Mycroft could see he was thinking about the situation. Mummy watched him for a few moments, until Sherlock looked back up at her. "Give me time to consider it," he said.

"But we need to make plans," Mummy insisted. "We have to see her, to let her know that we didn't deliberately abandon her."

Sherlock shook his head. "Not yet. This needs to be handled very carefully. You honestly don't understand what we're dealing with. And you don't understand at all how much Mycroft has suffered through all of this." He looked at Mycroft. "I didn't either, until yesterday."

"Thank you," Mycroft murmured, shocked by his brother's words.

"Mycroft?" Mummy said, clearly astonished by Sherlock's response. "That boy is nothing more than a machine."

"Stop it, Mummy," Sherlock snapped. "Just stop." Mummy gaped, her mouth open, eyes wide. Sherlock stood away from the wall and walked over to Mycroft's desk, placing himself bodily between her and Mycroft. "There is nothing that can be done today. It's best you both go home now. We'll give you more details as they become available. When we have a plan in place, I will let you know. Don't contact Mycroft about this until I've called you." Father opened his mouth to speak but Sherlock said, "Not you, either, Father. Neither of you has any idea about the enormity of what happened yesterday. Beyond the fact that she blew up my flat a couple of days ago with me, John, Mrs Hudson, and Mycroft in it, I'm not prepared to talk about it just yet, and neither is he." Sherlock gestured toward Mycroft with one hand. "When we do tell you, I think you might look a little more kindly on the decisions he's had to make."

Mummy's shock was nearly physical in its impact, but Father looked at Sherlock and Mycroft. He nodded and shepherded her out without further comment. When the door closed behind them, Sherlock slumped against Mycroft's desk and Mycroft buried his face in his hands.

"I'm sorry," Sherlock said. "I've seen her doing this for years, and I always thought you deserved it. I was wrong."

Mycroft just nodded, silent, completely unable to even process Sherlock's unprecedented apology.

"Can we consider this a détente, of sorts, between us?" Sherlock asked. He sounded genuinely concerned.

"Yes," Mycroft whispered. It was the perfect word from Sherlock's point of view, he thought. A lessening of political tensions between two forces that had long been in opposition. The fact that Mycroft had never actually been an opposing force still didn't seem to quite be registering with his brother, but that realization would likely be some time in coming. It was progress, at least.

Sherlock sighed. "I didn't think it was going to be quite as bad as all that."

"It's always as bad as all that," Mycroft said. "Without fail."

"You should call Greg."

Mycroft looked up. "It's barely lunchtime. He's at work."

Sherlock shrugged. "It doesn't matter. He'll come for you."

"You're assuming a great deal."

Sherlock stared at him for a moment. "You really are an idiot sometimes. Think, Mycroft. Really think about how he acts around you. At the very least, you need a friend, brother mine. You probably need more than that, but I'm not exactly one to judge, am I? I can assure you from experience that he is very good at that whole friend business. He's kind, he's patient, he's far more forgiving than he really ought to be, he's loyal to a fault, and he tolerates us both remarkably well for an ordinary human being."

"That he does," Mycroft agreed.

"He's not entirely stupid."

"No."

"From what I understand, he's not unattractive, either."

Mycroft raised an eyebrow. "I didn't think you noticed such things."

"I don't, but I do observe how people react to him. He tends to attract positive attention, even if he doesn't notice it."

"And what does his attractiveness have to do with anything?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. I've seen how you react to him." He snorted.

"That's really enough, Sherlock." Mycroft leaned back in his chair, trying to distance himself from the thought.

"Call him. Talk to him. You might even consider being honest with him. I think he deserves that much."

"I'll take it under advisement."

"Go home, Mycroft. Eat something and get some sleep. You look like you've been trampled by rogue llamas. I'm sure you still feel awful. I know I do." Sherlock stalked out before Mycroft could formulate a response to the llama assertion.

He took a few minutes to pull himself together again. His psych eval would be tomorrow and the last thing he needed was blatant evidence of unfitness to manifest during the interview. Mummy's predictable venom had shaken him. Mycroft was certain he deserved at least some of it. He'd made mistakes, of that there was no doubt. Exactly what needed to be done to correct them was going to take time to determine. The very idea of his parents being exposed to his sister terrified him. If she did start speaking to people again, if she got her hooks into Mummy and Father -- Mycroft wondered if suicide might be preferable to whatever she might set Mummy up to do to him. He wasn't certain he could face another day like yesterday.

Mycroft sighed. He really did need that psych eval, didn't he? He pulled his phone from his pocket and called Greg.

"Mycroft? You all right?" Greg obviously had been waiting for his call, and the concern in his voice was clear. Perhaps Sherlock's assertions had some merit.

"Not really," Mycroft admitted.

He could hear Greg rise from his desk. "Where are you? Should I meet you?"

"I'm at the Diogenes."

"I'll be right there. Do you need some lunch?"

Mycroft wasn't that hungry, but he wasn't sure he could trust his body's perceptions at the moment. "More than likely."

"Okay, we'll get something together."

"Why, Greg?"

"Why what? Why am I bringing you lunch?"

"No," Mycroft said. "Why are you being so kind to me?"

Greg sighed. "Mycroft, there have been times in my life when I really needed somebody who was willing to do that for me -- bring me lunch, or listen to me when I was feeling awful, or even just give me a bloody hug, and I haven't had that very often. So here you are, needing somebody, and here I am knowing what that feels like, and I thought I could be that person for you. Be the person I wish I'd had."

"I see. I… Thank you."

Greg's voice faded slightly as he called out to one of his underlings. "Hey, Barclay, I'm out of here, probably for the day. Call if there's an emergency, but I'm not available otherwise. Something just came up -- yeah, follow-up on that mess from yesterday." He returned his attention to the phone. "Right, Mycroft. I'm on my way. Be there soon."

"Thank you," Mycroft said, again. The call ended and Mycroft tucked the phone back into his pocket. He wondered if it was too early for whisky.

***

When Greg entered the office, Mycroft was lost in thought. "Do you know what you want for lunch?" he asked.

Mycroft looked up, startled for a moment. "No, not really."

"Well it's a good thing I brought some fish and chips, then." Greg smiled a small, crooked smile and proffered a bag, setting it on Mycroft's desk, then pulled up a chair and sat with him.

"Fish and chips."

"Good for what ails you," Greg insisted cheerfully.

Mycroft reached for the bag. "Did you get mushy peas?"

"Of course." Greg gestured to the bag that Mycroft held. "Well, we can't eat it through the paper."

With a sigh, Mycroft opened the bag and pulled out the two portions of fish and chips. He set one before Greg and nibbled on a chip from the other, trying to decide if he was actually hungry. Greg watched him for a moment then took a chunk of fish and dipped the end of it into some tartare sauce before biting into it with a satisfied hum.

The chip didn't offend Mycroft's stomach, so he took another and scooped up a little of the peas with it and ate that, realizing suddenly that he was actually hungry. The two pieces of fish didn't last long, and he ate half the chips as well. Greg didn't attempt to talk with him as he ate, for which he was grateful.

"Thank you," Mycroft said when he finished, wiping the grease from his fingers. "I'll need to go wash up."

"Yeah, no problem." Greg unselfconsciously sucked the end of one finger where he'd got a bit of tartare sauce. Mycroft tried not to notice. "I'll need to as well in a minute, here."

The man was a terrible distraction, but distraction seemed to be what Mycroft desperately needed. He washed his face as well, trying to clear his head, but even that didn't seem to take the edge off the thick anxiety in his chest.

When they were both finished, Greg stood by Mycroft's desk. "Bad one, huh?"

"Appalling," Mycroft said. "Sherlock went as far as defending me, if you can believe it."

"Really?"

"I know. I was surprised as well." Mycroft took his coat from the rack by the door and put it on, needing to go home to his flat. The office was oppressive, and a trace of Mummy's perfume still hung in the air.

"Do you need company, or did you just want lunch?" Greg asked.

Mycroft looked down at the floor then back up at Greg. "Company might be acceptable."

"Talk or just company?"

"Just your company until we get to my flat. I'm not certain beyond that."

Greg nodded. "No worries." He followed Mycroft out to the waiting car. They both settled into the back for the short drive, Mycroft staring out the window and Greg sitting quietly, glancing at Mycroft from time to time. His solid presence helped still some of the chaos roiling in Mycroft's thoughts and emotions.

It wasn't until they were sitting in Mycroft's lounge with cups of tea in hand that Mycroft finally spoke again. "They want to visit her."

"What?!" Greg set his cup down abruptly, slopping the tea into the saucer but managing not to spill it on the occasional table. "You can't be serious."

"Mummy asked Sherlock, as the adult in the room, to find a way for them to see her."

Greg buried his face in his hands. "Oh, for fuck's sake." He rubbed his palms over his face and looked back up at Mycroft, his brown eyes searching Mycroft's face. "The adult? Seriously? Has she ever met the two of you?" Greg sighed. "Sorry, I'm being ridiculous, but that's just…" He didn't complete the sentence.

"They don't really know anything about what happened, about what she's become. They knew, of course, about Victor Trevor's disappearance, about the fire. They had to agree to her institutionalization, after all. Sherlock mentioned the explosion at Baker Street. Beyond that, they have no idea what happened at Sherrinford, and they don't know why Uncle Rudy felt it was necessary to tell them she'd died in a fire at the previous facility that held her."

"I only know what you told me about yesterday, and the little bit I got briefed on before I got sent in, but that by itself was bad enough."

"I was trying to protect them."

"It's what you always do," Greg said, gentle but earnest.

Mycroft nodded. "I seem to go about it in entirely the wrong ways, far too often, at least according to Mummy. Father was equally unhappy with the news."

"Yeah, can't imagine anyone would be thrilled to find out about it. Then again, Sherlock faked a suicide not that long ago and was gone for a couple of years."

"They blame me for that, as well." Mycroft sipped at his tea, resigned to his familial role of scapegoat. "Sherlock, of course, held no responsibility whatsoever for his supposed death, and they were thrilled when he returned. I'm sure they feel that the two situations are a parallel culpability on my part."

"Sherlock's the golden child who can do no wrong, then." Mycroft nodded. "And you?"

"I was fat, awkward, bookish, and gay. It didn't help that I was unexpected, and the reason that Mummy left a promising career in mathematics."

"How did Eurus fit into all that?"

"She was their great hope," Mycroft said. "She was so far beyond me that we could all only regard her with a species of wonder. Mummy loved Sherlock but she adored Eurus, and it was terribly hard for her to accept that her best beloved child wanted to murder her favoured son. She was in denial until Eurus burned Musgrave. Even then, she hoped that there was some way to save her from her pathologies. Somehow, I ended up taking the blame for that, as well. I was supposed to be watching them that night; Mummy and Father were out dancing." Mycroft couldn't help the bitterness in his words.

Greg's question was cautious. "How old were you, Mycroft?"

"Fourteen."

Greg closed his eyes and sighed. "You were still just a kid yourself. Just because you're a genius doesn't mean you weren't still a kid."

"Even then, Uncle Rudy was preparing me to follow in his footsteps. The position I hold was his until he retired. I was enough of an adult to be trusted with highly classified information."

"It doesn't mean you should have been left in charge of a child who was intent on murdering someone." Mycroft could hear the controlled anger in Greg's voice.

"It was decades ago, Greg. What's done is done. There's no point in being angry now on my behalf."

Greg shook his head. "There is, Mycroft. Just trust me, there is."

"Sherlock has at least acknowledged that his perception of me, and of how Mummy acts toward me, is not what he initially assumed. He did, as I mentioned earlier, come to my defense today. He suggested a détente between us, of all things." And Mycroft was still trying to work his way through that.

"I'm glad for that, at least. About damned time. When he told me to look after you, I hoped maybe it meant things would change between you for the better. That kind of thing takes time. Your mum, though, that's another story."

"I'm not blameless, Greg. I never have been. I did choose to keep the truth from her, even if I felt it was for their safety."

Greg stood and went to Mycroft, putting a hand on his shoulder. He looked down into Mycroft's eyes. "You kept the truth from me about Sherlock, too, but I understand what happened and why. Make Sherlock explain it to her, because it doesn't sound like she would listen to you. If she understands, maybe she'll be like Sherlock. Maybe she'll see you a little differently."

Mycroft reached up and put his hand over Greg's, his fingers closing around it. The hand on his shoulder was an anchor for him. He held Greg's gaze. "I'm not holding out a great deal of hope."

Greg nodded. "Yeah, I can understand that." He hesitated for a moment. "I know it's probably not worth very much in comparison, but I want you to know that I'm on your side. I think you've been trying to do the right things, even if they haven't always worked out the way you intended. If I can back you up or support you in any way on this, all you have to do is say the word. I've always had your back when it came to Sherlock. I can be here for this, as well."

His words broke something open in Mycroft and his chest ached with it. He closed his eyes, trying to hold back a wave of emotion that threatened to drown him. No one had ever offered him that kind of personal loyalty before, but Sherlock had said it earlier himself -- Gregory Lestrade was loyal to a fault. What he offered was genuine and guileless, rooted in kindness and compassion. "On the contrary," Mycroft whispered, trying to keep his voice steady. He opened his eyes, seeing the concern on Greg's face. "It's the most significant thing that's ever been offered to me."

A moment of realization dawned in Greg's eyes. "Mycroft," he said, "have you never had a friend before? Anyone at all? Not even when you were a kid?"

Mycroft shook his head. "No."

"This is what friends do, Mycroft. They take care of each other."

"There was no one, Greg. Until Sherlock was born, I was never around other children. We were educated at home. I was almost exclusively, though Sherlock attended school when he was older. Even then, I was told that people couldn't be trusted, that emotional entanglements were a liability."

"Who told you that?"

"Uncle Rudy. He said he was preparing me for my responsibilities, and that allowing anyone to affect me emotionally would have a negative impact on my ability to analyze information and make impartial decisions about issues that could have global significance." Mycroft looked away, gazing out the window. "You see where sentiment has brought me. I tried to protect and care for my siblings, but Eurus is permanently unfit for human company. Sherlock... Sherlock's attachment to Victor was part of what pushed him into a state of denial over what happened, what blocked his memories."

"Sounds like your uncle really messed you up. Took an awkward, isolated, brilliant kid and tried to turn him into a machine rather than giving him the tools he needed to handle his brilliance and his emotions at the same time. You were able to do the work, but you weren't able to handle the tragedy and the trauma of everything that happened."

Mycroft nodded, despite his reluctance to accept the truth of Greg's words. "I suspect you're correct. I feel… I feel damaged and I find that distressing."

"That's why you need to talk to a professional, Mycroft. You need somebody who can help you sort through all that, find a way to function while you're figuring this out, and learn how to move past it. Friends can only do so much, and I'm not trained for that. After all these years, that trauma is still influencing everything in your life, still messing up your whole family, and what happened yesterday only added more fuel to that fire."

"Why would you care?" Mycroft asked, genuinely confused. He withdrew his hand from Greg's. "I know what you said before, but this is on an entirely different level. It's not the concern someone might show for an acquaintance. It's much more deeply personal. Why are you offering me your friendship and your loyalty? I'm possibly the least likeable individual you've ever met. Aside from my intelligence, my most notable personality traits are arrogance and emotional constipation."

Greg laughed. "Oh, Mycroft, you really believe that, don't you?"

"You obviously don't." He wasn't sure if he was offended or reassured by Greg's laughter.

"You're right," Greg said, no longer laughing, "I don't. You want to know what I see when I look at you? You want me to tell you about the man I've been slowly getting to know over the last decade or so?"

Mycroft looked at him with curiosity. "I think I would, considering I apparently don't know the same man."

"The Mycroft Holmes I know is a man who loves intensely but doesn't know how to handle that kind of emotion, so he tries to hide it from the world. He's a mother hen who has problems respecting other people's boundaries, but he's protective as hell of the people that he cares about." Greg took a deep breath. "You've got walls around you like some medieval fortress, Mycroft, but there are holes in them that you could drive a lorry through. You're stubborn and used to getting your way more often than maybe you ought to. You're lonely but you can't admit it, because that would mean you'd have to let someone in, and you've never found anyone you could trust enough to see you that vulnerable."

The words were like a stab to the gut. Greg's voice softened, and Mycroft shivered under the hand that was still on his shoulder. "Please, Mycroft. Let me in. You told me yesterday I was the only person you could trust. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm not going to spill your secrets to anyone. I'm not going to take advantage of you. I don't want your money or your influence."

"What is it that you do want, then?" Mycroft asked. "Everyone wants something."

"I want the opportunity to get to know you better. I want to help you get through this. You're the most amazing person I've ever met. Sherlock is brilliant, yeah, but you…" Greg sighed and shook his head. "I think I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure you out."

The thought was bewildering. "You do realize that most people are afraid of me."

Greg nodded. "Yeah, I've seen that. You do realize that I'm not most people."

"That's been apparent for years. Your interactions with Sherlock are ample evidence of that fact." Greg squeezed Mycroft's shoulder before letting it go, and Mycroft leaned back in his chair, regarding the man, his head tilted slightly to one side. "You're right," Mycroft continued quietly. "I do trust you. There are a few individuals who know more about me than you do -- Christina, for instance -- but that has to do with security clearances and the nature of my work. In personal terms, Greg, I let you in a long time ago. You know more about me than anyone outside of my family. Despite the fact that I've tried to keep you at a distance, it's never been truly possible. Your friendship with my brother guaranteed that.

"I would tell you that this puts you at considerable risk, but that holds true for working so closely with Sherlock, as well. We've both obviously had concerns for your safety before; Moriarty was a case in point, and your life wasn't the only one at stake when Sherlock had to disappear. But what you're offering, that kind of personal connection to me -- frankly, it adds layers of complication to our working relationship as well as exposing both of us to new vulnerabilities. Are you certain that's something you're willing to live with?"

Greg shrugged. "Seems to me that's already the case, yeah? When Sherlock's been in trouble, we're the first on each other's call list. I've spent a lot of time in your company already. Anybody with eyes knows I'm close to you. I guess my question is, are you willing to stop trying to keep me at a distance and just let me be a part of your life without using your brother as a barrier?"

"You were his friend first."

"Doesn't mean he's more important to me." Mycroft drew a shuddering breath and covered his face with his hands briefly.

"There are moments," Mycroft said, "when you frighten me terribly." He looked up at Greg, who stood before him patiently. "I could…" His voice quieted. "I could become very fond of you, very easily. I'm not sure what to do with that. Nor what you would think of it."

"If that happened," Greg murmured, "I would be okay with it. Might even find myself feeling the same."

The response sent a shiver through Mycroft and he swallowed, though his mouth was dry. "I see."

"Glad we're on the same page."

"What happens now?" Mycroft asked.

Greg reached out and offered his hand. Mycroft took it and Greg tugged, bringing Mycroft to his feet. He opened his arms and Mycroft, after a moment's hesitation, accepted the offer. "Now," Greg said, his breath warm on Mycroft's skin, "we make sure you're functional again. We see what we can do about the nightmares -- I know you were having them last night. We make sure you get into counseling, because I also know that your job is going to require it after the eval Lady Smallwood and your doctor insisted on yesterday."

Mycroft sighed, resting his chin on Greg's shoulder as they held one another. "I'm not looking forward to that at all," he admitted. "I've never liked the idea, though I do understand why these things are required after such experiences."

"You're human, Mycroft. Even the strongest people need help sometimes. You've been dealing with this alone for too long. Of course it's taken a toll on you." Greg rubbed Mycroft's back gently and Mycroft slowly relaxed into it. "Thank you for being willing to let me be here for you."

"I can't guarantee that I'm always going to be terribly cooperative. I don't really have much experience with…" He trailed off, not entirely certain what to call what was happening between them.

"Relationships?" Greg offered.

Mycroft nodded. "Yes, that. I've spent most of my life convinced that I needed no one. Sherlock suggested not long after his return that I should, perhaps, find myself a companion. I told him I wasn't lonely." He sighed. "I was lying, to both of us."

"I've had quite a few of them, but that doesn't mean I'm an expert. I mean, my ex was running around on me for years before we finally split. It's not like I have the best track record myself, but we can try. We're going to stumble around each other and make stupid mistakes now and then. That's just how these things go. I don't expect you to be perfect, Mycroft."

"You'd be the only one."

"You just need some time to get used to the idea." Greg held him a little more tightly for a moment and let him go. "Are you doing a bit better now, having some lunch and being back home again?"

Mycroft considered the question. Food had actually helped. His stomach was more settled now. A fair bit of his anxiety had eased as they talked, and Greg's embrace had been a stabilizing influence. He'd never really considered the effect that physical contact might have on him if it were actually desired rather than merely tolerated. Touch had, too often in his life, been used against him as a weapon. "Yes, I believe so."

"Steady enough that I can head back to work now?" Greg's brown eyes gazed into his own, assessing.

"I am," Mycroft assured him. "Are you still planning to join me for dinner?"

"So long as you want me to, yeah."

"Consider it an invitation to dine here, then. I'll have something delivered."

"Would you rather come to mine? I could cook if you like."

The idea of being outside of his own space was off-putting, affording too much vulnerability in an already over-sensitive time. "I'm not sure I would feel comfortable leaving familiar territory at the moment, though I do appreciate your offer."

Greg nodded to him. "No worries, I understand. Back here, then. Around seven?"

"That's acceptable. I have to prepare myself for tomorrow's evaluation. I probably should make some effort to sleep tonight." He walked Greg to the door, and they had a slightly awkward moment that ended in another brief hug before Greg headed back to his office. Mycroft closed the door behind him and stood there for a moment with his hand resting on the cool, solid wood. He wondered if he was doing the right thing.

If he was going to have a dinner guest, he had arrangements to make.

***

Mycroft spent the afternoon restless and unable to focus on anything for very long. After Greg's departure, his anxiety rose once again. He called Sherrinford, feeling slightly paranoid and wanting to be certain of Eurus's location and disposition. Both remained unchanged, but he was half-tempted to return and see for himself. He knew the desire was more than a little irrational. The woman who had temporarily taken charge of the facility asked him, "What shall we do with her violin?"

"Leave it with her," he said. "Perhaps she'll avail herself of it if she ever chooses to acknowledge anything in her environment again." The music had been the only thing she'd consistently showed any positive interest in and that, at least, was harmless.

Harmless.

Mycroft rang off with the temporary governor and called Sherlock.

"What now?" Sherlock was gruff, but Mycroft was surprised he'd bothered to answer at all. "I'm in the middle of arranging for cleanup at Baker Street."

"I've thought of something regarding Eurus, but it will require your cooperation. I suspect it will be a long-term project."

He could hear Sherlock moving about. "Oh?" There was a crash as his brother tossed something. "How dangerous is this likely to be?"

"If she eventually starts speaking again, it could be disastrous, but the idea itself has nothing to do with speaking to her, and it should work even if she never becomes verbal again."

"Continue."

"Music, Sherlock."

"Oh." He sounded intrigued. "I do believe you could be onto something, brother mine."

"I'm glad you agree." Mycroft considered the odds of the project sparking a return of their sister's ability to speak, but thought them quite low for the foreseeable future. "How would you feel about making regular visits with your violin?"

Sherlock thought for a moment. "I won't have time for several weeks. Repairs at Baker Street are going to take precedence over everything and, at the moment, there seems to be some chance of John returning to the flat with Rosie once we have things back as they ought to be."

"I assume you're staying with him at the moment."

"Of course."

"I'm glad you're working things out with him."

"As am I." There were more sounds of things being moved, pushed about, and dropped. "Did you talk to Greg?"

Mycroft nodded, though he knew Sherlock couldn't hear it. "Yes. He'll be joining me for dinner this evening."

There was silence on Sherlock's end for several moments. "You may want to get some advice on the care and feeding of goldfish," he finally said. "Don't screw this up, Mycroft. You need him."

Mycroft's eyes closed and he drew a careful breath. "I know," he replied. "I can't say that I ever expected to be in such a position."

"Do you even have anyone you could -- NO! DO NOT DROP --" There was a loud and rather dangerous-sounding crash at Sherlock's end of the line. "...that."

"Oh, dear. Perhaps I should allow you to give your full attention to whatever crew of street urchins you've recruited for your project."

"I'm paying people from my homeless network. They aren't 'street urchins'."

"Far be it from me to discourage your charitable endeavours."

Sherlock sighed. "Talk to someone. But don't talk to me. I'm busy." He rang off. The whole thing, while vaguely acrimonious in places, was considerably more positive than Mycroft had initially hoped for.

Sherlock's half-formed question -- did Mycroft have anyone he could talk to about forming potentially intimate relationships -- was an uncomfortable one. Such conversations were, allegedly, the sort one had with friends, and Mycroft had none. He was going to be pushed into counseling, but that was supposed to deal with Eurus and his fitness for work. He didn't think that such personal issues were likely to be fruitfully discussed with a psychiatrist assigned by his employers. The idea of turning to something as tawdry as a popular self-help book appalled him.

Research. That, of course, was the only possible path. Surely there were experts on human behavior who could be consulted, or at least who had published useful dissertations on the topic. Mycroft took himself to his home office and buried himself in his laptop.

***

Mycroft ordered Italian from one of his regular takeaway places and it arrived shortly before Greg did. Prosciutto e melone with a fat, fresh burrata for a cold antipasto, and penne with a duck sauce had sounded good; Mycroft hoped that Greg would appreciate them. They weren't on the usual menu, but Mycroft had a longstanding arrangement with the management, and such things could easily be procured. He'd chosen a Moscato wine from Sicily for the antipasto and a heavier red Sangiovese which he'd uncorked to allow it to breathe. It would complement the rich tomato-based sauce of the pasta dish.

"I stopped by Baker Street after I left this afternoon," Greg said. He took off his coat and hung it, then followed Mycroft into the dining room. "I've got no idea what on earth it was about, but Mrs. Hudson told me to tell you she doesn't think you're entirely a reptile? What the hell did she mean by that?"

"I angered her a few weeks ago. She called me a reptile before ejecting me from the premises and hasn't spoken to me since. I suppose this is her olive branch, after I saved her from the explosion the other day." Mycroft pulled out a chair for Greg at the table. Greg looked at the food as he sat, then back up at Mycroft.

"This looks incredible. You didn't have to do anything this fancy."

Mycroft shrugged. "It's actually relatively simple by Italian standards, and it sounded quite appealing." Mycroft poured glasses of the white wine and cut open the burrata, which oozed its soft, buttery curds out of the mozzarella shell onto the plate and around the wedges of prosciutto-wrapped melon. "Please," he said, as he took his own seat, "do try some. The saltiness of the prosciutto complements the sweetness of the melon, and the creamy quality of the cheese makes the entire experience quite extraordinary."

Greg sliced up the melon into bite sized bits and scooped some of the cheese up with one of the slices, tucking it neatly into his mouth. His eyes closed and he made a sound that bordered on obscene. "Oh, god," he mumbled through the mouthful. He chewed for a moment and swallowed. Taking a sip of the wine, he sighed and the tightness in his shoulders relaxed. "Christ, Mycroft, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to seduce me."

Mycroft smiled as he ate his own antipasto. "Do I need to?" he asked, the words falling from his lips without thought.

Greg chuckled, seemingly unfazed, and had another bite before he replied. "No." He shook his head. "No, you don't. This really is amazing, though. I've never had cheese like this before, and the melon and prosciutto? Wow."

"I'm glad you're enjoying it." Seeing Greg's obvious pleasure was more than appealing. So often when he was in the man's presence, Greg was angry, upset, or resigned about his circumstances. Mycroft had frequently seen him concerned or attempting to be reassuring, but seeing him genuinely happy and relaxed was a terribly rare occurrence. Mycroft was suddenly conscious of wanting to see him like that much more often. "The penne has a duck sauce. Do you like duck?" Mycroft served the pasta and poured the red wine to go with it.

"I've had it a few times and enjoyed it, yeah. If it's anywhere near as good as this," Greg gestured with a forkful of his antipasto, "I suspect it'll be like hot sex on a plate." He sighed and ate that bite as well.

"The restaurant is one of the best," Mycroft admitted, sidestepping Greg's 'hot sex' comment despite that he'd been flirting shamelessly himself only moments ago. He sipped at the red wine and started on his penne.

"How was your day after I left?" Greg sampled the pasta. While his reaction wasn't quite as overtly erotic as that first, quite graphic moan, it was obvious he was enjoying his meal.

"I spoke with Sherlock about the situation with Eurus. I believe we have come up with a potential method of engagement that poses a low risk for everyone -- or as low as one can get with her."

Greg looked at him, worry in his expressive brown eyes. "You're sure? It sounds like even breathing in her vicinity is pretty risky."

"Eurus was the one who initially taught Sherlock to play the violin. I got a Stradivarius for her some years ago as a Christmas gift and she would play it incessantly. She allowed Sherlock to play it at one point while we were there. I think… I believe that if he brings his own violin, perhaps the music might reach her where nothing else can. It's not verbal communication, but it may well be something that will allow her to be aware that someone is there. Perhaps it will be reassuring to her."

"After all that," Greg said, "you're concerned about reassuring her."

Mycroft looked down at his plate, appetite ebbing as the conversation sparked his anxiety again. "She's still my sister, despite everything that's happened, just as Sherlock is my brother despite his particular problems."

Greg nodded. "And you're still trying to work out how to deal with your parents around all this."

"Yes."

"Mycroft." Greg reached across the table and lay his hand over one of Mycroft's. "You're doing your best despite what really is a bloody awful situation."

"My best, historically, has never been good enough."

Greg put his fork down, stood, and walked around the table to stand beside Mycroft. He crouched down to look up at Mycroft's lowered face and took both of Mycroft's hands in his. "Nobody's best would have been good enough for dealing with her, from what's been said. I suspect you managed far better than anyone else could have. And you survived one of the most elaborate murder attempts I've ever seen in my life. You came out of it alive, and so did Sherlock and John."

"Five others didn't."

"That's not your fault. Please don't blame yourself for what happened there." He reached out and took Mycroft into his arms, easing himself down on one knee so that he wouldn't lose his balance in the embrace. Mycroft shuddered and held onto him desperately. He buried his face in Greg's neck. Greg murmured words Mycroft couldn't quite make out, but the sound was comforting.

After a few moments, Greg shifted. "Sorry," he said. "Knees are going."

Mycroft braced Greg to let him stand more easily. There were moments when he was entirely too conscious that they were both middle-aged. Greg's mortality was thrown into sharp relief, as was Mycroft's own. "Will you stay with me tonight?" he asked, his hands in Greg's once again.

Greg's head tilted slightly. "What, exactly, are you asking for?"

"You," Mycroft said, "in my bed. Perhaps more, perhaps not. But I think… I think that your presence might help with the nightmares and the insomnia."

"All right," Greg said, nodding. "We can give it a try. If you change your mind, I can always go back to the guest room. I wouldn't want to make things worse for you and then have you think you couldn't change your mind about the situation."

"Thank you."

"You going to be okay to finish dinner? Because I'd hate to let this fantastic food go to waste."

Mycroft squeezed Greg's hands before letting the go. "Yes, of course. I wasn't suggesting an immediate adjournment to the bedroom. It's quite early yet."

Greg seated himself and started eating again. "So what is it you do in the evening, if you're not working?"

"I read, or I watch a film, most often." Mycroft sipped at his wine and started on his penne.

"Oh? What kind of movies do you like, then?" Greg sounded intrigued.

"I will admit a certain preference for noir films, though I do watch a variety. Classic horror, dark comedies, occasional documentaries."

Greg nodded. "I like some of that noir stuff too. Generally I like things with more explosions, but I always loved The Big Sleep."

Mycroft smiled. "One of my favourites, as well. Bogart and Bacall did have that extraordinary chemistry."

"Yeah. You want to watch that tonight, maybe?"

The request surprised Mycroft. "My film copy is at the estate, but I do have one on disc here," he said.

Greg made a startled sound. "You have an actual film projector?"

Mycroft nodded. "I was actually watching a film when Sherlock and John… well." He sighed. "They ruined my copy of one of my favourites, and it was a terribly obscure film. I'm going to be hard-pressed to restore the damaged footage, I'm afraid."

"I'm sorry."

He shrugged. "It's by no means the first of my possessions Sherlock has seen fit to destroy. Even given our recent détente, I'm hesitant to believe it will be the last."

Greg frowned. "Is it reasonable for me to want to punch him sometimes? Because sometimes I really want to punch him."

"I will admit to having had the urge on more than one occasion myself, though I have refrained."

"You're a better man than I am, Mycroft Holmes."

Mycroft shook his head. "I beg to differ."

"Not going to argue with you," Greg said, finishing his meal.

Mycroft finished eating as well. "I think I would like to watch the film with you. We should take care of this, first, though," he said, gesturing to the remains of their meal on the table.

"Of course. I'll do the dishes if you get the movie ready."

"Perhaps you'd like to peruse the collection later."

"Love to," Greg said, and he stood to gather up the dishes.

Mycroft looked up at him. "You're not very tall, are you?" he quoted.

"Well, I, uh, I try to be," Greg quoted back, going for a Bogart impression and doing a fair job of it

"Not bad looking. Oh, you probably know it." It might have been a quote, but Mycroft was very much in agreement with the assessment of Greg's appeal.

Greg laughed. "I think I'm going to enjoy this with you, Mycroft."

Mycroft couldn't help smiling. "I suspect I shall, as well."

It didn't take long to set up the film and Greg was done with the dishes quite quickly. Mycroft started to sit in his usual chair but hesitated as Greg sat on the sofa. "Do you mind if I sit with you?" Mycroft asked.

Greg gave him a puzzled look. "Mycroft, you invited me to share your bed tonight less than two hours ago. Why would I object to you sitting with me?" He raised his arm, obviously expecting Mycroft to sit close enough to him to put an arm about him. "Get over here, you great berk." The man was unmistakably being affectionate, so Mycroft took no offense at the insult.

It took several minutes for Mycroft to settle comfortably with Greg on the sofa. He'd never spent any time in such casual intimate contact with anyone since he was a child. Even then, it had been rare. But the film was one of his favourites, and Greg was warm and welcoming; Mycroft finally allowed himself to enjoy both of these things. It was almost frightening to realize how much he wanted this in his life, and the sheer vulnerability of it settled into his chest and left him shaken.

As the film went on and Mycroft relaxed, the complete exhaustion and lack of sleep of the past several days caught up with him. He slowly went from sitting upright with Greg's arm on the back of the sofa behind him to leaning against Greg's body with his head resting on the man's chest. Greg's arm was wrapped around him, and Mycroft had tucked an arm over Greg's body, half asleep but still present enough to quietly quote the best scenes with him. There was an edge of bliss to it that he was certain had been fueled by the ragged physical and emotional edge he'd been running.

When the film ended, Greg gently squeezed his arm. "Come on, Myc, time to get you to bed," he murmured.

Mycroft stiffened. "I'd prefer if you didn't call me that," he said, sharply pushed out of his comfort by the reminder of Mummy's constant belittling.

Greg, startled, apologized. "I'm sorry, Mycroft, I didn't realize it would be a problem. I won't do it again."

Mycroft realized he that he was reading too much into it as he sat up. "I… No, actually, I'm sorry. I'm reacting to Mummy always calling me Mikey. She does it to belittle me, to treat me like a child, and I know that you meant it affectionately."

Greg sighed. "It's okay. I don't want to call you something you don't like. I mean you call me Greg because that's what I prefer, right?"

Mycroft nodded. "Of course. It's just common courtesy." Which Mummy couldn't manage.

"It's not a problem, and I'll remember that, but I should tell you that if this is going where it looks like it's going -- I mean, if you're actually considering being in a relationship with me as more than just a friend -- then at some point sex is going to come into it. And you should be aware that if we're any good together, I'm likely to get non-verbal on you, so obscene noises and single syllables are about all I'll be able to manage. If I call you Myc while we're going at it, it's not because I want to upset you, it's because you've got me so well-shagged I can't manage more than that. Which, really, is a good thing, you know?"

The thought of a well-shagged Gregory Lestrade, unable to do more than make obscene sounds and gasp out half his name, shot through Mycroft like lightning and he was suddenly quite desperately aroused. "I… yes. I shall…" He took a breath to try to bring himself back to some semblance of balance. "I shall look forward to it," he admitted. "Under those circumstances, I think I would find it entirely tolerable."

Greg laughed. "Well, that's good. I'd hate to put you off in the middle of a good shag."

"The concept of you and 'a good shag' in close proximity threatens to undo me," Mycroft said, his voice quiet and unsteady.

"I would love to undo you," Greg whispered, his dark eyes intense, pupils blown wide in the dim light of the lounge.

Mycroft's heart was pounding, his breath quickened by the situation and Greg's reaction to him. "I would love to be undone," he whispered back. Greg leaned in, slow and careful, and brushed his lips over Mycroft's. The kiss was barely there, but electric and devastating in its emotional intensity. He raised a hand and caressed Mycroft's cheek, cupping his jaw in the palm of his hand and Mycroft leaned into it like a cat, desperate for the touch and aching for more.

"Do you want this tonight, or do you think you'd rather just sleep?" Greg asked, still close enough to kiss.

Mycroft closed his eyes for a moment. "You have no idea how much I want this, but I suspect I'd simply pass out before we got very far."

Greg nodded. "Yeah, I kind of thought as much. Maybe being so exhausted and having somebody here will help you sleep without the nightmares."

"I truly hope so. Last night's were utterly appalling." And, as quickly as the intense arousal had hit, it dissipated. God knew, he wanted Greg, but his body was collapsing on him. "I have my evaluation appointment tomorrow morning. I'd prefer not to look like I haven't slept in a week."

"Right then, up you get." Greg urged him to his feet and got up with him. "Is the stuff from last night still in the guest room?"

"Someone was in while I was at the Diogenes, so it's all been changed, but yes."

"Let me grab something to sleep in," he said. They stopped briefly in the guest room for Greg to grab a pair of pyjama bottoms and then proceeded to Mycroft's room.

Mycroft was yawning by the time they got there, and they both undressed and got ready for bed. It was, sadly, far less erotic than Mycroft would have hoped for the first time he shared a bed with the man, but needs must, he supposed. They got under the covers together and Mycroft lay on his side, as he usually did. Greg curled up behind Mycroft, one arm tucked around him, and held him close.

"I'm not sure I'll be able to sleep like this," Mycroft said. "It's all right for now, but I've never actually shared a bed with someone for an entire night. I'm uncertain how I'll react." Greg's bare skin against his own and the rough scattering of hair on Greg's chest pressing against his back was a strange, but very welcome sensation. He found himself hoping it would be more than merely tolerable, because the idea of waking like this in the morning was extremely appealing.

"That's okay." Greg nuzzled the nape of Mycroft's neck. "You just let me know when to move, or I can budge over a bit when you fall asleep. Wouldn't want you getting all claustrophobic or anything."

"That would be acceptable," Mycroft mumbled, already half asleep in the warmth of Greg's embrace. He held Greg's hand, their fingers intertwined, as he tumbled into unconsciousness.

***

Mycroft smelled smoke. There was singing in the distance, something about empty chairs and empty tables, and Mycroft's eyes snapped open. The room was dark and filled with smoke, but there were sinister, shapeless figures moving just beyond his perception.

A child was laughing. The room was growing hot and there was a demonic, red glow behind the curtains in his window. The curtains parted and Mycroft could see his parents' tortured faces, screaming and pressed against the glass, their hands clawing at the panes as Musgrave burned around them.

Sherlock, perhaps eight years old, was lying on the floor, unmoving, in a puddle of blood.

A parade of clowns entered through Mycroft's bedroom door, bearing Eurus in an elaborately decorated palanquin. She was seven, but her eyes were those of something ancient and alien. She opened her mouth and blood began running out of it, down her chin, pouring down her chest and into her lap. She slithered from the palanquin and crawled to Sherlock's prone form, leaving a trail of blood, as Mycroft screamed.

"Mycroft -- Mycroft! Wake up!" Greg's voice was urgent and Mycroft gasped and jerked awake, flailing. Greg grabbed him and rolled onto him, pressing Mycroft down into the bed to keep him from falling off the edge. He wrapped Mycroft in a close, tight embrace, both of them panting for breath. "Hey, hey, it's okay, it's just a nightmare. Wake up."

Mycroft looked at Greg in the dim light supplied by the bedside clock. He looked startled and disheveled, and Mycroft's heart was thundering. With a groan, Mycroft moved away from the edge of the bed. "I'm awake," he croaked; his throat was sore.

"You were screaming." Greg held him, their bodies twined together, and he ran one hand gently up and down Mycroft's side, trying to reassure him.

"Greg." Mycroft shuddered and buried his face in Greg's shoulder.

"Easy, Mycroft. It's okay. You're safe." Greg's voice was rough with sleep but painfully gentle, and Mycroft's face was wet with tears. When had he started crying? His body shook though he made no sound, and Greg just held him and whispered reassurances to him as he wept. The storm lasted only a few minutes, but it was exhausting and Mycroft felt utterly ashamed of his loss of control.

Mycroft looked up at Greg. "I apologize. I didn't mean to wake you. I know you must want to retire to the guest--"

"Whoa, wait. No. Mycroft, don't go pushing me away. It's all right. I'm here because we were hoping it might help with the nightmares. I knew this was a possibility when I said yes, okay?" He tugged at a corner of the sheet that covered them and carefully wiped the tears from Mycroft's face. "I'm not moving to the guest room, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. You had a really traumatic experience and this stuff happens. Do you want to talk about it?"

Mycroft shook his head. "No. Not really. It was ridiculous, some bizarre combination of the time my parents forced me to take them to Les Misérables and the night Musgrave burned." He huffed out a sharp breath, trying to control the adrenaline aftermath of panic. "And there were clowns." He shuddered. "An entire parade of them."

"Dreams get really fucked up sometimes, don't they?" Mycroft just nodded. Greg sighed and ran his fingers through the thinning hair at Mycroft's temple. "Do you think you'll be able to go back to sleep?"

Mycroft looked over at the clock. They had about four hours before he had to get up. "I should at least try."

"Right then. Here, roll over and let me rub your back for a bit. Might help relax you after that scare you had."

"Are you--"

"Yes, Mycroft, I'm sure. Hush. Roll over."

Mycroft did, resting his head on his arms, and Greg lay next to him and idly rubbed his back with one hand, moving it slowly and steadily up and down in what proved to be a surprisingly hypnotic manner. The warmth and the slow, regular motion sent him quickly back to sleep.

***

Mycroft's eyes opened slowly, his mind following in close order. He'd had another nightmare earlier, but it hadn't woken Greg. He remembered none of it, only that he'd had one and jerked awake, sweating, before subsiding into sleep again. He turned his head and noted the time -- about twenty minutes before the alarm would go off.

The room was dim but growing lighter as dawn approached. Greg lay on his back next to Mycroft, with one hand resting on Mycroft's thigh. His lips were slightly open, his face rough with greying stubble, and he breathed slowly and quietly into the silence of the room. Mycroft had never imagined being in such a situation and the reality of it filled his chest with warmth. He rolled carefully toward Greg and slipped an arm around his waist, resting his head on Greg's chest. Mycroft's eyes closed and he listened to the soft, steady beat of Greg's heart.

He felt an intense stab of longing and wondered what it would be like to wake like this every morning. He'd always believed himself happy in his isolation. In truth, he was extremely introverted and generally didn't want the company of others, but Greg's presence in the past couple of days had been less of an intrusion than he'd anticipated. He knew he would continue to require time alone simply to maintain his equilibrium but the way that he felt right now, holding Greg in his arms, was a powerful incentive to give up a little of his privacy.

Mycroft heard Greg's pulse change slightly and his breathing pattern shift. Greg stretched a bit and his face turned, his chin resting atop Mycroft's head. "Morning," Greg mumbled. He tucked his arms around Mycroft's body.

"Good morning." Mycroft nuzzled Greg's chest, revelling in the physical pleasure of their skin contact.

"You okay?"

Mycroft nodded. "We have to get up soon," he grumbled.

"Yeah." He felt Greg's lips press against his hair. "What happens today? I know you have your eval coming up this morning."

"I'm not sure. It depends on what the doctor decides. I find the uncertainty quite off-putting."

"You're used to being able to predict everything."

Mycroft sighed. "Yes, and what I anticipate is not positive. I hope I'll be back to work tomorrow, but the odds are not good."

Greg shifted and urged Mycroft up to look into his eyes. "I know you're seeing that as a negative outcome, but I think you probably need some time off to get yourself back together. I'm guessing they're going to have you off work for a week or two, at least. It's not that unusual when something this traumatic happens, and this has roots going back for decades. I think they have some legitimate reasons to be concerned for you."

"Do you think there is something wrong with me?" Mycroft snapped, backing away slightly, anger and defensiveness flaring within him.

"No." Greg shook his head, his voice still calm and measured. "I think you're human, and humans need time to recover from this kind of trauma. We have instinctive reactions to this sort of thing and, while some people handle it better than others, I think everyone around you will understand why you're upset and having a rough time of it. If I'd been through what you just went through, even without the decades of family history attached, I'd be looking at a couple of weeks of administrative leave, too."

Mycroft bit back the urge to tell Greg that most humans simply weren't on his level. While, intellectually, it was true, he was beginning to realize how badly emotionally stunted he had always been. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "This is… very difficult for me," he finally said.

"I know," Greg answered, urging him closer again. "It's okay to be angry. It's okay to be upset or confused or conflicted, or any of the other things you're feeling right now."

"How do you live with this?" Mycroft asked, complying with the silent request and moving closer to him again.

"With what?"

"This overwhelming swamp of emotions. I feel like I'm drowning."

Greg tangled his legs with Mycroft's. "I'm not going to deny that it's hard sometimes. But you either shove it back down and kill yourself with a stroke or a heart attack, or you learn to talk about it and work through it. I'd kind of rather you didn't kill yourself."

Mycroft pondered his reply as the alarm went off. Both of them groaned and Mycroft reached over Greg to turn it off. Mycroft rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling for a moment. "I'm not looking forward to this."

"I know. You don't have to be looking forward to it; you just have to get through it. That's all. Go in, talk to them, and try to be honest about what you're feeling even though it's hard and it's not what your lifetime of experience tells you to do. Tell them about the nightmares. Tell them what really happened out there. Even if you can't talk to me, at least tell the people who can help you. Don't try to avoid it so that you can get back to work sooner. It won't help you in the long run, Mycroft."

Mycroft nodded, resigned. "I shall try to take your advice."

***

The evaluation examination was as stressful and disappointing as Mycroft had feared. The doctor was one he had seen before on several occasions, most recently after Sherlock's retrieval from Serbia. The man was familiar with him and his medical and psychological records; Mycroft felt that attempting to dissemble would have been problematic even if he hadn't decided to take Greg's advice.

The doctor delved into Mycroft's childhood, which would have been entirely off-limits had it not been directly relevant to the situation at hand. It was impossible to avoid talking about his family, given that the entire mess had been perpetrated by his sister and the legacy of the lies about her incarceration that had begun with his Uncle Rudy so many years earlier.

Knowing that he would also be having his full debrief with Lady Smallwood soon, Mycroft spoke of what had happened both leading up to the incidents in Sherrinford, and at the facility itself. He talked about Sherlock and John breaking into his house, about the bomb, about the psychological tortures, about the deaths, about his own attempt to get Sherlock to kill him instead of John Watson. He spoke in lesser detail of the aftermath as well -- the nightmares, the anxiety attacks, the disastrous conference with his parents, and their insistence on finding a way to see Eurus.

"I'm going to recommend that you take at least three weeks off, Mr. Holmes," Dr. Khan told him. "The cumulative effect of so many years of stress and trauma will take quite some time to resolve. During those three weeks, I would suggest you come in for a counseling session at least once, but preferably twice a week to work through some of the more difficult issues."

"Three weeks?" Mycroft sighed and covered his face with his hands. "Some of the projects I'm working on are time-sensitive matters. They can't be left that long without oversight."

"There are safeguards and backups in place, Mr. Holmes. This is standard procedure. I would suggest speaking with Lady Smallwood this afternoon so that we can proceed as soon as possible."

Unhappy but knowing he had little choice, Mycroft nodded. "Of course, Dr. Khan."

Three weeks. Between boredom with little to do, and anxiety about what was happening during his absence, Mycroft feared the entire time would be intolerable.

He made arrangements to meet Lady Smallwood that afternoon, then had a very light lunch. He wasn't terribly hungry, given the state of his digestive system. He was probably developing an ulcer on top of everything else, but he didn't want to face her on an empty stomach.

The debriefing was intensive and thorough. Three others from the department were present and, given the circumstances, Mycroft couldn't blame them for wanting a panel to interrogate him about what had occurred. They asked careful questions and expected extremely detailed answers, which Mycroft gave, along with his analysis of the situation and his observations. He spoke as dispassionately as possible, distancing himself from the things that had happened and reporting as though he had witnessed them happening to someone else. It was, he thought, the only way to get through talking about it in such detail without being overwhelmed by the enormity of the entire situation.

His house was going to have to be recertified by security before he could go back. Although Sherlock had a key to the place, the tampering necessary for the horrifying pranks had left the place vulnerable to all manner of incursion. New alarms and surveillance systems would have to be installed. He wasn't going to be able to take work back there until the project was finished, which would be at least a month, if not six weeks. The whole thing was a fresh annoyance, but at least he had the flat as a reasonably safe location. It would need to be checked to make sure Sherlock hadn't compromised it as well, but not as thoroughly as the house.

"We want you back as soon as you can manage it, Mycroft," Lady Smallwood told him. "None of us is entirely irreplaceable, but your position would be singularly difficult to fill for at least another two years."

Mycroft nodded. "I shall endeavour to return at the end of the three weeks Dr. Khan insisted upon."

"Then I think the debriefing can be declared closed for the moment, and I will expect a written report as soon as you're able to produce one." The others left, but she asked Mycroft to remain and speak with her privately. "I have noted," she said, "that your personal circumstances appear to have changed."

Mycroft tried not to react to the assertion. "Meaning?"

Lady Smallwood shook her head. "Really, Mycroft, there's no need to be coy. I'm aware that DCI Lestrade spent the past two nights at your flat. There's no cause for alarm. I knew he has a fairly substantial clearance after all his work with you and your brother over the years. I am, however, personally concerned because you have, historically, kept your occasional liaisons strictly out of your home and have never seen anyone more than once."

"Is this a necessary conversation?"

"I need to know if this is evidence that you are more compromised than you have told Dr. Khan."

Mycroft's first reaction was anger, but he didn't allow himself to speak from there. "Considering that I have entrusted Gregory Lestrade with my brother's life on a number of occasions, and that he has been -- with your approval, mind -- involved in more than one highly sensitive operation because of that, I don't see how any personal relationship that might develop between us would be of any concern."

"He was certainly quite solicitous of you the other day," she said, cautious but not quite accusative.

"Is that a problem?" He couldn't help wondering if there was some nascent homophobia in her approach to the situation. It certainly wouldn't have been the first time he'd dealt with it in the intelligence community. Being out, at least, had left no room for blackmail threats.

She shook her head. "No, actually. It isn't. But I do find it quite curious, particularly considering I've never known you to be emotionally involved with anyone before."

"Am I to understand that you are expressing concern for my wellbeing?" That was unexpected.

"I suppose so, yes. Is this something that we should be aware of as a potential ongoing situation? Or is this simply dealing with temporary acute emotional distress?"

He hadn't imagined he would have to make a decision about what was happening in quite this manner. Certainly he thought it was premature, but her question was a legitimate one, given how compromised he had been by the situation with Eurus. "I believe," he said, allowing his caution to show, "that this has the potential to be ongoing, yes. While I can't say I expected this, I have known him for years now, and I've been able to trust Greg where I would not have trusted anyone else. If I were going to be… involved with anyone, it should be noted that there are literally no other candidates. I'm not exactly a social butterfly."

"No, you're not. Hence my concern. But he does strike me as a fairly solid individual, and we've never had any issues come up around him beyond the occasional gaffe at press conferences. There was never anything that someone like Magnussen, for instance, could have got his hooks into. The man's distressingly honest for a police officer."

Mycroft raised an eyebrow. "Am I then to take this as your tentative approval?"

She leaned forward, elbows on her desk, and twined her fingers under her chin. "If you're going to be involved with anyone, he seems a good choice. He's a known quantity, he's got a clearance, and he seems to care about you, if his behavior here the other night is any indication. He tolerates your brother, which is a minor miracle in itself."

"Yes, I know."

"You don't think he has any ulterior motives?"

Mycroft shook his head. "Vanishingly unlikely."

"And how do you feel about it all?" she asked.

"Feel?" Mycroft sighed. Good lord, why did everyone eternally want to talk about his feelings?

"Yes."

"You're not concerned that this will only compromise me further? That an emotional entanglement would leave me open to further errors in judgment or to manipulation by hostile powers?"

He saw her actively resist the urge to roll her eyes. "The vast majority of people in this office, Mycroft, are married or otherwise involved in relationships. Everyone has family connections of some sort. We both know I've had my own issues in that regard. Your family connections are at the very heart of the current situation -- and your request to give your brother access to Eurus and allow your parents an opportunity to visit her is perhaps not the wisest course of action, though it is understandable. Adding one more name to your list of vulnerabilities is not going to break you, nor is it going to change your status here."

Mycroft didn't wish to be so blatantly reminded of his vulnerabilities, but his entire life had been flayed and laid open in the last week. "You do have a point," he said, resigned.

"All right then. I'll have a note added to your file."

"Isn't it a bit soon for that?"

She chuckled. "If you've had him spend the night at your flat two nights in a row, after a lifetime of never seeing anyone more than once, I think that's damned near a declaration of permanence. You never do anything without thoroughly dissecting it, if you can possibly avoid it."

Despite the flippant answer, Mycroft knew that her evaluation had merit. He knew she was, on some level, correct. "Even considering such a thing has been somewhat challenging for me," he admitted. The fact that sexual activity hadn't happened yet was immaterial. Mycroft had, for all intents and purposes, offered Greg a unique place in his life simply by allowing him emotional access. That change in their relationship was, beyond any doubt, on their horizon. Mycroft wanted it. Greg wanted it. The only questions appeared to be those of timing, and of Mycroft's ability to offer Greg enough of a connection that he would want to remain in Mycroft's life.

"I will understand if this is unwelcome, but if you ever need someone to talk to about relationships, Mycroft, I am available. They are more involved than the formalities of work connections, and rather more prone to misunderstandings. Navigating them is more complicated and requires rather more emotional finesse. And I did offer you that drink recently."

Mycroft merely looked at her for several moments, evaluating. He nodded, the bulk of his observations suggesting with high probability that the offer was exactly as stated, and not an attempt at a power play or leverage. "I shall take that under advisement."

"Right, then. Off you pop. Schedule your appointments with Dr. Khan's office. Send me your written report as soon as you're able. We do need you here, Mycroft. Your skills are not easily duplicated or replaced. I want you back here in three weeks, in good enough shape to pick up where you've left off."

"Of course. Thank you, Lady Smallwood."

"Alicia, Mycroft."

"Alicia." He nodded, acknowledging the permission for a more informal private relationship, echoing her offer of her private contact information previously. He'd not originally been certain what to make of it but at least now he knew she wasn't making a pass at him.

Dismissed for the moment, he met Christina outside Lady Smallwood's office. She gave him a sharp look up and down before she spoke. "How are you feeling, sir?"

"Entirely put upon, thank you," Mycroft grumbled. "Aside from filing a report about the incidents, I'm not to return for at least three weeks." Christina raised an eyebrow. "I need you to schedule twice-weekly appointments with Dr. Khan's office."

She nodded. "Of course, sir. I'll see to it."

They walked back to Mycroft's office so that he could pick up a few necessary items and see to it that the room and its contents were secure for an extended absence. Christina called to arrange his appointments while he went through the last of the things that needed seeing to before he left. When he was done, he slid a few folders he required into his briefcase, turned out the lights, and locked the door behind him.

"Is there anything I can do for you while you're away from the office, sir?" Christina asked.

"Check in with me every other day. I will call you if anything comes up in the meantime. Keep me apprised of anything that might become problematic in my absence."

"You're not to be working, sir. I'm afraid I can't do that." Mycroft glared at her and tapped his umbrella on the floor impatiently. "Really," she responded, "glaring at me isn't going to change the fact that you're on mandatory medical leave. I'm not going to contribute to the stresses that you're supposed to be avoiding for those three weeks. If I note something that seems to be a risk to your person or your position, I shall certainly advise you, but I'm not going to aid you in setting up a clandestine office at home while you're recovering."

Mycroft closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath. He held it for a moment before he released it. Much as he disliked the idea, she was, in fact, doing what was expected of her. "I suppose that's all I can ask," he said.

"At any rate, I wasn't speaking of work-related issues. I was asking if there was anything on a more personal level that I could do to make things easier for you." Mycroft gave her a sharp, questioning look. "I'm concerned, that's all. I do worry about you from time to time. Recent events have taken a toll, and if there is anything I can do to help, I'd very much like to. As a friend, Mycroft, not as your Personal Assistant."

"I must look absolutely awful," Mycroft said as they walked down the corridor. "Lady Smallwood offered me relationship advice before I was dismissed. Now this? Good heavens, next, Mrs. Hudson will be offering me biscuits and tea, and actually offering to make the tea."

Christina didn't bother to attempt to conceal her smirk. "I'm sorry, you do still look a bit rough. Should I ask you how things are going with the Inspector? And should I preemptively pick up clothing for him this evening rather than waiting until first thing tomorrow?"

"I… I don't know, actually." They took the lift down to the car park, where Mycroft's car waited. "I haven't yet spoken with him. He asked me to call after I knew what was happening."

"You should do that, then. Call me when you know what you need for this evening. I'll arrange it if you should require anything."

Mycroft nodded. "All right. Thank you."

"I hope you'll be feeling much better soon, Mycroft. I also very much hope that things work out for you with Greg."

"As do I," Mycroft said.

***

Sherlock was waiting in his flat when Mycroft got home. "Oh, for god's sake, please tell me you're not here to make sure I'm all right," Mycroft snapped.

"I could, but it would be a lie." Sherlock sipped some tea from one of Mycroft's china cups. Mycroft's tea service and a second cup and saucer sat on the table beside him.

"I am not an invalid!" Mycroft shouted.

"It went that well." Sherlock put the cup down and looked at him sharply. "Three weeks, I'm guessing."

Mycroft put his umbrella and his coat in their places and sat in his favourite chair. "Lady Smallwood and Christina are both attempting to be my friends now." He let his confusion and annoyance show.

Sherlock gave him a wry half-smile. "Disconcerting, isn't it?"

"Exceedingly."

"You'll get used to it. I did."

"What does one do with friends, Sherlock? I've never wanted any and now I seem to have a plethora of them."

"I'd hardly count three as a plethora," Sherlock drawled.

"After a lifetime without? Two seems almost garish. Three? Completely beyond the pale." Mycroft made a dismissive gesture with one hand.

Sherlock picked up his tea again and sipped. "I note you're not complaining about Greg."

Mycroft said nothing for a moment, thinking about how very much he actually wanted Greg in his life. "No. I'm not complaining about Greg. I find his company … I find him more necessary than I'd ever imagined."

Sherlock poured tea into the second cup, dropped a sugar cube into it, and poured in a splash of milk, just as Mycroft preferred it. He held the cup out to Mycroft, who took it and sipped at it slowly. "Yes. He's like that. Necessary, I mean," Sherlock said.

"I'd always thought of him as yours."

Sherlock shook his head. "No. He's my friend, certainly, but he's always been in your shadow. I've resented it in the past. I initially thought you'd paid him to spy on me, but I deduced that he'd never take money for that sort of thing. For better or worse, he'd simply tell you if he thought I was in trouble, and he'd do your bidding at the drop of a hint from you. Sometimes it made him angry, but he never argued and he never refused unless he felt you were overstepping some boundary he'd drawn." Sherlock paused for a moment, thoughtful. "It took me a very long time to see that he cared about you a great deal. I deleted it several times because I found it disturbing."

"No doubt. You've always found everything having to do with me disturbing."

"Mummy came to Baker Street today." Sherlock's subject change was abrupt but his voice was cautious.

Mycroft cringed. "Oh."

"She wanted to see for herself."

"I'm sure that went well."

Sherlock set his tea down and leaned back in his chair. "I never realized how much she resented you. She attempted to blame you for Eurus bombing my flat."

"I'm sure at some point she'll tell you that I was a mistake. And yet I still attempt to make them happy." Mycroft sighed. "It will never happen, of course."

"I realized today how much of my own resentment was just parroting hers. I'm having to reevaluate everything. Do you know how much effort it is to demolish and rebuild an entire wing of my mind palace?"

"I'm sorry I've put you to such an inconvenience." Mycroft didn't bother to roll his eyes. He took another sip of his tea and avoided looking at Sherlock.

"Sometimes, inconvenience is necessary. After talking with Mummy, coming to make sure you're going to be all right was necessary, because the more I learn about all of this, the more I can see how terribly wrong I've been about you for most of my life. I'm not sure how to make up for some of it, but I'd at least like to try."

Emotions were such an annoyance. Mycroft was having far too many of them, and they were all contradictory. It was thoroughly distressing. "Shall I have a convenient breakdown for you, so that you can pat my head and tell me everything will be all right?"

"Don't be ridiculous."

Mycroft looked up at his brother, exhausted by everything. "What is it that you want from me, Sherlock? I've had an exceptionally unpleasant day, and I'd like some time to myself to wallow in my misery. There was a time, not so very long ago, when that thought would have left you positively cackling with glee. I believe that was, in fact, last week."

"People change, Mycroft. I'd like a chance to be a better brother than I have been."

"Then make yourself scarce and come back when I'm ready to deal with you. Right now you're simply being your usual self with kinder words attached. It's an improvement, I'll admit, but I'm exhausted and angry and your presence isn't helping," Mycroft growled.

Sherlock finished his tea. "I'll be back on Sunday."

"I appreciate the warning. Kindly attempt to give me notice each and every time you wish to invade my home, unless it is a dire emergency. I still haven't forgiven you for what you did at the estate."

Sherlock's head tilted and his eyes narrowed. "You're having nightmares."

"Yes, Sherlock. And several of their elements are courtesy of your unscheduled visit with Dr. Watson."

"I should have known."

"You knew. You just didn't care."

Sherlock nodded. "That was true when it happened. It isn't now."

"You're still here. Right now, I'm not entirely ruling out the possibility of having building security remove you."

"You really do need that time off, Mycroft. Listen to yourself."

Mycroft stood and moved toward Sherlock, furious and not in the mood to deal with him further. "Get. Out." He stabbed a finger toward the door. "Now."

Sherlock sighed and rolled his eyes, then rose. "Fine." He took his coat from where he'd thrown it over the back of the chair and put it on. Of course, it swirled dramatically. Everything about Sherlock demanded drama. Mycroft was in no mood for it. He glared as Sherlock left.

Once the door closed behind his brother, Mycroft collapsed back into his chair and covered his face with his hands. He sat and shuddered for a few moments, realizing how seriously he'd been affected by everything. Yes, he sometimes lost his temper with Sherlock, but there hadn't been an actual cause for it just now. Everything had him on edge and overreacting. Much as he hated to admit it, he genuinely did require time away from work. In this condition, he was likely to make terrible mistakes, and that simply could not be allowed. Errors of that magnitude would likely cost lives, and he didn't want more of them on his conscience.

What Mycroft couldn't understand was why people were acting as though they cared about him. Greg's behavior, at least, made some kind of sense. Christina and Lady Smallwood shouldn't have been concerned for anything more than his ability to do his work. Yet their behavior suggested that their solicitous actions were motivated by something more personal and emotional.

"Stop it, Uncle Rudy," Mycroft grumbled. "I don't need you in my head right now." That, he knew, was where much of this had originated. Between his parents not particularly wanting him, Eurus's murderous detachment from humanity, and Uncle Rudy's insistence upon emotional distance from everything and everyone, it was no wonder Mycroft had ended up here. It was worse than he'd imagined. Now that Mycroft was in distress, he was trying to drive people away to reduce the chaos within him. It was not a useful response.

Alone wasn't going to protect him. It wasn't going to help him sort through the confusion and the anger and the fear. It certainly wasn't going to help him understand and negotiate a relationship with Greg. Regardless of his inner turmoil, Mycroft knew he wanted Greg, and the idea of driving him away accidentally -- or purposely, when he was feeling overwhelmed and incapable of coping with unfamiliar emotions and the people in his life that solicited them -- was alarming.

He rose and went to the window, looking out onto the busy street below, his thoughts spinning nearly out of control. The layers of personal and family history that had led him to this place were suffocating him. Not for the first time, he feared he would end up like his sister, or that he would find himself trying to still the chaos with drugs or alcohol, as Sherlock had. Iron discipline had kept it manageable, but he felt he was fracturing. The thought of losing control like that terrified him.

His phone was in his hand before he quite realized it.

"Mycroft? How did it go?" Greg's voice was an oasis of calm in Mycroft's turmoil.

"Not well, I'm afraid." He took a breath and held it for a moment, trying to force his body to calm. "As you suspected, it will be some time before I return to work. Dr. Khan insisted upon at least three weeks."

"I know that wasn't what you wanted."

"No," Mycroft said, "but at this point, I believe you -- and he -- were correct. I do need that time." He paused for a moment. "Sherlock was here when I returned."

Greg groaned. "Oh, good lord. How much of an arse was he?"

"I'm afraid it's more a question of how much of an arse I was. I'd been hoping for some quiet and a bit of time to sort through things when I got home. The last thing I needed was Sherlock. He was looking in on me and attempting to be helpful, in his usual unhelpful manner. I threw him out."

"Doesn't sound too good. How are you doing right now?"

"A little better, now that I'm talking with you."

Mycroft could hear paper being shuffled over the phone. "Can you tell me what you need, Mycroft? Are you sorted enough to know just yet?"

"I think I'm sorted enough to be aware that your company would be helpful."

"Right, then. How does this sound -- give me half an hour or so to deal with things here. I have a court appearance first thing tomorrow morning I can't put off but, if you think it'll help, I've got the weekend and I can arrange to have the next few days after that off as well. That way I can be available if you need me, from tomorrow afternoon until the middle of next week, and not have to worry about walking away from something important here."

"Are you certain?" Mycroft asked, worried that the whole thing would be too much to ask. For once in his life, he had no idea what was appropriate and wasn't willing to simply insist.

"Yeah, I'm fine with it. I have a fair bit of leave on the books anyway. A few days isn't going to be a problem. It's short notice, but I already talked to personnel yesterday after I got back to the office and let them know that this might be happening. It's all good." Greg didn't sound upset by the prospect. There was no hint of resentment or reluctance in his voice or his phrasing. "Once I've notified them, I can get out of here and just be available for court tomorrow. I could be there in forty-five minutes, if you want me."

"I… Yes. Please. I hate to ask, but I fear that I'm not coping well. Right now, you're the only person I seem to tolerate having near me, and I'm not doing well alone." Admitting it was agonizing, but Mycroft was at least self-aware enough to understand that he had to do something, and calling Greg was the only thing that had seemed even vaguely acceptable.

"Okay. I should be there soon. Make yourself a cup of tea or something, if you haven't already. Make sure you're warm. Put on some music that you like, and that you find calming. Can you do that?"

Mycroft relaxed a bit, now that a plan of action had been initiated. "Yes, of course. I'll look forward to seeing you shortly."

"See you soon." Greg rang off, and Mycroft set his phone down. He looked at the cup of tea Sherlock had poured for him. It had gone cold, but the tea in the pot was still relatively warm. That would have to do.

***

Greg's advice had been sound; the music, more tea, and a blanket had helped calm Mycroft's anxiety and confusion a little by the time Greg arrived. He opened the door and experienced a sense of relief at seeing Greg there. "Please, come in," he said, as he stepped back to allow Greg to enter.

Greg stepped through the door and looked Mycroft over quickly but carefully. "You're looking a little rough," he said. "Are you feeling any better at all?"

Mycroft nodded. "Somewhat, thank you."

Greg hung his coat and opened his arms to Mycroft, who stepped into the embrace and held on for several minutes, silent, just absorbing the comfort of Greg's presence. The physical contact seemed to make Mycroft's discomfort ebb slowly away. Eventually, Greg pressed a gentle kiss to Mycroft's temple and let him go.

"Would you like tea?" Mycroft asked.

Greg smiled. "Yeah, sounds great. I could use a cuppa."

Mycroft went to the kitchen and Greg followed him. A fresh pot was started, and Greg asked, "So, do you want to talk about what happened today?"

"I will," Mycroft answered, "but later. Right now I just want to sit with you."

"You want to watch another film, maybe? Take your mind off things, not have to talk about anything, just relax and enjoy something together?"

"That sounds like a capital idea." Mycroft prepared the tea and led Greg into the lounge, where he opened the cabinet that stored his collection of films on disc. "Is there anything that particularly appeals?" He gestured to the shelves.

Greg's eyes widened slightly at the sight. "That's a lot of movies. It's going to take me a few just to have a look round, much less to choose something. You got a favourite?"

"Quite a number, but I'm not in the mood for anything specific."

Greg perused the collection for several minutes while Mycroft poured the tea for them and set out some biscuits. Eventually he emerged from his contemplation with the Werner Herzog Nosferatu remake. "I've seen the original Murnau silent movie, but I haven't seen this one yet," Greg said.

"Oh, it's a lovely homage," Mycroft told him. "An excellent choice. I think you'll enjoy it."

As he had the night before, Mycroft curled up on the couch with Greg, relaxing under his arm much more quickly than he had the last time. Mycroft put his head on Greg's chest and found himself resting and listening more to Greg's heartbeat than to the German dialogue. The exhaustion and emotional stress of the day had taken a toll and he dozed as Greg watched the film. Mycroft was conscious of Greg's hand moving on his arm, a slow, gentle caress that seemed to brush away all the fears Mycroft had been carrying. Nonsense, of course -- Mycroft knew his situation hadn't changed -- but the emotional release of it felt real enough.

When Mycroft woke again, Greg was reading a book, but still sitting with him and holding him on the sofa. There was a blanket laid over him. Greg had obviously been up to get the book and the blanket, and Mycroft was surprised that he'd not awakened when Greg had moved. "How long have I been asleep?"

Greg looked at his watch. "About three hours, I think. You dropped off during the movie -- it was a really good one, like you said. I got up for a few minutes to check out your library before I came back to make sure you were still okay. I'm glad you got some sleep. You didn't seem restless at all. You didn't have any nightmares?"

Mycroft shook his head. "I didn't, no. My head feels a little clearer now, so thank you."

"It'll be time for dinner soon. You hungry?"

"A bit. I didn't eat lunch, and I wasn't eager for breakfast this morning."

"Too nervous to eat?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so.

"Then you should definitely eat dinner tonight. Do you want to go out somewhere, order in, or do you have anything in the kitchen now so we can cook here?"

"I believe I might have regained sufficient fortitude that dinner out is a possibility."

Greg's face lit with a grin that warmed Mycroft through. "That's fantastic, I'm glad to hear it."

"There's an excellent Greek place nearby," Mycroft offered. "They do quite a variety of exquisite fish."

Greg nodded. "That sounds good."

Mycroft got up and stretched a bit. He felt considerably better after the undisturbed sleep, brief as it had been. Another cup of tea seemed in order.

When Mycroft returned to the lounge with the fresh pot, Greg was reading quietly. He poured cups for Greg and himself, and put some music on. He went to his bedroom and got one of the books he was reading and sat on the sofa with Greg again, neither of them feeling a need to speak just yet.

Being able to share a room with someone in silence without the rules of the Diogenes enforcing the quiet was an extraordinary experience. Mycroft hadn't thought that 'normal' people were really able to simply be quiet together. Greg, though, had proven himself to be something entirely out of the ordinary on a number of occasions. Mycroft found himself appreciating the man more each time they interacted and simply could not understand why his ex-wife had repeatedly cheated on him. Intellectually, he was aware that Greg devoted a great deal of time to his work, but emotionally -- and Mycroft was astonished to find himself considering that angle -- emotionally, it made no sense.

Greg wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but no one else was, either. On the whole, his good qualities far outweighed the things Mycroft considered problematic. Other people's priorities were not the same as his own, however, and that had no doubt weighed into the situation. Mycroft sighed, flipping another page as he split his attention between his reading and his contemplation.

He considered what a relationship between them might look like, how it might feel. He wondered if he was capable of giving Greg the emotional connection that he would require. Mycroft knew his own history of calculated distance would work against him and that it would be a difficult habit to break but, looking over at Greg on the sofa next to him, he also knew that this was something worth working toward, worth changing the patterns of a life that had led to the disaster of the past week.

Mycroft not only knew that he needed to change things, he found himself very much wanting to. Having Greg in his life felt like the finest sort of incentive. He sighed again and Greg looked up at him.

"You okay?"

Mycroft smiled. "I was just thinking about you," he said.

Greg looked pleased but surprised. "Really?"

"You know I haven't much experience with … with relationships," Mycroft said. "Emotions have always been difficult for me, for obvious reasons. I'm concerned that I might not be able to give you what you need."

Greg set his book down and Mycroft did the same. "I know it's going to take time," Greg said. "I'm not expecting you to be an expert at this right out of the gate. The only thing I can ask is that you try, and that you're willing to talk to me about it as we go along. You've been doing really well so far. You might be able to deduce a lot of things about me without having to ask, but I'm going to have to be able to ask you about what you need and have you give me honest answers if we're going to make this work. And you have to ask me about stuff that confuses you, because sometimes your deductions are going to be wrong, or right for the wrong reasons, which is probably just as bad. We're both going to make mistakes sometimes. We're going to get angry with each other; we're going to fight sometimes. You know it's inevitable. But that doesn't mean we can't do this. If we want it, we'll both work for it."

"I'm very good at working for what I want," Mycroft said.

Greg nodded. "I know you are. That's why I think this can work. We're both stubborn bastards and if both of us are working for the same thing, there's nothing that could get in our way."

Warmth sparked and expanded in Mycroft's chest and he leaned in and pressed a careful kiss to Greg's lips. Greg made a quiet, happy sound and reached up to cup Mycroft's jaw in one palm, returning the kiss with a heart-shattering tenderness that made Mycroft want to weep with the pure joy of it. "How did I ever survive without this?" Mycroft whispered against Greg's mouth.

Greg didn't answer, but kissed him again, wrapping Mycroft in his arms and drawing him closer. Mycroft yielded to Greg's motion, revelling in the sensation of that warm, solid body against his own. It had been so long since he'd bothered with his physical needs, and there had been no emotional involvement the last time, no connection at all, just a distracted sort of physical pleasuring that had been mediocre at best. It had, in fact, been barely better than masturbation, which was what Mycroft usually resorted to when he needed sexual release. This, though -- the sheer intimacy of it all was breathtaking, and the craving Mycroft felt for more was something entirely new to his experience.

Greg's mouth was soft and wet and his arms were strong, holding Mycroft close. Mycroft ran his hands up Greg's back and along his broad shoulders, exploring and trying to memorize everything solely by touch. Their tongues slipped together, caressing gently, and Mycroft's desire and his arousal grew with the sweet, gentle motion. They breathed together, almost as one, as Greg nibbled at Mycroft's lower lip. Mycroft shivered and gasped, then dived more deeply into Greg's mouth.

"Feels so good," Greg whispered, when they came up for air a few moments later. "You feel so good."

"I want you," Mycroft breathed, looking at Greg through half-closed eyes as he caressed Greg's face with his fingertips. His cheek was rough with the beginning of afternoon stubble, but Mycroft found it delightfully stimulating. He rubbed his lips across Greg's cheek, following the trail of his fingers and revelling in the slight scratchiness there.

"The feeling's definitely mutual," Greg said. He raised Mycroft's face back to his own and kissed him hard, passion flaring between them. "God, what you do to me," he murmured when they ended the kiss. "I didn't think -- I mean, I never thought you'd be interested in me. I'm really glad you are."

Mycroft shook his head. "I think you're the only person I could ever be interested in, the only one I could genuinely want. I've never met anyone like you."

The expression on Greg's face was a complex mix of astonishment, pleasure, and desire, intoxicating to observe. Greg opened his mouth to say something, but kissed Mycroft instead, gently this time, with a slow sensuality that was devastating. Mycroft briefly contemplated pressing Greg down into the couch and holding him there, but realized he wanted something more than that. "Will you come to bed with me?" Mycroft asked, his breathing rough with his arousal.

"Oh, hell yes," Greg said, and he kissed Mycroft again before he got to his feet.

Mycroft rose as well and took Greg's hand, leading him to the guest room. They stood next to the bed, hands and mouths exploring each other's bodies through their clothes, until Greg reached up and tugged at Mycroft's tie. "I've been wondering for a long time what it would be like to see you without all these layers," Greg murmured. "It's like bloody armour on you. I want to see your skin. I want to see the man that's under here." He slipped the tie's knot and pulled the cloth slowly from Mycroft's collar, and Mycroft shivered at the muted sensation of it flowing along the back of his neck.

He reached up to unbutton Greg's shirt, taking his time as Greg dealt with the buttons of Mycroft's waistcoat, then started on Mycroft's shirt as well. The revelation of skin was slow and sensual, and Mycroft pressed the palms of both hands against Greg's naked chest once his shirt and vest had been removed, appreciating the roughness of the hair there and the softness of Greg's skin. Greg drew him close and they stood there, chest to chest, cheek to cheek, holding one another and feeling the warmth of their bodies together.

Greg kissed Mycroft's neck, gently nipping and sucking at his skin, and Mycroft shivered. He pulled Greg closer, wanting to occupy the same space. He buried his face in Greg's shoulder and breathed him in. The difference in their height was perfect; Mycroft felt as though Greg had been made to his measure, tailored like one of his Savile Row suits, and exquisitely comfortable.

Greg's hands moved lower, caressing his back then sliding down further to the curve of Mycroft's bottom. Mycroft pressed his hips against Greg's, both of them growing hard from the kisses and their contact. Greg pulled his hips closer, grinding against him with a quiet sigh. "We should have the rest of this off," Mycroft murmured into Greg's ear. "I want to see you."

"Mmm. Yeah. Like I said, I always wondered what was under those fancy suits," Greg said, his voice a warm purr that sent a shiver down Mycroft's spine.

"Always?" Mycroft asked, surprise leaking through the arousal he felt.

"Close enough to always." Greg's hand slid down inside Mycroft's waistband, seeking bare skin. "Years, Mycroft. For years."

Mycroft kissed Greg like he was devouring him. Arousal sparked to passion and Mycroft's lungs suddenly seemed inadequate to the task of breathing with his tongue in Greg's mouth. Greg moaned and tugged at Mycroft's trousers. Mycroft wasn't inclined to allow the slightest separation between their bodies, but he also wanted the damned trousers off, which presented a severe moral dilemma.

A moment later, Greg tucked a hand between them and started groping at Mycroft's fly, which was terribly stimulating but not entirely effective. Mycroft pulled back enough to say, "It's buttons, not a zip."

"Too bloody complicated," Greg growled, turning his hands to his own trousers instead, and dropping them to the floor. He fumbled with his shoes and socks for a moment, tossing them away, while Mycroft divested himself of the remains of his own clothing.

When he looked up, he was stunned by how absolutely glorious Greg looked in nothing but his skin, flushed and fully erect. Greg seemed equally taken with Mycroft, which he couldn't quite understand. Mycroft was more than willing to accept the evidence before him, though. His mouth went dry for a moment at the thought of actually engaging in acts of erotic debauchery with this beautiful man.

"You should get on the bed right now, Mycroft, because I'm too bloody old to fall on my knees and suck you off on this hard floor," Greg said, his voice rough and a little shaky.

Startled, Mycroft pulled Greg onto the bed with him, bringing the length of their bodies together, legs tangling. They kissed again, frantic and moaning, hands everywhere. Mycroft groped Greg's perfect buttocks and nearly ended things right there, but managed to pull himself back from the brink. He took a few deep breaths.

"You okay?" Greg asked, looking at him with concern.

Mycroft nodded quickly. "Yes, just… it's been a long time and I wasn't prepared for how exquisite you feel in my arms."

Greg laughed. "Oh, god, yes." He kissed Mycroft again. "I really want to suck your cock."

"I should -- I should get some condoms," Mycroft said, thinking of the ones he had in his bedside drawer.

Greg tilted his head. "For a blow? You're clean, aren't you?"

"Well, of course, but it's so messy," Mycroft said, wrinkling his nose. "Semen everywhere, and it gets sticky and musses up the sheets."

"Oh, okay. I don't mind a little mess, but if you want to use them, that's fine."

Mycroft looked around. "Well, we are in the guest room. I don't suppose it will be awful if it's a mess in here. We'll be sleeping in my bed, after all."

"Tonight? I would love to, but I've got court first thing tomorrow. I'm not sure if I should stay."

Mycroft sighed, hoping this didn't mean Greg was going to back out of his promise to spend time with him, or of the tentative agreement to begin a relationship. "Are you worried I'll keep you awake with the nightmares?"

Greg shook his head. "No, I'm worried we'll shag each other stupid all night long and I won't be able to focus in the morning. God, yes, I'd love to stay, but I have to be on it tomorrow so we can get the conviction."

Mycroft nodded. "I understand. But you will come back after?"

"I told you I'd take time off to be with you. I don't want this all to be too much for you, though. I know you need your privacy. So do I, actually. I wouldn't want you to think I was trying to move in with you."

When stated like that, it was perfectly sensible. "While I'm grateful for your company, and currently feeling a desperate need for the consummation of our nascent relationship, I agree that I'm not ready to have anyone move in with me in the immediate future. I would, however, like to urgently request that you commence with the fellatio you promised only moments ago. The anticipation has become unbearable."

Greg laughed then slithered down Mycroft's body and took Mycroft's penis in hand, sucking half of it into his hot, wet mouth. Mycroft's mind went blank. He heard a moan and realized it was his own, but he didn't much care. The pleasure of Greg's touch and his tongue and the heat of his mouth were the only things in Mycroft's world. He cupped Greg's head in his hands and caressed him, following as Greg slowly moved up and down the length of Mycroft's prick. Mycroft's breath was harsh and gasping as Greg sucked. Mycroft couldn't see his face, but everything Greg did, every sound he made was extravagant evidence that he was thoroughly enjoying himself.

A few moments later, Mycroft was able to form words again. "Let me suck you, too."

Greg raised his head and looked at him. "You want a condom for that, or you okay like this?"

"Normally I'd prefer one, but since we're not sleeping in the bed, I don't have to worry about containment issues."

Greg nodded. "No worries, you don't have to swallow."

"I've never liked the idea, but I do want your extremely appealing appendage up here where I can access it." He reached down to tug at Greg's leg.

"Must not be doing a very good job. You're still using those big words." Greg shifted his weight and moved, presenting Mycroft with a very up-close and personal view of Greg's cock.

Mycroft took him in hand and stroked him gently, assessing Greg's responses even as he went back to sucking on Mycroft. "I do recall you saying something about being reduced to single syllables and obscene noises if we were doing things properly for each other." He nuzzled Greg's bollocks and inhaled, breathing in the scent of musk and arousal. Greg moaned quietly around Mycroft's shaft and Mycroft sighed with pleasure.

Greg's cock was a thing of beauty, Mycroft thought, much like the man himself. He stroked with a little more pressure and Greg's responding moan was more emphatic. Mycroft slid his thumb up across the glans and pulled the foreskin back gently, then licked at the exposed, damp skin, teasing into the slit with the tip of his tongue, which caused Greg's cock to twitch and made him gasp. "Please, don't tease," Greg said.

"I'm working out the best way to please you," Mycroft answered, which was true, but there was certainly a bit of deliberate intent to tantalize in his actions as well. He took Greg's cock into his mouth, pressing his tongue along it as he did so. Greg moaned again in response and kissed his way up the length of Mycroft's shaft, sucking intensely at just the head of it. It took all of Mycroft's focus to keep himself from coming right then.

They moved together, sucking and caressing, exploring each other's bodies. Mycroft hadn't been touched like this by anyone before. His other sexual partners had been perfunctory, working to get him off quickly so they could leave; that had been fine with Mycroft, who hadn't particularly wanted any sort of awkward emotional moments with any of them. This though -- Greg's caresses were brimming with emotion and connection in ways Mycroft hadn't thought to imagine possible. There was an intensity of caring and of need in the man that left Mycroft as much shaken as aroused. The depth of it was blinding and Mycroft mirrored it back to Greg, wanting more. It felt like Greg was reaching into him somehow, touching far more than just Mycroft's skin, and Mycroft craved what Greg was giving him.

This was more than want. Mycroft didn't know how to classify it but he was swiftly losing interest in doing so. Greg's mouth was pure decadence on Mycroft's cock and his body was an absolute gift and Mycroft just wanted to bask in the experience of it without analysis. The sounds Greg made were just as obscene as he'd promised, and they threatened Mycroft's sanity. He wanted to hear Greg like this, to feel him like this, over and over again. Drops of fluid started to leak onto Mycroft's tongue and he pulled back, but stroked Greg's shaft and took his bollocks into his mouth instead. Greg cried out, and came, shooting pulses of semen along Mycroft's skin and onto the bed, his body shaking with the intensity of his orgasm.

Mycroft wrapped Greg in his arms, holding him through the aftermath. He was very near release himself. After Greg's shaking stopped, Mycroft turned on the bed and kissed Greg, moving against him as Greg clung to him, returning his kisses frantically. Mycroft's cock slipped along the skin of Greg's abdomen, pressing through the rough hair there, and Greg's hands tightened around the muscles of Mycroft's buttocks, pulling him closer. "Yeah, that's it, Myc, let me feel it. Please, come for me. I want to feel you." Greg's voice was rough and urgent and the absolute desire in it hooked something deep inside Mycroft. That voice, combined with the sensation of their bodies, hot and sweating, coming together with so much passion, finally blew through all of Mycroft's reserve and self-control.

He groaned as he came, his legs tangling with Greg's as he thrust hard against him, pressing him down into the bed with all his strength. Greg took everything Mycroft gave him, holding him in a powerful embrace and kissing him as Mycroft shuddered through his own finish. The slick heat of his semen made the last thrusts even sweeter, and he gasped against Greg's shoulder, never wanting the moment to end.

Finally, though, the frantic pulse of his heart slowed and their breathing calmed, and Greg and Mycroft held one another, just resting together without speaking. Mycroft lay in Greg's arms, eyes closed, completely limp and wrung out. Exhausted but exhilarated, he drifted in a wave of utter bliss.

Eventually, they shifted. "Getting sticky," Greg mumbled.

Mycroft nodded. "God knows, having it dry like this could prove painful when we finally do move."

"Like glue," Greg agreed. "Best to clean up a bit now before it's too late and we end up without any hair where we're stuck." Mycroft yawned and stretched a little, looking into Greg's warm brown eyes. The affection and tenderness he saw there left him breathless. Greg reached up and caressed Mycroft's cheek with the backs of his fingers. "Thank you," Greg whispered.

"You are extraordinary," Mycroft whispered in return. He kissed Greg again, still not wanting to let go.

Greg made a contented, rumbling sound, rather like a purr. He pulled away from the kiss. "Shower," he said. "Really, you'll thank me later."

Grumbling, Mycroft made himself sit up. He tugged at the sheet below them and cleaned himself a bit before he got to his feet. Greg did the same, and Mycroft offered him a hand, pulling him up and into an embrace. Greg chuckled. "I didn't know if you were going to be all cuddly afterward. Nice to know that you are."

"I never was before. It's you, not me. You're what's bringing this out." Mycroft's stomach rumbled.

"Dinner after the shower," Greg said, grinning and shaking his head.

Mycroft didn't let go. "I think you should be aware that, if our relationship continues to leave me craving your touch like this, at some point I shall, most likely, ask you to share a home with me."

Greg's expression became serious. "When we're both ready, we can have that discussion. I would be open to it, provided things work out, but there's a lot that would need to be negotiated first."

"Of course. I'm not known for my spontaneity, after all. Nor do I acknowledge that possibility lightly."

"Just so you know, I think that's kind of romantic, in a very you sort of way," Greg said.

Mycroft smiled and shook his head. "Should I be offended or amused by that?"

"How about pleased? Because I am."

"That seems a reasonable position."

Greg flashed a wicked grin at Mycroft. "I can think of lots of reasonable positions."

"Your innuendo needs a little work if you're going for subtlety."

"What, me? Nah, I'm going for blatant. Suits me better, I think."

"You'll have to tell me about some of these reasonable positions after we've had dinner."

"Maybe I can show you one in the shower," Greg said, with an exaggerated eyebrow waggle.

Mycroft sighed, still smiling. "You're the one who was worried about us shagging ourselves stupid all night, my dear."

"Fair point."

Mycroft kissed Greg again, just because he could.

~~end~~