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The Death of Romance

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Greg Lestrade was a romantic.

 

The love story of his parents was mundane but also beautiful. To any outsider they were happy and devoted, but not especially noteworthy. To their young son, however, they were a shining beacon of loveliness all throughout his life. They never stopped delighting in ways to express their love for one another (or their only child) and together and separately they set for him a wonderful example of what it meant to be loving.

 

When Greg was eight, his classmates decorated empty cereal boxes and put them on their desks to act as “post boxes” for the Valentine’s cards they were to exchange. Greg had insisted on buying several boxes of cards when he opened the first one and discovered to his distress that at least half of them were “joke” cards, in whose infantile humour lurked a mean-spiritedness which distressed his gentle soul. His dad scooped him up and drove to town so they could buy enough boxes to ensure he wouldn’t have to give any mean cards.

 

After all his worry and care, Greg was made unhappily aware of how little his classmates seemed to care on the day. They ripped through their cards, intent only on displaying how many they got, like trophies of popularity, or wanting only the free suckers and candies some contained.

 

When he was eleven, Greg hand made a birthday card for his best friend, Freddy. Freddy ripped open the hand-made envelope, covered in Greg’s loopy scrawl and Superman stickers and barely glanced at the card inside over which Greg had laboured. Greg’s face crumpled but he smiled weakly when Freddy shouted a casual thanks at his mum’s prompting.

 

When Greg was a sweaty, hopeful fourteen year old, he became starstruck over Gerry Glass, the latest pop icon. He hung posters of Gerry on his walls and bought all his albums with his pocket money, and feverishly collected every teen magazine he could find to read articles about Gerry’s favourite colour, his preferred snacks and his idea of a romantic date. Feverishly, he drew a portrait of Gerry with his best artistic style, mounted it in a frame he decorated himself and mailed it off in a bulky package with too much postage, worried it wouldn’t arrive.

 

He got a form letter of thanks, clearly something sent out in bulk, not even addressed to him.

 

Age seventeen, Greg buried his growing feels for Freddy by dating his neighbour, Hannah. Hannah had long brown hair, purple eyeliner and lip gloss which smelled of strawberries. Hannah was very nice and he liked kissing her, but she didn’t make him sweaty-palmed and giddy the way he felt with Freddy.

 

Age eighteen, Greg got quite drunk one night with Freddy before Freddy shipped off with the Navy and they fell into a tangle on Freddy’s bed, snogging madly. Eyes shining, Greg pressed his forehead to his best friend’s and whispered, “I love you.” He was so happy he didn’t even register that Freddy didn’t say it back.

 

The next day Freddy left without saying goodbye. Greg’s letters yielded no response until nearly six months later when Freddy wrote a brief letter, enclosing a snap of him on leave, a girl on either knee. He didn’t write again.

 

Greg had left school early, not able to settle down, and found a series of jobs which paid the bills but left him bored and unfulfilled. After a year or two he got a job delivering flowers for the florist around the corner from his parent’s bakery, and was soon entrusted with taking orders and helping in the shop. He liked the owner, Mr Papadopoulos, and the clientele, who were mostly there to celebrate happy occasions. Here was one place where romance was still alive.

 

At twenty-two Greg fell in love. Janie was twenty-three, funny, sharp and sparkling. His mum didn’t entirely like her, but she was happy to see Greg smiling again. Janie was an assistant in a clothing boutique on the high street and she made it her aim to see Greg well-dressed. “Image is everything, Greggy,” she cooed, combing his hair into a ‘cooler’ style. He had to admit he looked nice, if foreign. “How are you going to get anyone to take you seriously if you still dress like your mum picks out your clothes?”

 

Mum did pick out his clothes, although he paid for them. Greg was very proud of his position of trust with Mr Papadopoulos; he was now the assistant manager, and while he still lived at home, Greg paid for all his needs, contributed to the household expenses and had taken up cooking dinner one night a week. He liked being at home, and his parents liked having him there, but Janie thought it was lame of him to live with his parents, she kept urging him to move out into his own place.

 

When he was twenty-five, and Janie twenty-six, Greg asked her to marry him.

 

The wedding was nice--although Janie thought his parents were a bit cheap about it all--and the flowers were gorgeous. Mr Papadopoulos was beaming at them, surrounded by the beautiful arrangements which were his gift to the happy couple. Greg smiled in all the photos, looking very happy. Mostly he was happy, although sometimes he felt a feeling of panic which he was sure was just nerves. Janie--Jeanette, as she was now calling herself--had been moping around, sniffling about her friends all getting married and her languishing as a perpetual bridesmaid. She was all smiles now, glowing in her fashionable white wedding gown, the huge diamond engagement ring she’d begged prettily for flashing on her finger. After all, she’d pouted, what else had he saved his money up for all these years by living at home instead of moving out like a normal bloke?

 

They’d be happy, Greg determined. No reason not to be. After all, he was an incurable romantic who worked in a florist’s and married to the woman of his dreams...how could it help but end well?

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His parents divorced before he was ten. His younger brother--the only person Mycroft loved unreservedly--was barely toddling. Mycroft would have liked to go live with Dad, who, although absent-minded, was kind. That would have been best. Actually the best thing would be if he and Sherlock could have gone to live with their grand-meré, a lovely woman who had all the warmth and kindliness of soul their mother lacked.

 

But the general consensus was that of course the children should go with their mother.

 

Mummy was a very good mummy. Everyone said so. She was so fore-bearing with her difficult sons. Sullent, silent Mycroft with his scowl and his retreat into books and his drawing pad. Loud, boisterous Sherlock with his demanding hands, incessant questions and lonely howls. “How does Violet do it?” Her friends asked admiringly. No one noticed that solemn, responsible Mycroft was the one who wrangled his unruly brother, enforced a bedtime, soothed tantrums and nightmares, saw to his own homework as well as answering Sherlock’s increasingly precocious questions.

 

Mycroft didn’t have time for crushes.

 

There was Sherlock, and school, and coming down for a quarter hour at tea-time when Mummy wanted to show them off to her bridge friends and her colleagues at the university. Mycroft didn’t have many friends. Except for Henry, who was the very picture of a handsome English lad, but very, very shy due to his stutter. Unlike pale, skinny Mycroft, with his freckles and red curls, Henry looked like a shepherd on a china plate with smooth wheat coloured hair, pink cheeks and a sturdy frame. Despite their differences in looks and nature, they were firm friends, and Mycroft would have happily spent all his time at Henry’s house, with his lovely mum and his jolly father and his sweet little sisters. But that would have left Sherlock all alone at home with Mummy, so Mycroft invited Henry over every day after school. He and Mycroft would spend hours playing draughts, or simple cards games when Sherlock wanted to join in.

 

With Mycroft, Henry relaxed, and his stutter was more manageable. Mycroft, a caretaker both by nature and by training, was happiest when those around him were being nurtured, and he took the blossoming of Henry’s confidence as a mark of personal excellence. Their friendship was good for them both, Henry’s fond mum would reflect, pouring more milk and dishing out more biscuits all around. He made the too-solemn Mycroft laugh and play, and Mycroft gave Henry the boost he needed to mix more with his schoolmates.

 

Mycroft was happy with his brother and his friend, his schoolwork and his art. He didn’t really need girls. Girls seemed, from what he could tell, to be very shrill and giggly and a little mean. He was very glad his school was boys-only. Romance, if his parents were any indication, didn’t last. Compatibility, lust, none of it seemed to make a difference.

 

By the time Mycroft discovered that he was gay, he’d still never been on a date. He was, he thought, a little in love with Henry. But Mycroft was, overall, practical, and it was very, very clear that Henry was straight. No need to go down that fruitless road. So Mycroft tucked away his unwanted feelings for his best friend and chose to go to the university where Mummy taught, so that he could remain at home and ensure Sherlock was looked after properly. Romance might be fleeting, but family was forever.

 

******

 

Sherlock safely settled at university, Mycroft moved out of Mummy’s house. Dad extended him a vague offer to stay in his guest room until he got himself “sorted” but Mycroft had no desire to intrude on his father’s new life with his younger wife and Mycroft’s step- and half-siblings. An occasional pint now and then, a Sunday visit from time to time was one thing, but they were effectively strangers.

 

Instead, Mycroft found a bed-sit and looked around for flatshares and flatmates. He was saving his money, as his art career was rather slow to start off. That Mummy had predicted as much was quite infuriating, but he was determined to make a success of himself one way or another.

 

Success came about in the oddest manner.

 

One of Mycroft’s five flatmates wanted a tattoo. He admired Mycroft’s art and asked him to draw something for his tattoo for his fledgling band. Mycroft thought Gaz was an idiot and the band doomed to failure and the tattoo was most definitely a bad idea, but five pounds was five pounds. Mycroft went along to see the ink come to life, and was fascinated by the process of tattooing. The artist was complimentary of Mycroft’s drawing, and they got into a discussion regarding the changes needed to make it come to life as ink on flesh.

 

So absorbing did Mycroft find the process, that he began studying the history of tattoos, and spending considerable time at the tattoo parlour. Before long he had begun training under Unc, the slightly-grizzled former biker with the sweet smile who ran the place. Unc not only gave him entree to a fascinating world of art, creativity and expression, but also taught Mycroft the art of making love to a man. When he was in danger of developing feelings, Mycroft decided it was time for him to find a new mentor.

 

It was Unc (in reality Jeff, as Mycroft learned the first time he found himself in bed with the older man) who seemed unhappy to see him go. “I...kind of thought maybe you might move in,” he said a bit sadly when Mycroft came to tell him he’d accepted a position in another town as an artist at a large studio. “Stay a while.”

 

Mycroft squashed his feelings firmly underfoot. There wasn’t any future for he and Jeff, they were too different and wanted different things. Jeff, for all his rough appearance, was a sweetheart of a man, and he wanted some sort of rose-covered-cottage fantasy life with Mycroft that just couldn’t happen. He was a cold boy who grew into a cold man; Mummy was quite right when she accused him of being ice to the core, “You don’t care about anyone, Myc,” she’d said when he moved out, taking his earnings with him. “No other boy would leave his mother alone to fend for herself.” Her big pale blue eyes welled accusingly with tears, but they moved him less than when they had looked beseechingly from Sherlock’s face for years. “You’re made of ice!”

 

He supposed she was right, he really was the Ice Man.