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31 Candles

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Mycroft Holmes did not notice it the first few years he knew Gregory Lestrade.

To be fair he did not care enough the first couple of years to notice and then did not know him well enough the next couple of years to care. He met with the New Scotland Yard officer once a month or so for updates on his brother. Gregory was a minion, a cog in the wheel there to perform a service, nothing more. Mycroft  was wrong. Without trying, the rugged man quite innocently became a staple in Mycroft’s life.  

Over time, they became friends, then lovers and then started living together. That is when Mycroft noticed new things. Still, the Iceman and the police officer had lived together as lovers and then as husbands for nearly six years before he finally noticed one thing in particular: every year on the twenty-second day of Lent, the halfway point, Gregory went to church.

Mycroft had noted the faint scent of candles and incense on him but thought nothing of it initially. Lestrade was not an overly religious man. He knew Gregory was raised Protestant but was loosely agnostic at best and the changing dates of Lent is why it took years before Mycroft noticed and then predicted the pattern. When the day came, Gregory rose out of bed and went about his day as always, except on that date he stopped by a cathedral and stayed long enough for the scent of candles and incense to cling to him.

Gregory himself said nothing about it. Mycroft was Mycroft of course. He surreptitiously researched, but nothing he could find about his husband’s past gave him a clue about why he did it. Still he knew enough to know that it was deeply personal and to leave it alone.; when Gregory was ready, he would tell him. Eventually, Mycroft let it go as a quirk that meant something only to Gregory, and gave it no other thought. 

Thus, it was one of the rare times Mycroft was taken by surprise when it finally happened.

“Thank you, by the way.” Gregory said quietly.

They were enjoying a stroll on a lovely spring evening when Gregory stopped, took Mycroft’s hand and brought it to his lips.

“You’re welcome, but may I ask why?” Mycroft returned the gesture.

“For giving me the space to do this my way.” Gregory’s head tilted toward the house of worship at the end of the block. “After all this time, I know you know I do this each year, but never asked why.”

Mycroft nodded gently as he understood, “I knew you’d tell me when you were ready.”

Together they walked in. 

It was a cathedral Gregory had been to before. He barely looked as walked to the holy water font, dipped his fingers and made the sign of the cross. He then walked over to an area off to the side and sat in one of the pews in the rear. Gregory clasped his hands together and bowed his head. Somehow, Mycroft knew it was not in prayer. As incredulous as it appeared, he seemed to be lip syncing. It seemed vaguely familiar, but he could not quite grasp the words.

I was just a kid was all Mycroft caught of the words before he made himself look forward giving Gregory as much privacy as he could until his husband was ready to talk.

Mycroft sat quietly beside his husband and listened to an organist who played softly offside near the front. It was a lovely accompaniment that Mycroft found surprisingly calming. Though Gregory had not raise his head, after a while, his hand reached out on the pew in the space between them palm up. Mycroft placed his hand in Gregory’s who squeezed it gratefully when he finally spoke.

“This is about something that happened thirty-one years ago.”

Mycroft quickly did the maths in his mind. Gregory would have been in A-Levels.

“The Strauss girl?” Mycroft asked.

Gregory took an annoyed inhale of breath, but then released it with a small chuckle and a slight shake of his head. He knew to whom he was married.

"Yes. She and I had dated for several weeks, I really liked her, but she kept it light because she knew her father had got a new job in The States. She broke up with me because the family was moving as soon as the semester ended. I was still willing to try, but we knew the distance was too great. We had said our good-byes the night before the flight. I had promised her that I would see her again but I…I…” Gregory paused and his hand tightened around Mycroft’s for a moment. “I never saw her again.”

Gregory sat back and was quiet for a long while as he stared ahead. Mycroft knew what was coming and gently squeezed his hand in understanding.

“Monique Strauss died in a car accident five weeks after moving to the States. A driver lost control of his van when a tire blew out. Her parents brought her home for burial. I did not think that this was about her. She died in the summer some nine months before you… Oh… Oh Gregory! No!”

Mycroft turned to his husband utterly stunned as Gregory sadly nodded in confirmation knowing that Mycroft now understood.

“The night before their flight out, around half eleven there’s a tap at my bedroom window. Père had died a couple of years before; Maman worked night shift then, I was home alone. Monique… She decided at the last minute that her first time should be with an Englishman and gave herself to me. She had spent the night, sneaking out just before dawn. I remember it was a Tuesday. I was her first and her last; her only.” Gregory slowly extricated his hand then. “If Monique had known, she had not told her mother yet, it was the doctors who had informed her of the pregnancy. Mrs. Strauss knew that her daughter had snuck out to see me on that last night and thought I deserved to know. A day before the funeral Mrs. Strauss asked to meet with me at Regent’s Park, it one of Monique’s favorite places. That’s when she told me that Monique had died with our child.”

Gregory looked up at the chandeliers then, their multitude of lights reflected in the tears that glittered in his eyes but would not tumble out to slide down his face. Slowly he stood and held out his hand. Mycroft rose and took it. Gregory lead him to a bye-alter; a niche that held a table with the many votive candles in red glass holders. The scent of the melting beeswax from the candles already lit wafted in the air. Gregory reached in a pocket, and took out two candles, a number three and a number one. He placed each candle in an empty votive glass and placed them side by side.

“I had not told Maman until that first Lent. I had done the maths. Our child would have been born early spring, but you can’t really predict but so much, so I chose halfway through Lent as something steady, and yet mutable. The first time I lit a candle I was in my room. I lit a number zero candle I had bought that day. Maman smelt the burning match. I had forgotten to lock my door, so she burst in to yell at me for smoking when she saw the candle and my tears. I had to tell her then. I had told no one else, not even my best mate - I couldn't. It was Maman who suggested church and went with me to light my first candle that way. I’ve done so in honor of Taylor every year since.”

Mycroft smiled to himself at the gender-neutral name. It was perfectly something that Gregory would do.

Because Mycroft knew his husband so well he knew why he was being told this after so many years. It was in response to a discussion they had recently and knew Gregory had made a decision.

Because Gregory knew his husband so well he was ready when Mycroft turned to ask the question and spoke first.

“Yes, I’m ready. Let’s choose a surrogate and start our own family, my love.”

A part of Mycroft would have like to have known Gregory back then, but at four years Gregory’s junior he knew he would have been seen as just a kid himself. Mycroft then understood exactly what it was Gregory mouthed when they first sat in the pew as he paraphrased the words back to him.

"And I would have liked to have known you
But I was a kid still
That candle burned out long ago
But this love never will"

Gregory’s smile was tremulous but grateful as Mycroft placed his hand over Gregory’s when he reached for a lighting stick and together they lit the two candles.