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Somewhere in the back of his mind, Mycroft knew this must be a dream, because Detective Inspector Lestrade would never look at him that way.

Also, there was the pain. Searing to the point of numbness, like a hot poker lodged in his chest. Mycroft looked down for it—and why hadn't one of his staff removed a hot poker lodged in his chest by now—but there was nothing there except gauzy white. Like a blanket of snow.

It was snowing inside his bedroom.

So this was most definitely a dream, because Mycroft was lying in the snow with an invisible hot poker in his chest and Detective Inspector Lestrade beside him wearing an expression of impossible tenderness on his drawn and stubbled face.

And Detective Inspector Lestrade would never look at him that way.

Mycroft wondered distantly if he was going to die here in the snow. It seemed a tidy way to go. Pristine. Quiet.

Cold.

Mycroft Holmes was a cold man both by nature and by choice. By concentrated effort. He'd made certain he was a cold man. Propinquity bred liability. The hand that reached for yours could be hiding a knife.

"Hey," said a soft voice.

So there was nobody who would ever look at Mycroft Holmes so tenderly. Nobody who would speak to him so softly.

"Don't we need to wrap the gifts before we go?"

"Gifts?" Mycroft murmured sleepily. His bed was warm and the thumb stroking the back of his hand felt nice.

There was certainly nobody who would hold Mycroft's hand.

"No falling back to sleep. We need to get ready." An elbow jostled his arm. "Christmas! Crackers! Gift-wrapping!"

Oh, wonderful. Mycroft groaned. He was dreaming of Christmas. Sodding Christmas. "Don't be absurd," he sniffed. "I've had them professionally done."

"Of course you have." Greg's smile was wry but fond. He squeezed Mycroft's hand as he shifted onto his side under the duvet. "I'm sure your mum will appreciate the professional crease on the ribbons far more than a personal touch."

"My mother will appreciate the contents of the parcel far more than any manner of ribbon decorating its exterior. She is an eminently practical woman."

"So I needn't bother trying to sharpen up. Press that crease into my trousers to impress her," Greg said lightly. "Excellent. That'll save us a bit of time getting ready."

Mycroft frowned, because Greg's light tone was too light. "Gregory. They're going to adore you."

Greg pulled a face, the way he did when Mycroft ignored his attempts to conceal his emotions. "Are they, though? I'm not an eminently practical choice." He slid his hand under the sheets to rest on Mycroft's bare chest. "Not for you."

No. He wasn't. Mycroft had turned it over and over in his eminently practical brain, looked at it from all angles, and a match with Gregory Lestrade made no sense. Not in terms of Mycroft's career or connections, not in terms of his longstanding personal interests, not in terms of his intellectual challenge.

And yet.

Mycroft's chest gave an odd, sharp twinge of pain. Like he'd been hurt. He rested his hand over Greg's, pressing its soothing warmth into his skin. Snowflakes were drifting lazily in the grey outside the leaded glass windows of Mycroft's bedroom. It was beautiful. Pristine and quiet. "You're my choice," he said quietly.

Greg's cheeks flushed. "Well, lucky for me you take after the romantic side of the family," he teased, nuzzling his nose into Mycroft's shoulder.

"Nonsense." Mycroft hooked a haughty eyebrow to distract from the flush that must certainly be visible on his own face. "As an eminently practical man, I appreciate the contents of your trousers far more than their crease."

Greg snorted a laugh, and Mycroft felt a warm swell of satisfaction.

Flirting. His first attempts had been…clumsy. He'd imagined it quite a different set of verbal and cue-reading skills to those involved in politics. But then, after a series of almost comically humiliating missteps, he'd realized the thrust of it—behold how he, too, could enter in the spirit of ribaldry—the thrust of it was the same: the key was in having confidence you possessed something the other party wanted.

"But if it is a matter of concern, rest assured I've already had your trousers pressed," Mycroft added, giving himself over fully to the pleasure of a smug tone. "Professionally."

"Of course you have," Lestrade smiled. His eyes were impossibly tender.

And yet.

Mycroft's pleasure dulled, faded into a throb of pain.

Detective Inspector Lestrade would never look at him that way.

Why on earth would he? It made no sense. Detective Inspector Lestrade did not hold Mycroft's hand.

Mycroft's chest ached, and the room smelled of antiseptic. And floor wax. And a trace of musky, low-priced cologne.

"—know it hurts, I know." Lestrade's voice was low and gruff, and close, like he didn't want to be overheard. Like an amateur informant, rasping out secrets. "Got stabbed myself once. And I knew he had a knife, I knew it, but I let him get too close. So, yeah, I know it hurts, Mycroft, I know, but you're going to be okay. The doctor said—"

He had a knife.

Mycroft tried to move away. That seemed the wisest course of action. But his limbs were heavy. Cold. Was he going to die here in the snow? He would really…rather not. He would really rather—

"We need to get ready," Greg murmured reluctantly into Mycroft's shoulder.

"Do we?" Mycroft sighed. Greg had opened the curtains of Mycroft's bedroom window so they could watch the garden being blanketed in white whilst they had their morning tea. The snow was beautiful. Pristine and quiet. "I feel quite disinclined to move."

"That's because your conscience is weighing you down. From eating all the biscuits."

"Have you ever known me to be troubled by a conscience?" Mycroft brushed a few stray sugar crystals off the sheets. "It's because you're draped over me like some sort of large, recumbent eel."

"Are eels ever not recumbent?"

"Four biscuits."

"You said you weren't having any biscuits."

Mycroft lifted up just far enough to peer over Greg's head at the tea tray, then plopped back down onto his pillow. He pulled Greg in a bit closer into the crook of his arm. "There is still one biscuit left. Cease your caterwauling."

"And that biscuit is mine," Greg said adamantly, stabbing a finger at his own chest. "You said you weren't having any."

"Because they're shaped like snowflakes." Mycroft curled his lip in distaste.

"It's Christmas. They're seasonal."

"Ugh."

"You weren't so disgusted when you were dunking them into your tea."

"The tea brings out a pleasing note of clove," Mycroft said primly.

"Your talking face brings out a pleasing note of complete shite."

"Eloquently phrased."

"For an eel." Greg wriggled against him.

"Gregory."

"Hm?"

"We are most definitely not leaving this bed in the near future if you continue that…bewilderingly arousing motion."

Greg hmphed and stilled.

Mycroft gave him an arch look, nudged their thighs together in what he hoped was an imperiously suggestive manner. "I believe you've misinterpreted my statement. Please continue the bewilderingly arousing motion."

"No way." Greg shook his head. "Forget it. I am not meeting your parents for the first time freshly shagged. They'll know."

"They won't," Mycroft said, lowering his voice as he turned to reach across the duvet, resting his hand over the curve of Greg's hip.

"Sherlock will. I'll have some…hair out of place or my sock not pulled up quite right and…he'll just know. He'll make that face."

Mycroft smirked idyllically. "It does distress him so."

"I hope that's not the actual reason you want to shag me right now."

"I simply—" Mycroft resumed his plan of attack, hand back to Greg's hip, sliding it slowly up his side, around his shoulder, "—like having what I want—" twisted, pressed his nose into the side of Greg's neck, breathed in the faintest trace of yesterday's musky cologne, "—when I want it."

"Spoilt," Greg growled, sliding his thigh in between Mycroft's. "We shouldn't. We have to get ready. I don't want to be late."

"Don't worry," Mycroft hummed, pressing a kiss to Greg's jaw, just under his ear, just in the spot that always made him—

Greg's hips bucked.

"This won't take a long time," Mycroft murmured, just as he pushed himself forward, reaching over Greg's body, and snatched the last biscuit off the tea tray. He flopped back onto the bed with his prize and grinned triumphantly.

"You complete. And utter. Wanker."

Mycroft snapped a healthy bite out of the biscuit and raised his eyebrows innocently as he chewed.

Greg scowled. "I mean that literally, you know. Because see if I ever suck your—"

Mycroft snaked a hand around Greg's neck and pulled him in for a hard kiss, biscuit crumbs and all.

"—cock," Greg breathed into Mycroft's mouth. "Again."

"You're what I want," Mycroft whispered. His chest felt tight. His heart thudded heavily. He kissed Greg again, pushing his hand under the covers so he could slide it over Greg's hip again, dragging it back up his thigh and underneath his loose boxer shorts. His skin was so warm. So real. Not like a dream at all. He tasted like sweet cinnamon and clove and his chin was rough with stubble. "I like having what I want."

"Oh, god," Greg moaned. "I'm going to suck your cock again, aren't I?"

"Ah, I do appreciate the offer, but I believe it's your turn to be properly spoilt." Mycroft dragged his thumbnail along the crease of Greg's hip. "And this will take a long time."

"Oh." Greg shivered and pushed into Mycroft's touch, made a sound somewhere in between a groan and a giggle. His eyes were warm. Lusting. Laughing. "It is Christmas!"

"Let me just finish this delicious, seasonal biscuit…"

"Wanker."

And Mycroft was happy. He was so…absurdly…painfullyhappy. Even if he had no right to be. Even if it was Christmas. Because Mycroft hated Christmas, but dear God, he loved

Detective Inspector Lestrade.

Years of quiet meetings and collaboration, over Sherlock and the work, over coffee, over tea. Days and nights in suits and trench coats, buttoned up, safe, solid. Smirks and dry remarks, quick laughter, explicitly detailed plans and wordless understanding. There was no one Mycroft trusted more.

But Detective Inspector Lestrade would never look at him that way.

And it hurt. It hurt to have an invisible poker in his chest.

"Take't out," he grumbled. He tried to glare at Lestrade, but his eyelids felt heavy. Maybe they were covered in snow, too.

"Mycroft. It's okay."

"Take't out."

The hard squeeze of a hand. "Take what out?"

"Pokrr." Mycroft grimaced. His tongue felt too thick. And his mouth most definitely did not taste of cinnamon biscuits and tea. Or of Lestrade. Displeasing. Highly displeasing. "Wanker."

Greg snorted a surprised laugh. "Such base language, Mr Holmes."

"But I want it," Mycroft scowled, petulant.

Greg's mouth twisted into a knowing grin. He wriggled up onto his knees in the middle of Mycroft's bed. "Oh, you do, do you?"

"I want it."

"Then no going back to sleep. We have to get ready."

The snow was drifting softly in the blue-grey light of morning outside Mycroft's bedroom window. Pristine and quiet. It seemed so…tidy.

Sod that.

"I want it."

Years of quiet meetings and collaboration. Days in suits. Nights alone. Christmases alone.

Sod that.

Greg raised his eyebrows encouragingly, biting down a mischievous smile. "And what do we say?"

Mycroft glared at him, because his chest hurt and he wanted— "Please."

"See there," Greg's eyes went warm with approval. He reached across the bed for the tea tray and said, softly, "All you ever had to do was ask."

And he handed Mycroft a biscuit, sprinkled with sugar, shaped like a star.

Mycroft opened his eyes.

"Hey," said a soft voice.

Hospital. The room smelled of antiseptic and floor wax. A limp strand of tinsel was strung across the wall. Ugh, bloody Christmas. And bloody narcotics. He didn't have a biscuit. It was just a dream. A bloody drug-laced dream. The sort of thing Sherlock used to chase. Mycroft had never understood the appeal, but then Lestrade had looked at him in his dream like—

Mycroft blinked.

"Welcome back."

Inside Lestrade's drawn and stubbled face, his brown eyes were warm. And tender. Achingly tender.

And he was holding Mycroft's hand.

"Oh." Lestrade followed Mycroft's gaze and stiffened. "Sorry, er, about that. Mr Holmes." Cheeks pinking, he withdrew his hand carefully, like a slower movement might somehow make the loss of contact less noticeable. "I just—"

"Gregory," Mycroft whispered.

Lestrade blinked, mouth open. "Well, that's…two new names you've called me tonight," he huffed, bemused, half-smiling. His eyes were searching Mycroft's face with quiet concern.

"I'm not going to die in the snow," Mycroft informed him.

Another huff of laughter. "No. You're going to be fine."

"I'm going to live."

Lestrade nodded. And smiled, reassuring. "Of course you are."

Mycroft took a deep breath, even though it hurt his chest. It was worth it. This was worth it. He wanted it. "I believe you've misinterpreted my statement." Slowly, Mycroft stretched out his hand to Lestrade. Open. Palm up. "Please," he said, simply.

"Oh," breathed Lestrade, and looked at him in exactly that warm, tender, laughing, loving way as he took Mycroft's hand. "Yes."

Mycroft was going to live.

Oh, how he was going to live.