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Mycroft's mother was delighted when the first tiny shadows appeared upon his forearm. He was fourteen at the time, startled by the very notion that even he had a soul mate. He'd quietly expected the marks just never to appear, a sad and silent no match found, but they grew darker by the month, rising closer and closer to the surface. At night he laid in his bed and stroked his fingertips over them, wondering.

He imagined someone else out there, watching words begin to form beneath their skin—words with which he would one day greet them.

His mother studied the emerging marks at every chance she got, speculating happily on what they might soon say. Naturally she expected them to form 'A pleasure to meet you, prime minister,' or something equally promising—or in her more whimsical moments, she confidently prophesied something delightfully charming. Her own right arm bore the first words Mycroft's father had ever said to her, twenty years before at a tea dance: 'Oh, but you are beautiful'. She was intensely proud of the mark. She discreetly selected her wardrobe to ensure it could be read at all times, so that none could be left in any doubt as to the success of her marriage.

By Mycroft's fifteenth birthday, the words on his own arm had emerged enough to be clear.

His mother swapped him out of short-sleeved shirts as soon as the situation became apparent. Even his pyjamas reached the wrist from that day onwards. They never spoke about it anymore; she would brook no more discussion of soul mates, marks or bonds in her presence, even in passing. She wrote to the headmaster of Mycroft's boarding school, requesting special permission for him to wear a long-sleeved jersey during sports—'on account of the circumstances', she said.

The headmaster agreed with her entirely.

Some things, he said, were perhaps best covered—for Mycroft's sake.

Even Sherlock never saw the words. He asked, of course, and was told very firmly that Mycroft's mark was a private matter, grossly unworthy of discussion at the dinner table.

Mycroft would never forget his younger brother's crumpled look of confusion in response—his bewilderment that, for months now, Mycroft's mark had sometimes been the only topic of discussion at the dinner table. He wouldn't forget the dawning comprehension in Sherlock's eyes, either—the startled sideways glance, as his younger brother made the connection that Mycroft's mark had revealed something, something about Mycroft. Something shameful.

Mycroft had shown his colours somehow—and they were ugly.

The words now branded by fate into his arm became the very darkest family secret. In years to come, Mycroft could track very cleanly the steep decline in his relationship with his parents to that winter when he'd turned fifteen. He'd disappointed them that year, too deeply to be forgiven. Neither of them ever took great pains to hide it.

Even the joy that he, Mycroft Holmes, had a soul mate, a bond of his very own, had been tainted.

His family had been horrified enough to learn what little could be surmised from his mark. Any suggestion that Mycroft might now seek this person out, in hope of forging some connection with them, would have been a further slap in the face to his family—to the parents who had raised him to be decent, proper and upstanding, and whom he was fated to repay only with unworthiness.

Now and then, lying in his solitary bath at night, with a glass of white wine and a paperback resting atop his wicker laundry basket, an ageing Mycroft gazed at the words shining wet and black upon his skin in the candlelight. He never stroked them, as he once had. He never sent them quiet love in the smallest hours of the night.

They were a joke, after all.

It was no longer worth imagining how they might be said. These words were meant to have promised him closeness and companionship for life.

All they'd ever done was make him lonely.

 

'Fuck me up. I knew you'd be posh.'

 

Whenever Mycroft read them, he remembered his mother in fits of near-hysterical tears, weeping to his father through the paper-thin walls of their drawing room.

"But what manner of horrid woman would ever say such a thing?" she'd sobbed. "Who will he try to bring into our family?"

He'd never bothered to tell them that no manner of horrid woman would be saying those words. The discovery he was homosexual, as well as fated to be shackled to some filthy-mouthed lout, would probably have finished his mother off—and it had all seemed so theoretical and pointless and obscene that sharing such a detail would have been nothing but a hostile act.

And in the end, the years were passing fast without any sign.

The punchline of the joke, Mycroft had concluded without amusement. He'd been sullied in his parents' eyes for good, for no good reason. For three decades now, he'd kept himself to those circles of society where such words could never possibly be uttered. He buried his heart into his work. When he couldn't work, he spent his time at the Diogenes, where any words—let alone those—were forbidden. A few necessary security personnel knew: his assistant, if ever she needed to identify his body; his doctors, who knew better than to dare even mention his mark and its profanity. Otherwise, he kept his shameful secret to himself.

Introverted by nature, then isolated by circumstance, Mycroft hadn't felt arms wrapped around him since he was a child.

He quietly believed he never would again.

Some people went to enormous lengths to engineer situations in which the words on their bodies might naturally be said. Short of roaming rubbish dumps, seedy bars full of criminals and back alleys littered with used needles, Mycroft didn't have a clue how he might summon his soul mate to appear—and frankly, he didn't want them to.

He didn't wish those words ever to be said to him. They'd cost him the pride and love of his parents, the admiration of his little brother and his place in his own family—and after all that, they seemed so cruel.

My soul mate, he thought, numb and alone in his bath. The supposed second half of my heart.

And even you will be disappointed by me.

He took solace in what he could, let the years go by, and comforted himself that Sherlock's soul mate ("Here, use mine...") was no nearer to manifesting than his own.

The entire business—like so much else in life—was for ordinary people, not for those called Holmes.  

 

*

 

"This is him, sir," she said, turning the page in the report to offer him a photograph of the two side-by-side on a bench near Piccadilly Circus—Sherlock, drug-addled and filthy as ever; his new acquaintance sitting beside him, watching him drink the takeaway coffee he'd no doubt just handed over.

The man was striking, Mycroft had to admit. He far more respectable than Sherlock's usual associates, too: an officer named Lestrade, Lambeth-born and with twenty years of service to the Metropolitan Police. His Scotland Yard ID photograph, printed on the following page of the report, showed dark hair streaked with grey, large brown eyes and an irrepressible hint of smile. He had the trustable looks that were advantageous in a law enforcement professional; his subsequent record of faultless conduct commended him. One previous marriage, ended in adultery—hers. Not a soul connection then, Mycroft thought in the back of his mind, glancing at the ID photograph once more.

"Promising," he murmured, as Anthea turned another page for him to see. A detective would certainly make an excellent influence over Sherlock. Precautions should still be taken, though. "Make arrangements for a meeting, will you?"

"The usual, sir?"

"Mm. Better safe than sorry. He might be Scotland Yard, but lord knows they're not immune to corruption... and I'd rather not make assumptions when it comes to my brother's welfare."

His assistant nodded, gathered up the report and took it away with her, the click of her heels crisp across the parquet floor.

As Mycroft drank his two o'clock cup of earl grey alone in his office with his laptop, he wondered vaguely what manner of woman could cheat on a man like Lestrade—a police officer, honourable and well-paid; objectively handsome and with an apparently kind and considerate nature. It seemed astonishing to him, to have the affection of such a person and apparently not value it that highly.

Telling himself he was merely widening his knowledge of Lestrade's background, ahead of tonight's introduction, he ran a few minor checks on the names.

Lestrade's ex-wife had remarried within three months of their divorce. Her surname was Parsons now; she was listed as living in Coventry.

It took Mycroft all of a minute to find her social media profile: a beach wedding, a deep pink sunset, two happy people clasping hands beneath a palm tree. Mr Parsons had a bald shiny head, pink shiny cheeks and a smile the width of the palm fronds above them.

'These your keys, love? You dropped them,' along her left arm.

'Oh my god, at last,' along his right.

 

*

 

At precisely seven PM, a car retrieved Mycroft from the Diogenes to transport him to a disused packing warehouse in South London. Halfway there, he was surprised to feel a text arrive, opening it to find a message from his assistant.

 

Apologies sir. Slight delay.
Waiting for an opportunity to take him discreetly. A

 

An image was attached. Mycroft turned his phone sideways, squinting in the darkness as he studied the grainy photograph which appeared. It showed a restaurant table, candle-lit and occupied by two people—Lestrade, instantly recognisable in a white shirt; sitting across from him, a young woman in a low-cut scarlet dress.

Mycroft snorted. He reoriented his phone and replied, typing with a slight frown.

 

Call the restaurant and ask for him to be brought to the phone.
When he does, make the situation clear to him. M.

 

Her response came three minutes later.

 

No need. He took a cigarette break. Have acquired him.
On our way now. A

 

At the warehouse, Mycroft took a moment to revisit the security report on Lestrade. They'd had him followed for two weeks; none of the agents made any mention of a partner. He was, however, a member of a dating website which seemed to cater to those cynical of the concept of soul mates.

It seemed this young woman was a very recent addition, sourced through that channel.

Sensible, Mycroft supposed, without emotion. The experience with his wife must have left Lestrade rather cold to the system. The man was still young, still vital and attractive—Mycroft couldn't blame him for seeking companionship. Such things mattered to most people.

As the crunch of approaching tires caught his ear, Mycroft locked his phone and slipped it away inside his pocket. Sherlock. His brother's welfare came foremost. Lestrade's personal life was hardly relevant, so long as he posed no threat to Sherlock's security and well-being.

Headlights panned through the warehouse, found Mycroft waiting in the gloom and eased their way towards him. He didn't move as the car came to a stop. Two doors clunked open. One emitted Anthea, her silhouette familiar in the glare of the lights.

The other shadow, new to Mycroft's eyes, broad-shouldered and unafraid, was Lestrade.

As he came clear of the lights, and they saw each other face-to-face for the first time, Mycroft felt his heart give a squeeze. Lord, he thought. If life were fair. The man was almost decadently handsome, everything his photograph had shown and more, dressed for a first date with a crisp white shirt let down just a couple of buttons.

He came to stand a few feet in front of Mycroft and studied him without a flicker of fear, saying nothing, waiting to hear why he'd been summoned.

Mycroft drew a breath, covering his momentary pause with a tight smile. He'd not come here to mourn what he couldn't have. He'd come to ensure Sherlock, at least, would be safe in this vicious pit of a world.

He looked Lestrade in the eye, lifted his chin a little, and said,

"I too discredit the concept of soul mates, inspector. Rather discourteous of you, though... such a charming young woman, abandoned mid-date without a thought."

Lestrade's face opened.

For several seconds, he didn't move. He simply stared at Mycroft in apparent amazement, his lips a little parted. Dry, he wet them with a flash of his tongue.

He then reached for the highest-fastened button on his shirt.

He'd twisted it open before Mycroft could say a word, then the next one down, and the next. Astonished by this turn of events, Mycroft could only watch as Lestrade pulled open a final button and parted the fabric across his chest.

Words appeared, crisp and clear and dark.

 

'I too discredit the concept of soul mates, inspector.'

 

Mycroft's jaw dropped.

Delight filled his soul mate's face. The man grinned from ear-to-ear, shaking his head.

"Fuck me up," he murmured. "I knew you'd be posh..."

A startled and happy shriek went up from by the car—Anthea, who quickly clutched both hands to her mouth to stifle the sound. She hurried inside the vehicle before she could embarrass herself or Mycroft any further, leaving him simply to stare open-mouthed at the sole person fated to love him in this world.

"You—" He couldn't speak. "Y-You are—"

Lestrade bit the corner of his lip.

"Where's yours, darlin'?" he asked.

Mycroft's hand moved in instinct towards his arm. He stopped the movement just in time, fighting the longing to curl his fingers over those words, hide them, keep them safe beneath two layers of fabric.

"Yeah?" Lestrade came closer, gentle and careful. He knew Mycroft was afraid. "Can I see?"

Mycroft didn't move, too shocked to draw away.

As Lestrade stepped close to him, a wave of soft cologne and candle smoke swept over Mycroft's senses. The sudden need to be held welled up in his chest. Lestrade gave him a quiet smile, reassuring him; he reached for Mycroft's arm.

Gently he undid the cuff of Mycroft's sleeve. The fabric wouldn't withdraw very far, but it eased back just enough to offer letters: Fu, the first curve of c.

Lestrade's laugh flooded through him like a river.

"Christ, I'm so sorry. That can't have been easy to live with." He looked into Mycroft's eyes, smiling—smiling as if he was pleased, as if he was proud, as if Mycroft was everything he'd hoped. "Holy shit," he murmured, searching Mycroft's face. "You're gorgeous, too. I should've said that first, shouldn't I? Look at you..."

Mycroft tried to speak; no sound emerged. All words had vanished from his mind. He couldn't see anything but those eyes, big brown eyes, studying him with joy. He'd never been looked at like that in all his life.

Lestrade smiled, glancing gently at his lips.

"You're not... some kind of mafia, are you?" he asked. He began to stroke the first two letters of Mycroft's mark with his fingertips. "Please don't be."

Mycroft's throat squeezed.

"No," he managed, and found himself surprised by the sound of his own voice. "No, I... I occupy a minor position in the British government."

His soul mate raised an eyebrow, glancing around the darkened warehouse.

"Right," he said, amused. "Forgot to submit my tax return on time, did I? I always wondered what would happen."

Oh god. "S-Sherlock. I—Sherlock Holmes. I am his brother. I meant to check—no untoward intentions—s-suitable influence on him. My name is Mycroft."

He watched Lestrade breathe it in.

"'Mycroft'," he murmured, and he said it as if it felt good in his mouth. Even the sight of those two syllables on his lips swept Mycroft's heart up to the rafters. "I'm Greg. Greg Lestrade."

"Yes. Yes, I-I know." Mycroft's gaze flickered to the words still visible beneath Lestrade's open white shirt, scrawled into his skin. All this time. "You've taken my brother into your home."

Greg smiled, his eyes glittering softly in the headlights.

"Spare room," he said. "Get him back on his feet. He's been working through cold cases for me... seems to do him more good than the drugs, at least..." Lestrade paused, his fingertips brushing along Mycroft's arm. He lowered his eyes. "Listen... would it spoil your dramatic scene here if I asked you out to dinner? I, ah—need to make a quick phone call, cancel my other date first, but..."

Oh god.

Oh god, oh god.

"That would be fine," Mycroft managed, rather proud of the calm with which he said it. He swallowed, attempting a smile. "I-I would like that, inspector. Thank you."

Greg's eyes seemed to shine. "Now?"

 

*

 

They were almost the last couple to leave the restaurant, too busy talking and sharing to notice the room growing empty around them. Greg insisted on paying the bill.

As they waited on the pavement together for the car, Greg stood close enough for Mycroft to catch the scent of the cologne that had warmed all evening on his neck. It smelled divine. Every fibre of his being wanted to nuzzle into that scent, drink it deep.

Mine. My one. My soul mate.

It didn't seem real.

The gentle brush of Greg's hand across his back, shielding him quietly from a pair of passing drunks, felt like soft and silent lightning through his veins.

"Hey..." Greg murmured, keeping his arm around Mycroft, even now the men had passed. "I know you said you'd drop me off, but... would you come in for coffee, maybe?" His eyes sparkled, soft and dark. "Not ready to let you go just yet. I'm worried you'll turn out to be a dream."

Shivers cascaded down Mycroft's back. He searched Greg's perfect face for a moment, trying to think how to phrase this. If this is all true, he thought, then surely you wouldn't mind. It wouldn't appall you.

"I don't wish to say goodnight yet—and I'd like to have coffee, very much. But you should perhaps know this sooner rather than later." He couldn't quite say it looking in Greg's eyes; he lowered his gaze instead, telling the top button of Greg's shirt. "I'm unused to company. Especially romantic company... and especially romantic company overnight."

He felt Greg process the implications; he felt Greg's eyes upon his face.

"D'you mean what I think you mean?" Greg asked.

Mycroft nodded, keeping his gaze low.

"You waited," Greg said, and the heat which passed over the back of Mycroft's neck took his breath for a moment.

"I've... concentrated my efforts on other matters," he said.

Greg gave him a gentle smile; he seemed rather moved. "No worries," he murmured. "Just coffee for now—sit and talk a bit longer."

The quiet glow around Mycroft's heart deepened. "Would you object awfully if this took place at my home?" he said. "I have to adhere to certain security protocols."

"S'fine," Greg said, his eyes bright. He'd already seen through the veneer of a 'minor position'. Mycroft hadn't the heart to try and deceive him. "When you're tired, just toss me in a taxi home. That okay?"

God help me. I will never be tired of you. "Y-Yes. Yes, that seems..."

"Good." Greg glanced along the street; a dark car had turned the corner. "Is this us?"

 

*

 

It was gone midnight now. Mycroft didn't know how long gone; he didn't care. They'd meant to say goodnight some time ago, but had remained here talking in the doorway of the spare room, sharing odd little stories and jokes, watching each other smile.

He couldn't bring himself to let Greg leave him for the night.

He knew beyond all doubt that he'd wake up in the morning, hurry down the corridor and find the spare room deserted, the bed made, all signs of this miraculous dream gone with the sunlight. Each lull in conversation tightened his heart. He'd never had someone stay up late simply to talk to him; he couldn't bear to see it end.

"And you're sure you don't mind me sleeping here?" Greg murmured, watching him with that gentle, quiet smile.

"No, not at all. We've drunk rather a lot—and it... will be pleasant to have breakfast together." If you are real. If you aren't gone, the very moment I take my eyes from you.

Greg nodded.

"How d'you feel about goodnight hugs?" he asked, and Mycroft attempted to keep the heady thump of his heart away from his expression. "Would that be alright, maybe?"

So respectful. So...

And to think I feared you were a lout...

As Greg's arms eased around him, Mycroft felt something soft and warm ripple through his entire body. He nestled into the closeness of Greg's embrace, letting his nose rest at the side of his neck. As he breathed, it soaked his soul in the very deepest lingering notes of Greg's cologne—oakmoss and vetiver, warm fabric, smoke.

Greg's hands soothed up his back, rubbing.

After a moment, with a softness which lifted the hair on Mycroft's arms, he murmured,

"Didn't think I'd ever... y'know." Their cheeks pressed; the stroke of Greg's stubble cut Mycroft's breath. "Didn't know how I should take those words. Thought I'd only ever find you if I stopped believing in it..."

Oh god. "I-I am glad you found me, Greg."

Greg didn't move. He seemed to swallow, quiet in the silence.

"Yeah?" he said. "You... you believe in—?"

"For a long time, I dearly wished I didn't." Mycroft let his eyes close, his whole body now resting in Greg's arms. Comfort melted through his veins with every breath. "But now, I... w-with circumstances as they are..."

Greg hesitated; his fingertips brushed the back of Mycroft's neck.

"Can I kiss you?" he asked.

As their lips met, Mycroft's heart seemed to erupt. The gentleness of the contact and the intensity of his response left him reeling; he felt like a feather, borne aloft on cannon fire. Greg's hands cupped his face. They held him gently, safely, and their mouths stroked together for just a few quiet moments, brushing each other with the greatest of care. Greg tasted of the red wine they'd been drinking; his mouth felt warm and soft. He was wonderful.

When quiet finally came, their faces stayed close.

Greg's nose stroked the side of Mycroft's.

"Can we try, darlin'?" he asked. Mycroft felt each word stroke against his lips; they filled his heart with joy. "Make something of it, I mean. You and me."

He couldn't remember when he'd run his hands into Greg's hair. He let them loosen gently, stroking through the soft silver strands.

"I like you very much," he whispered. Greg smiled against his lips. "I worried I wouldn't. I... I don't really know what I thought. But you are here, and you... you seem so wonderful..."

"M'not a disappointment to you?"

Dear god. "No. Of course you aren't."

"Promise?" Greg whispered, and gently kissed him again. As Mycroft felt his back press up against the doorframe, he shivered and pushed his fingers deeply through Greg's hair, aching with every slow brush of Greg's lips. His skin suddenly longed to be uncovered. He felt like a cat, rolling in a patch of afternoon sunlight; he wanted to be stroked.

"I promise," he breathed between kisses. "Ohh—G-Greg—"

"Come lie down a while," Greg said to him, softly, and Mycroft felt his pulse punch its way through the plasterwork ceiling. His fingers tightened in Greg's hair. "Just to kiss and cuddle," Greg said. "Just to—god, I... I just need to—"

Shaking, Mycroft pulled him through the door.

He woke the next day to the scent of fresh coffee, the gentle stroke of sheets across his skin, and the sensation of someone leaning low over the bed.

"Morning..." his lover rumbled, kissing his forehead. The borrowed dressing gown hung open from Greg's shoulders; the words across his chest were beautiful in the morning light, dark and glossy, as clear as day.

Mycroft stirred, almost shining with happiness. He leant up to catch his soul mate's lips.

"Good morning..." he whispered, coaxing Greg back into bed.