Mycroft didn't expect to be the first person John called to complain about Sherlock's latest unreasonable request. He knows he isn't because he monitors all of John's calls, and is listening when the person John does call first picks up.
The honour is Lestrade's, and he's too distracted by end-of-the-month paperwork to appreciate it or be properly sympathetic.
"Sherlock frequently takes on undercover roles to find out more information. It's not illegal, at least not in this scenario," Lestrade – full name Griffin James Lestrade, though he's not gone by Griffin since he was old enough to have a say in the matter – is saying.
"I don't have a problem with him doing so. I have a problem with being dragged in, particularly as his fake boyfriend."
"Why fake? Aren't you two dating?"
John's sigh is carefully audible. He's likely gritting his teeth as well, but that doesn't come across on the phone line. "No. We're not."
"Ah. At least you don't have to worry about having to make too much of an effort."
John hangs up. He clearly hasn't received the needed understanding yet, so he calls his sister. He's hoping she won't have started drinking yet.
She has, but not enough for that to be apparent to John. "How's my favourite brother?" Harry asks.
John skips the usual give and take of a conversation in favour of explaining what's bothering him. He did call for a specific purpose, after all. "Sherlock's making me pose as his boyfriend."
"Pose as in for a camera? Kinky."
"What? Harry, Sherlock and I aren't dating."
Harry mutters something that can't be anything but, "God only knows why not."
John either doesn't make it out or chooses to ignore her. "He wants us to pretend we are for a case."
"I see." Mycroft rather doubts she does.
John has apparently come to the same conclusion, and starts wrapping up the conversation. "And how are you?"
"Sober," she lies. Mycroft wonders if John knows she's lying, or if he would appreciate being told. Probably not, particularly if the circumstances of how Mycroft knew came to bear. Most people Mycroft has had relationships with in the past haven't appreciated having their suspicions that he has them under surveillance confirmed. Not that Mycroft is ever going to have a relationship with John, apart from being his flatmate's arch-enemy, much to Mycroft's disappointment. John being comfortably bisexual doesn't lead logically to a relationship with Mycroft, no matter how much Mycroft might wish for that to be the case.
John is clearly growing desperate; the next person he calls is the nurse who saved his life in Afghanistan – Bill Murray. It's obvious now that John isn't just looking for sympathy; he wants to talk things through with someone. Something about the situation with Sherlock is making him feel conflicted. Mycroft is disappointed but not surprised.
Bill picks up after a couple of rings. "Hello?"
"It's John. I was wondering if you had some time free to talk for a couple of minutes."
"Hey John. Not really, I'm afraid. Sorry."
"Oh, that's fine. We should get together for drinks, yeah?"
"Yeah." Bill is less than enthusiastic, but that's perfectly understandable. He fears that one of the soldiers killed in Helmand this morning was a friend, and he's refreshing the news websites and waiting for someone he knows to call him to either confirm or deny those fears. Mycroft frowns. Bill's a good man, and so were the people who died, but Mycroft can't say whether any of them were Bill's friend or not.
John hasn't called anyone else yet, wrestling with who there is left, which gives Mycroft the extra time he needs to collect himself again.
When his phone rings he smiles at it before picking it up. "John."
"I'm not bothering you, am I?"
"I don't know," Mycroft replies. "I only just picked up the phone."
"I shouldn't have called," John mutters.
"If you hang up now I'll feel obligated to send a car to pick you up so we can have a chat in person. Clearly something is wrong, or you wouldn't have called me."
There's the distinct sound of the call being ended, followed a couple of seconds later by a text from John. "Weren't expecting that, then? I'll be waiting for your car outside my flat in twenty minutes. John."
Mycroft glances at his watch and decides the way to recover from this surprise is by surprising John in return. Twenty minutes is enough time for him to be in the car that picks John up.
Mycroft glances over John when he pulls open the door of the car. He looks well-rested, but hungry, even if his annoyance with Sherlock hasn't given that a chance to catch up yet. "Join me for dinner?" Mycroft asks.
"Perhaps, but we've neither of us eaten yet, and better to rectify that before it gets too much later."
John shrugs. "Why not?"
Mycroft smiles and nods to the driver to take them to the restaurant he has a reservation for. Once they arrive they are shown immediately to a table. Mycroft seats himself with careful ease. He likes this restaurant, and he likes this table at well. John complements the other chair more nicely than his usual companions.
The menu doesn't have prices, and Mycroft thinks John would prefer not to know just how much Mycroft will be spending on this meal. He doesn't seem the sort of man who would be impressed by a high price tag simply because it's high.
Once they've ordered and Mycroft has seen John eat the bread that was brought – normally he would enjoy some as well, but diets can't be put on hold every time he's offered delicious food – Mycroft nods. "Now, should you like to speak on the subject that led you to seek me out in the first place, I am most willing to listen."
"Your brother," John says, like he's delivering some great proclamation, "is impossible."
Mycroft smiles. "Merely highly improbable. Do elaborate though: what has he done this time?"
"He wants me to pretend to be his boyfriend."
"For a case or because he's bored?"
John snorts. "For a case. I wouldn't even consider agreeing if it was just to satisfy his curiosity, but we're catching a murderer."
Mycroft finds he can't dance around the issue if he has a hope of receiving an honest answer. "Would it hurt or help if you knew that my brother has no interest – either sexual or romantic – in you?"
"Help," John says. "Definitely help. Is that the case?"
Mycroft does allow himself some pleasure in being able to say yes. He likes being able to make John happy, and Sherlock experimented with sex of various sorts while at uni before deciding he was entirely comfortable with dismissing the entire act as uninteresting and not nearly as inspiring as everyone else made it out to be. If John had been pining over Sherlock, it would have been unfortunately awkward for them both. Much better that he isn't. That does leave the question of who John is attracted to, since it's not the last couple of women he's gone out on dates with.
"Can I ask why?" Mycroft asks. "He's attractive enough, or so I get the impression."
"Be that as it may, it doesn't change the fact that I'm not attracted to him. I can't see any sort of...sexual relationship working out between the two of us. It wouldn't improve on our current friendship, even if we were both interested that way, rather than neither of us being. I appreciate his company, but he's not what I'm looking for in a partner."
"No?" Mycroft can't avoid pushing a little more, to see what he could find out. The promise of food and a listening ear has made John more talkative than he usually is.
"Being bisexual doesn't mean I'm attracted to everyone," John snaps.
Mycroft nods sympathetically, taking it as a reminder. "Quite so."
"Sorry. It's just that everyone these days seems to assume I'm interested in Sherlock. It was old the first time it happened."
"And this case of his isn't likely to help matters."
As the waiter places the food – lemon crab over rice for John and blackened salmon with roasted asparagus for Mycroft – John's phone chimes and he pulls it from his pocket. Mycroft can't imagine what Sherlock would have to say that would cause him the degree of discomfort John is now displaying. "Problem, doctor?" Mycroft asks.
"Yes. Sherlock has informed me that he'll be joining us in a matter of minutes. I'm really sorry for this."
Mycroft glances at his meal. Better to eat what he can before Sherlock makes him guilty for having ordered anything but a salad. "Not a problem," he declares generously, picking up his fork. It's certainly not a problem that John should feel at all responsible for.
A third chair is brought and Sherlock shown in without disrupting the comfort of the other diners. "I've decided a different approach would be better," Sherlock declares as he drops into his chair. There's something very calculating in his eyes that Mycroft doesn't care for at all.
Sherlock's gaze slides to John and Mycroft shakes his head. "No. I couldn't possibly fit it into my schedule."
John sighs. "I do prefer to actually be included in conversations that I'm present for."
"Of course," Mycroft replies. "My apologies. Sherlock believes his purpose can be better served should you and I should pose as boyfriends instead."
"Sherlock," John says wearily. "I can do it with you."
"No. I can better tell if the bus driver is homophobic if I'm just an observer of his reactions. Besides, Mycroft will be more convincing."
John sighs. "It's not fair to assume your brother will cede to your whims." Mycroft keeps himself from remarking that John himself has been giving in too easily, making Sherlock expect that kind of behaviour.
"Right," Sherlock replies. Mycroft gives him a quelling glance that Sherlock only ignores. "Mycroft, are you willing to hold John's hand and snog him for a while in the name of catching a murderer?"
Mycroft forces a frown on his face. He knows Sherlock will see through it – has seen through it already – but it doesn't matter as long as John remains unaware. "I can clear a spot in my schedule."
Sherlock smiles. "I'll leave you to your lunch, then. Though your choice to skip dessert is a good one, Mycroft. I'll see you both at ten thirty this evening. I'll text you the name of the pub." He heads off, leaving both Mycroft and John with the amusement that is a survival mechanism for those who are well-acquainted with Sherlock.
Mycroft pulls out his phone. "I have to reschedule my ten o'clock meeting," he explains. Unlike Sherlock, he wouldn't normally conduct business at the table unless it was known to both parties ahead of time to be a business meeting.
"You have meetings at ten?" John asks while Mycroft taps out an e-mail.
"Yes. Time zones are difficult things that we all have to work around."
He falls silent and when Mycroft glances up he can see that John is holding a question on the tip of his tongue. He doesn't ask it, though, and only the most casual topics of conversation occupy them for the rest of the meal.
"I'll see you this evening, then," John says, his slight smile fading to a frown as he pulls out his phone. He puts it away again without replying to Sherlock.
Before Mycroft can hazard a guess as to what the text contains he receives one of his own. "Dress is more casual than anything you own. Maybe you can borrow something from one of your assistants. SH."
Mycroft snorts and waves his farewell to John before heading to his car.
On his way back to his office Mycroft is forced to realise he actually doesn't have anything that would work. He hardly thinks asking his main assistant, Kate, would be appropriate, but there really isn't any time in his schedule to spare. Besides, she's fulfilled stranger requests for him in the name of looking after Sherlock.
He sends her out with specific instructions about the clothing he needs. To her credit Kate doesn't even bat an eyelid upon hearing that her employer requires a generic shirt that's tighter than what he usually wears and costs less than £20.
Mycroft is turning his phone back on after a meeting when it alerts him that he has a text from his brother. "You fancy him like you're the teenage boy I never was. SH."
Mycroft sighs and taps out the only response he can think of. Denying his attraction to John wouldn't work and forbidding Sherlock to speak about it would only escalate things more. For once, Mycroft is glad his brother prefers texts; he appreciates the time he has to think about his reply. "You were a teenager. You know that, right? There's documentation and everything. Also, I remember it. Mycroft"
Mycroft glances at Sherlock's reply, supposing it would have been too much to hope Sherlock would be caught up in something else and forget to answer. "I wasn't a teenager like you. There was a complete lack of pining. SH." Mycroft supposes that as long as Sherlock is satisfied with the reactions Mycroft is giving him he won't need to further embarrass Mycroft by going to John.
"I'm sorry I'm offending you with my personal humanity. Mycroft."
"You're not. I'm amused. Quit worrying about the trousers: Anthea has decent enough taste to pick out something flattering. SH."
Mycroft blinks at the text. The whole message is confusing, though it helps to figure out that Sherlock is actually referring to Kate. Sherlock doesn't tease Mycroft; he fights or mocks him. This behaviour is more than unusual, it's worrying. Just as Mycroft decides that he can use this evening to figure out what's wrong, his phone vibrates again. "Can't you just accept that I'm worried about you? SH." Mycroft frowns at seeing his own words parroted back to him. At least if Sherlock is plotting something - and he undeniably is - it's much more benign than some of the things he could be doing, and it means he's not actually in trouble.
Mycroft has his driver drop him in a restaurant a discreet distance from the pub where neither Mycroft's initial formal clothing nor the more casual outfit he changes into in the bathroom raise an eyebrow. Having done so, Mycroft takes his discarded clothing out to the car, feeling underdressed. He walks carefully to the pub, which Sherlock is standing outside of.
He greets Mycroft with a distracted smile. "John says I should thank you for fitting this into your schedule."
Mycroft shrugs. "You're not going to."
"John inside already?"
Mycroft had hoped to have a chance to talk with John before proceeding, but he doesn't have much of a choice. Besides, he's not really sure what he could say. He somehow doubts that 'I recognise that this is just pretend and will do my best not to indulge in the fact that I'm actually attracted to you, but I'm sorry if I slip' will go over too well.
"I don't think I have to say that I'm relying on you to make this look real," Sherlock says. "I'll text you when I have all the data I need."
Mycroft nods, steeling himself as he enters. The pub is crowded. Mycroft focuses on the screens showing the football match just long enough that he's absorbed their location and will find it easier to block them out. He spots John sitting next to an empty stool and with two pints in front of him. Mycroft heads towards John, noting as he does what level of public affection the heterosexual couples present are displaying. He doesn't see where Sherlock has headed to.
John greets Mycroft with the kind of lazy smile that Mycroft files away to remember later. "Hey sweetie," John says, which, combined with his smile, makes Mycroft's mouth go a bit dry. He sits down and leans over for a careful kiss, which John immediately tries to deepen. When Mycroft pulls back, reluctantly but oh-so necessarily, John is smirking. He's viewing this as some kind of game, then.
"You should wear clothes like those more often," John says, moving his stool closer to Mycroft. "I like seeing you in them."
Mycroft swallows. He hadn't been expecting John to say anything that he could interpret as an actual complement, though he supposes it's more logical than anything else. "Thank you," he says, but that's not right. It's too formal, and too genuine. "I can think of some things I'd rather see you in," he tries.
That earns him a pleased smile and John's hand on his knee. "I'd be interested in hearing those."
Mycroft takes a pull of his pint to buy him a little time to think. "Maybe tonight."
John grins and leans over for a kiss, rubbing Mycroft's knee as he does so. "That a promise?" John murmurs into Mycroft's ear before giving Mycroft back most of his personal space.
Mycroft hadn't known John was such a good actor, and can't imagine what that means John's actual flirting is like. This is electrifying in a way Mycroft has never experienced before.
Mycroft nods, wishing it could be one, wishing John was doing this because he wanted to, rather than because Sherlock told him to. He glances at his watch, wondering how much longer Sherlock will be.
John withdraws his hand from Mycroft's knee with a slight sigh and pulls out his phone, probably to tell Sherlock to finish his observations soon. He doubtlessly has things he'd rather be doing right now. John doesn't seem to like Sherlock's answer, as he immediately starts tapping out a response.
Mycroft knows sitting here and watching John text isn't really going to produce the kind of reaction Sherlock is looking for, which means he'd be forcing John to be here even longer. Mycroft carefully leans a little closer to John and drapes an arm around John's shoulders, barely touching him. John puts his phone away again and leans into Mycroft's arm. He also returns one of his hands to Mycroft's knee and slides it up. Sherlock must have indicated that he needed them to be more obvious. Mycroft moves his arm to make it look like he's rubbing circles into John's back, without actually being that intrusive.
John frowns and stands. Mycroft quickly drops his arm and is preparing his apology when he finds John's arms wrapped around his back, dragging Mycroft in for a kiss. Mycroft yields before he has a chance to think about it, opening his mouth when John insists he does. He regains control after a second in an effort to present himself from being visibly disappointed when John pulls away. John doesn't, though, instead dragging hand up through Mycroft's hair and stepping in, leaving no space between them.
Mycroft gives up and moans into the kiss.
"I'm thinking your place would be best," John remarks when he steps back, gasping a little from the lack of air.
Mycroft first has to catch his breath, and then regain control of his thoughts. He still can't make sense of what John just said and tilts his head in confusion.
John shrugs, letting his eyes rake over Mycroft. "I'd offer you a quickie, but I need to make it very clear that I'm not doing this to put on some show for Sherlock. Plus, you don't strike me as a man who'd be comfortable in a pub toilet."
Mycroft supposes he must look unreasonably astonished, because John chokes back a laugh. "Say that again?" Mycroft asks.
"I enjoy your company and I like…kissing you," John says, carefully, dropping the fake amusement, but it would be impossible for Mycroft to interpret the tone as patronising. "I would like to do more in another environment, one that's more private. Which rules out my home but does leave yours. If you'd be so kind as to call your driver, we can start on that sooner."
Mycroft nods, not arguing with the situation but not really believing it either. He pulls out his phone, and wraps up the short call with the driver to a text message from Sherlock that says simply, "You can't leave now, the man hasn't noticed you two yet. SH."
Mycroft responds, "On the off-chance John is actually not stringing me along for the fun of it, I'm not putting my life on hold for you. Mycroft."
"You make me feel like a matchmaker. Steal his phone if you need proof. SH."
John sits rigidly in his seat in Mycroft's car, but Mycroft thinks there's more of an air of anticipation than tension about him. It would be too much to believe that he's anticipating arriving at Mycroft's home and continuing what they'd started at the pub, but Mycroft can't come up with another explanation. John's not the type to play with people. Mycroft knows that much.
Mycroft considers how his own lack of knowledge about the situation is making him insecure, and weighs the ability to learn more against the obvious violation of privacy. It's not even really a dilemma for him.
"Can I see your phone?" he asks with the kind of authority he knows John will respond to.
Mycroft is scrolling through the recent messages to the beginning of the night, deciding it's well within the bounds of fraternal concern to read the conversations between Sherlock and John, when John sighs. "Don't suppose you'd hand over your phone, to make this a little more equal?"
Mycroft flashes a grin at him. "Can't, state secrets on it and all." He glances up from John's mobile to watch his face.
John shakes his head ruefully. "That's...actually true, isn't it?"
Mycroft nods and starts to read the messages, starting right after Sherlock's message about the name of the pub.
"Why won't your brother use tongue? At all. You said he was interested in me. JW."
"He is. SH."
"I don't want to make him uncomfortable. JW."
"You're making him uncomfortable in his pants. SH."
"Keep trying, you'll get through. SH."
Mycroft isn't sure how he should feel about the fact that his brother has most definitely been "matchmaking" - if Mycroft's being generous with his choice of words - but he knows how he does feel: grateful and anticipatory. Mycroft hands John's mobile back to him, and leans in for a gentle kiss. He engages the use of his tongue as soon as John yields a little.
John gives an embarrassed flicker of his eyes towards the driver when they separate for breath, though he's grinning.
"We'll be home soon," Mycroft promises.
"I like this much better when we're on the same page," John says. "Your invasion of my privacy is forgiven."
Mycroft glances at John and grins. "I'm sure that's something we can discuss in the future."
He leans in for another kiss.