He wasn’t exactly keeping his relationship with Gregory a secret. He was open about it, to an extent; his family knew, as did Gregory’s. Gregory talked to his friends about the particulars of their relationship, at least so much as he felt comfortable sharing; not all of them were comfortable with the fact that Gregory had gone from being married to a woman to being intimate with a man, and at least one friend in particular did not want details, considering said man happened to be his older brother. But he himself stayed fairly mum on details, as he did not like having people pry into his private life. He had enemies; there were people who would love to use any scrap of information they could to gain an advantage against him in his professional life. The less known about his private proclivities the better.
But that, it seemed, did not deter his mum in the slightest.
From the moment his mum found out about them (much to her absolute delight), she plied him for details. And when she wasn’t plying him she was badgering Sherlock, who, much to his dismay, was much more willing to oblige. Rather soon she started demanding to meet Gregory, to have him come around for a family dinner, to have a “friendly chat” which he knew would turn into an interrogation the likes of which would likely impress Gregory. And as the holidays got closer, the demands grew more insistent, as were the requests for personal information on his significant other.
Finally, through a series of what he considered rather…unfortunate…events, it was arranged that he and Gregory would be joining his brother to have dinner with his parents at their home in Cambridge for Christmas. Gregory had been game since his daughter would be on vacation with his ex-wife in Greece with her new husband, who was trying to win points with the girl because she could see what an unmitigated arse the husband was and she preferred him. Mycroft approved of that. And Sherlock was looking forward to it because, for once, all of the attention would be on his brother and it would be a day to poke fun at the uncomfortable situation he was in.
He was not looking forward to it, to be quite honest.
As Christmas morning dawned and he felt Gregory slip away his side of the bed he reached over for him to pull him back. “It’s a holiday,” he murmured. “You don’t have to go anywhere till noon. Stay a while.”
“Force of habit for Christmas,” Gregory said, nestling back against him. “I’m still used to Ashley waking up before the sun rose to go open presents.”
Mycroft nodded slightly before nuzzling his nose into his neck. “But at least you know she would rather be here with you.”
“Yeah, I know. It helps.” He was quiet for a moment. “Do you want us here? Both of us, full time?”
“In my home?” Mycroft asked quietly, surprised he had brought it up. They had been together for some time and the topic of living together had never come up before. He had known it would, one day, but he hadn’t expected it to be today.
He nodded. “Yeah. I mean, it’s not like I got to keep the family home, and the flat I have now is shite, but…”
“I’d be honoured if you and Ashley considered living with me,” he said quietly. “But only if Ashley wants to.”
“Somehow, I think she’d rather live with you than her mum,” Gregory said, turning to face him. He studied him for a moment before a smile formed on his face. “Honestly, knowing that’s the best Christmas present I could ask for. Everything else is just icing on the cake.”
“I suppose I could take them back,” Mycroft teased. “At least the non-personalized ones. And I suppose I could transfer sponsoring the membership to the Diogenes Club to John.”
“You’d actually allow me into that stuffy club of yours as a full member?” Gregory said, his grin getting wider.
“Well, it would go with the ring in the small box under the Christmas tree, but yes, I would,” he said with a nod.
Gregory’s eyes got wide, and then he chuckled and leaned forward and kissed Mycroft. “You’re a sentimental sap and that was the best worst proposal in the world,” he said.
“But the answer is yes?” Mycroft asked.
“Yeah, yeah, the answer’s yes,” Gregory said.
“So I should probably get you that ring,” he said.
“Eventually,” Gregory said, leaning in for another kiss. “When I feel like letting you leave this bed.”
Mycroft grinned against his lips as he began to let Gregory have his way with him. This was a wonderful start to what he had the feeling was going to be a very interesting Christmas. Hopefully, it wouldn’t end on an utterly disastrous note.
Mycroft had been quite sure Gregory would agree to marry him, so he had bought himself a matching engagement band. He knew the man who was now his fiancé would want something simple, so it was a titanium band with a black carbon fiber inlay and a black diamond accent. The diamond was small, just 0.04 carats, but he knew Gregory wouldn't care about that. He had been quite taken with it and knew they would be better as wedding bands but he wanted something that was just a bit more extravagant even if it was simple to publicly show that he had dedicated himself to someone else. After all, didn’t women get ostentatious rings? Shouldn’t he get something similar?
He was fiddling with it as the car they were in pulled up to his parent’s home in Cambridge. He knew the driver would go into town and avail himself to a pint at an open pub and a good meal while he put up with his parents and his insufferable brother. At least Gregory was there. He was thankful for that. Gregory saw him and grinned, grasping his hand and running his thumb across the ring. “It takes a little bit to get used to it,” he said.
“It’s not that,” Mycroft said. “Neither I nor my brother or sister have ever been in a relationship before, therefore none of us have introduced a significant other to our parents. You are the first, and I’m rather…”
“Nervous?” Gregory said, chuckling slightly. “Never thought I’d live to see the day you’d get nervous about anything.”
“Oh, there may be many days ahead of you, now that you’ll be with me for the rest of them,” Mycroft said with a small smile. He grasped Gregory’s hand back as the driver opened the door to let them out. “Whatever you do, try your best to impress my parents. I want them to like you because I like you.”
“You more than like me,” Gregory said, giving Mycroft a wide grin before getting out of the car. Mycroft rolled his eyes slightly, though he grinned a bit as he followed his fiancé out. Once he was standing he saw that his parents were out of their home to welcome them, and his mother had a wide grin on her face. “She seems to already like me,” he said, leaning in towards Mycroft.
“Apparently,” Mycroft murmured back, leaning in towards Gregory. The two men made their way to the gate and Mycroft opened it and then they went into the yard. “Mother. Father,” Mycroft said, nodding towards his parents. “This is my fiancé, Gregory Lestrade.”
His mother’s eyes went wide. “Mycroft Reginald Holmes, you went so far as to propose to him without introducing us first? I should box you about the ears!” Mycroft sighed slightly as his mother turned to Gregory. “I mean no offense to you. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about you from both of my sons.”
“You mean Sherlock didn’t call me a clod and an imbecile?” Gregory asked with a grin.
“Well, he may have said you were of average intellect, but he did say you had a kind heart, and you knew when to ask others for help, which is the sign of an intelligent man,” she said. She reached over and pulled him into an embrace, which surprised Gregory at first but he embraced her back. “You’ve made Mikey quite happy, though, which is a very good thing.”
Mycroft rolled his eyes. “Mother…”
“Well, he has,” she said, looking at her son. She pulled away from Gregory and then looked at him. “And you must call me Violet. I insist.”
“All right, Violet. And call me Greg,” he said.
“Well, by all means, come in,” she said. Greg offered her his arm and she took it, and the two of them headed inside, leaving Mycroft and his father outside.
“So she approves?” Mycroft asked.
His father nodded. “I think she approved long before you ever brought him here,” he said with a smile. “Did you propose, or did he?”
“I did,” he said.
His father grinned even more widely. “I’m glad,” he said, reaching over and patting Mycroft’s shoulder. They began to move towards the home. “I should warn you. Your mother decided that this year she was going to make some of the gifts she was giving out. There are food mixes and other things, but she took up knitting as well.”
“Knitting?” Mycroft asked.
“And I believe she made something for your fiancé as well,” his father said.
Mycroft groaned slightly. This was going to be quite interesting…and he wasn't sure he was going to like it.
Mycroft had been dismayed to find Sherlock was already inside their parent’s home, and the slow and slightly evil grin on his face had given him a sense of foreboding he had not liked. And he was right to have it. Sherlock had made rather pointed commentary and then feigned innocence when Mycroft snarked back, leaving Mycroft to get the stern warnings from their dear Mummy, and Mycroft wanted to wipe that smirk off his baby brother’s face.
Their family tradition, since they had grown up and left home, was to do dinner first and then to open gifts. It was their mother’s way of getting them to stay longer. Mycroft had had his gifts sent along earlier, along with the gifts that Gregory had bought for his parents and for Sherlock, even though Mycroft has said he didn’t need to. Gregory had said it would make a poor impression if he didn’t, though.
Mycroft was at least grateful that Gregory seemed to get along well with his parents, despite Sherlock’s attempts at interference. His mother seemed to absolutely adore him, and she was trying to make plans to come to London to meet Ashley as well. He wasn’t looking forward to the idea of having another family dinner so soon after this one, but he knew having both Gregory and Ashley there and the increased chances of Sherlock not being there would make it easier than this one.
And his father seemed to like him as well. He hadn’t been sure his father would approve; he was much more old fashioned, and he wasn’t sure if that had extended to his opinions on whether his son’s choices in lovers should be of the opposite sex or not. But when his mother would relinquish her hold on Gregory for more than a few seconds his father would drift off with him and they seemed to have some interesting conversations while he was cornered by his mother or by Sherlock for either more details or more ribbing about his relationship.
By the time the meal was served he was desperate for some emergency to erupt so that he could whisk Gregory away back to London and take care of it and then go home and burrow close to his fiancé in bed and conceivably have a repeat of this morning’s celebrations. But he was not quite so lucky and he had to endure more inane conversation until it was time to move on for presents. He hoped they could get done with it quickly, get through any remaining pleasantries and then get home as quickly as possible.
“Someone looks like they’re in a hurry to get back to London,” Sherlock said, giving Mycroft and Gregory a smug look.
“Well, as we’re going to move in together soon and there’s going to be an eleven-year-old moving in with us we want to enjoy our privacy while we can. I’m sure your mum would understand,” Gregory said with a grin, and Mycroft was pleased to see the smirk fade a bit when their mother laughed.
“Oh, I do,” Violet said with a nod. “Imagine three boys underfoot. I was honestly surprised we were able to conceive Sherlock at all, to be quite honest.”
Sherlock began to scowl and then Mycroft got the chance to smirk a little. “Didn’t need to know that,” he said, crossing his arms.
“Oh, it’s not as much fun when the table’s turned, is it?” Mycroft said.
Sherlock turned his scowl to his brother. “Bugger off.”
“Boys, boys,” Violet said. “I’m sure you all want to get back to London, and as much as I would love to have an excuse to keep you here I suppose I should be nice and send you off. But first, let’s exchange presents.”
“Dad said you made some,” Sherlock said, moving to one of the chairs in the sitting room.
Violet smacked her husband’s shoulder lightly. “Siger, you weren’t supposed to say anything!”
He gave her a sheepish look. “I felt they should be warned.”
She gave him a mild glare as she shook her head. “They are good presents.”
“I’m sure they are,” Gregory said, giving her a grin.
Violet turned to him and gave him a grin. “Well, then why don’t I give you yours first?”
He nodded. “All right,” he said.
She went to the tree and rummaged through the brightly wrapped packages, and then handed him one that was red with reindeers all over it. “I tried to do something understated, as I don’t know your tastes, and I apologize if your sizes aren’t right. I had Sherlock guess.”
“I had Donovan tell me what size shirt you had in your desk drawer at the Yard,” Sherlock said.
“So that’s why it was wrinkled,” Gregory said with a grin as he shook his head, taking the package and opening it. When he got it opened he saw it was a mostly blue and white jumper with an arrow design on it in blue with bits of red. He gave Violet a wide grin. “I like it, Violet. Thank you.” He took off the jumper he’d worn to dinner and then put on the one she’d made for him. “Pretty good fit, too. A little long in the arms, but that’s okay.”
“Good,” Violet said with a smile. She turned and then handed a package to Mycroft. “Here’s yours, Mikey.”
“Mycroft,” he corrected for the umpteenth time that evening. His jumper was in a green, blue and red plaid wrapped package with a green bow on top. He opened it up hesitantly and bit back a groan when he saw the red and blue striped monstrosity in front of him, with the red and white snowflakes on it. “Thank you,” he murmured, his eyes darting to Sherlock, who had a mirthful smile on his face.
“You don’t like it,” Violet said.
“It’s not quite my style,” Mycroft said.
Gregory looked over at it. “If I can fit it, I’ll wear it,” he said.
“You will?” Mycroft and Violet both said in near unison, looking at him with wide eyes.
He nodded. “Yeah. I like jumpers like that.”
“Take mine,” Sherlock said, moving to the tree and looking for his package.
“William, you haven’t even opened it yet!” Violet said in a slightly exasperated tone.
“I already know I’ll hate it and Lestrade will love it,” Sherlock said, finding the package and tossing it to Gregory, who caught it with a little trouble.
Violet shook his head and then gestured for Gregory to open the package. “Go ahead, Greg.”
Gregory grinned and opened up the blue and silver snowflake wrapped package, pulling out a grey sweater with blue and red borders and red reindeer. He grinned at Violet. “You did this?”
She nodded. “I did.”
“This is good work. Better than what I can do.”
“You can knit?” she asked, surprised.
“I got into it when I got injured when Sherlock was faking his death and I stuck with it. Not as good at jumpers as I am at boots and scarves and hats.”
“Perhaps I can help with the jumpers,” Violet said.
“I’d like that,” Gregory said with a grin.
Mycroft shook his head, trying to hide a grin. He had the feeling his mother might end up loving his fiancé more than she loved any of her sons at this rate. Served him right. He was about to suggest it was time his parents opened a gift when he heard his mobile’s text alert go off. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and looked at the message from Anthea. Dorothy has absconded from The Wicked Witch, it read, and he frowned. This did not bode well.
“Mycroft?” his father asked. “Is something wrong?”
Mycroft looked up, watching the grin falter on Gregory’s face as he stared at him more. “It’s Ashley,” Mycroft said. “She’s run away.”
Gregory groaned and shut his eyes. “Oh God.” He pulled out his own phone and stood back up. “We’ve got to get back to London, fast.”
Mycroft nodded. He had the feeling that, as the expression went, the shite was going to hit the fan, and soon. He just hoped that Ashley was safe, wherever she was, and that they could find her and get her to his home quickly.
They had left for London almost immediately, at his mother’s insistence, surprisingly. Mycroft had to admit, Ashley had rather impressed him with her stunt. She had planned it out well in advance. She had gone on enough trips with her mother and stepfather to know that they would spend most of their time together and leave her to her own devices because she had investigated multiple ways to get from Athens to London and how much it would all cost. From what everyone that Mycroft had pulled in to find her could piece together, she had stolen her mother’s credit card and gotten small enough cash advances so they wouldn’t be noticeable, and then somehow managed to get the money converted to all the different forms she could possibly need.
The only problem was, no one had figured out which route she had taken to get back because her mother was not entirely sure when she had left.
He had plied every contact he could in Greece to find all the CCTV footage of his soon to be stepdaughter for the entirety of her trip as long as she had been in the country. He’d called in some of the favours he had that he was owed by various members of the intelligence community on the various routes she may have favoured to return to London to keep an eye out for her and keep her safe. And he had everyone on high alert in the UK for when Ashley crossed back into its borders. The minute she came anywhere near London he wanted to be told immediately.
He listened as Gregory had another argument with his ex-wife as he paced in the parlour of his home. The woman was trying to blame the two of them for this debacle, saying that they were wooing Ashley away from her. He so rarely had the urge to hit a woman but he was glad she was thousands of miles away and out of reach. It looked better for her if Ashley stayed with her. It made her look like a good mother, even if that was far from the truth. And she could guilt Gregory into helping to care for Ashley, which she did quite often. If Ashley lived with them, she would lose the golden goose, so to speak.
Gregory hung up and then hung his head. Mycroft hesitated a moment and then went over, placing a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. “Well?”
“Ashley seems to have left nearly three days ago,” Gregory said. “If that’s true, not only does that mean Melinda is…” He shut his eyes as a look of extreme rage crossed his face, and he tamped it down. “If that’s the case, it means she most likely took the overland route from Athens to Bari to Milan to Paris. Which if I remember correctly…”
Mycroft looked at the watch on his wrist. “The Eurostar should have arrived an hour ago,” he said. “And she hasn’t come here.”
“I think I know where she is,” Gregory said. “Grab your coat.”
Mycroft nodded and the two of them got their coats and scarves on before heading out into the evening. Gregory’s car from Scotland Yard was at Mycroft’s home and he unlocked it for them, and the two of them got inside. It was cold, and Gregory turned the heater on to warm it up a bit as he pulled it out of the drive and began to head somewhere that Mycroft was quite familiar with. “You think she went to your flat,” he said after a long silence.
He nodded. “She knows my neighbor has a key and will let her in if she needs to be let in, so if she showed up and said I’d be home later Mrs. Linden would just let her in and not contact me. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s there now, eating me out of house and home.” He was quiet for a moment. “Is she going to get you into trouble, for you having to call in those favours?”
Mycroft shook his head. “I would do it again without hesitation. And those were personal favours, not professional ones.”
“Yeah, but…you used the term stepdaughter. People are going to know,” he said quietly.
“And so what if they do?” Mycroft said. “I tire of keeping our relationship in the shadows. If I take a professional hit…so be it. Perhaps it’s time for me to step down anyway.”
Gregory risked a glance at him, raising an eyebrow. “So you’re going to retire if push comes to shove?”
Mycroft nodded slightly. “I could, if I chose. Or at least be less hands on. I’ll never get to fully leave. I know too much and I’m too deeply involved. But I’ve been training Andrea well. She’ll make a good replacement.”
“Yeah, she will,” Gregory said with a nod. “So what would you do?”
“Enjoy my time with you and Ashley, until she goes to university. Take up hobbies, I suppose. Revel in not having every moment of my life micromanaged. Perhaps try and take up teaching. I do have a Masters degree. I could go for a doctorate and then find a university position somewhere. There must be some place that would want me on staff.”
“Whatever you decide to do, I’ll support you,” he said, moving his hand over for a moment to find Mycroft’s and squeeze it before moving it back to the shifting knob. He settled in for the rest of the ride. He’d thought about this long before tonight’s events, but this just brought it all to the forefront sooner. He would rather have the two people he cared for most in his life than his career, he’d realized. That was how he knew he’d changed, that this relationship was important and had made him a better man, that he had best not let Gregory go any time soon. And it looked as though he wasn’t about to leave, which was good.
They pulled up in front of the building where Gregory lived. It really was a subpar place. Ever since they felt comfortable cohabitating, Gregory had spent most of his nights at Mycroft’s home, unless Ashley was over. Once Ashley and Mycroft had been introduced, there had been a few occasions where Ashley had stayed over as well, when one thing or another had been wrong with the flat, and Mycroft knew she liked his home much more. She cycled through the various rooms, trying them all out. He wasn’t sure if she’d found one she preferred yet.
Gregory took his keys and unlocked the door but even as they got to the door they could hear the muted sounds of the telly on. He seemed to noticeably relax at that. He opened the door and saw Ashley curled up on the sofa, a microwaveable meal on the tray in front of her, already eaten. “If you’d timed it better you could have gone to Mycroft’s parents with us and had a proper meal,” Gregory said as he came inside the flat with Mycroft behind him.
“Had to wait for Mum and Stephen to get to the point where they’d get bored with me,” she said, sitting up. She looked just like Gregory, except her hair was longer and she had sparkling green eyes like her mum. She tilted her head a bit. “Took a day longer than I’d thought it would.”
“I should be quite cross at you, but I’m more angry at your mum because she didn’t realize you were gone,” Gregory said, moving to the sofa as his daughter picked up the remote and turned the telly off. “Ash, you could have just said you really didn’t want to go. I would have fought for you to stay. You didn’t have to steal your mum’s credit card and plan an elaborate trip back through multiple countries on your own. I mean, you’re only eleven years old.”
“I just hate it when you two fight,” she said, looking down. “Mum gets vicious and she says all these mean and nasty things about you because you left her for Mycroft. And I know you didn’t, that she was seeing that bastard—”
“Ash,” Gregory said warningly.
“Well, he is,” she grumbled. “I know she was seeing him while she was still married to you and it wasn’t till after you two were divorced that you and Mycroft got together. I’m not stupid, even though they think I am. I mean, you and Mum didn’t want to talk about it, and I didn’t trust Stephen, so…”
Gregory looked over at Mycroft. “So you talked to Mycroft,” he said quietly.
Ashley nodded. “He doesn’t treat me like I’m a baby. He says I’m not an adult but I’m smart, and I know a lot, and I can work things out well, so he’ll tell me things and if I don’t understand them he’ll help me work them out. And he explained what had happened with you and Mum. Please don’t be mad at him, dad. He wasn’t going to but I begged. Then I said I’d try and blackmail him but all I was going to do was say he wouldn’t eat the super spicy lamb curry you made.”
Gregory grinned a bit at that. “And that’s why you two like each other so much,” he said.
“A girl after my own heart,” Mycroft said fondly. “But yes, I told her the truth. And I told her she could come to me for any reason.”
Gregory was quiet for a moment. “Do you want to live with me and Mycroft instead of your mum and Stephen?”
Ashley nodded. “Yeah. They don’t really want me around. I know…I know Mum just wants me there because you want me to live with you and if she’s got me then that hurts you. And I hate it there. I don’t like my school and I hate Stephen and I just…I’d rather live with you, Dad.”
“Your mum said she’s staying in Greece for the rest of the holiday if we found you, and I’m telling her that’ll be enough to make sure you stay with us for the time being, if not longer,” Gregory said, reaching over to pull his daughter into an embrace. “Mycroft asked me to move in with him this morning, and you too, if you wanted, and I’d say we just said yes, don’t you?”
“I did more than ask you to move in,” Mycroft said.
Ashley shifted in her father’s embrace to look at Mycroft. “Did you ask my dad to marry you?”
Mycroft nodded. “I did.”
Ashley moved one arm away from her father and then used it to motion for Mycroft to come join the hug. He hesitated a moment, then knelt down in front of the sofa and Ashley pulled him closer, hugging him too. “Good,” she said, moving her head and kissing Mycroft’s cheek. He wasn’t quite sure how this ranked on his scale of best and worst Christmases, having been at times one of his best and one of his worst, but right now, as a smile settled on his face and he embraced the two people he loved most in the world back, he felt it ended on a good enough note that it didn’t matter. It was a momentous Christmas that would hopefully lead to better ones on the horizon, and that was all that mattered to him.