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Jim Moriarty grumbled, arms crossed, and leaned back heavily in his seat. The CCTV feeds were just terribly, mind-numbingly boring.

 

Mycroft Holmes had been visiting the same damn building three nights in a row, and Jim couldn’t for the life of him figure out what was up.

 

He'd been at this tailing thing for a week and he still had no idea what Mycroft Holmes was up to.

 

Mycroft Holmes, the elusive older brother of Sherlock Holmes, the world's only consulting detective.

 

The minor government official (that was what they all called him, Jim had the living room of 221B tapped) who would drop by to give Sherlock cases a minor official had no grounds giving.

 

Oh, he was discrete . He never said in so many words. He would just show up to 221B while the news was on (always while the news was on) and surreptitiously point to one of the news events and drop some hint or the other. Sherlock would immediately turn to the screen, angry surprise written all over his face - you could practically hear all cylinders firing, trying to catch up with what his big brother was seeing that he had missed.

 

He would tell Mycroft to sod off, and then as soon as the man was out of the building he’d jump right on the case. Sherlock would look into it (exactly the opposite of what he told Mycroft) and it would always, always turn out to be one of Moriarty’s schemes.

 

Jim didn’t know who the hell this guy was or why he had it out for Moriarty , but he was going to get to the bottom of it.

 

.

 

“Oh, didn’t you know? He’s basically the government,” said John Watson. They were at a pub near the clinic, Jim dressed in a plain T-shirt and jeans. Not Jim Moriarty. Jim from IT.

 

He’d popped into John’s office two weeks ago, hanging from the doorway. “Hiii, I’m from the IT department,” he’d introduced himself. “I’m uh, new. Name’s Jim.” A smile and a wave.

 

“Um. We have an IT department?” John had blinked and looked around. It wasn’t exactly a big clinic.

 

“Oh, you know, the phones,” Jim said with a silly chuckle. “The the system, how it’s always on the fritz. Or at least that’s what Sarah says. Can’t have the patient records not showing up.”

 

“Oh. Right, yeah, takes forever sometimes,” John had said, nodding along.

 

“And every minute counts!”

 

They weren’t exactly best friends now, but sometimes when there was a lull in cases and John had taken on more hours at the clinic, he was bored out of his mind by the end of the shift and quite suggestible to a pint.

 

“The government?” Jim asked with a grin. “Like, what, he processes your parking tickets?”

 

“First time I met him,” John continued loudly, ignoring Jim. “He freaking kidnapped me - “

 

“Kidnapped you?”

 

“Well, he had this big black car pull up right beside me as I walk just walking down the street. The door opens and this bux - um  beautiful. Striking brunette is sitting there all leggy and tells me to get in because her boss needs to speak to me.”

 

“...and you just went? Just like that?”

 

John gave him a face that said, Well, what was I supposed to do?

 

Jim’s face returned with a Well how about anything but that .

 

John rolled his eyes and let his mouth finish out the conversation.

 

“Anyway, so the car stops and we’re in this dark abandoned warehouse, and there he is standing around in his three-piece suit leaning on an umbrella.”

 

“An umbrella? I thought you were indoors.”

 

“Yeah, inside a warehouse. Are you even listening?”

 

“Yes! Just keep going.”

 

“Anyway so we get into this dark warehouse right, and he interrogates me.”

 

“No!”

 

“Yes! He does this whole - whole psychobabble thing about my hand and my limp and my coming home from the war - he knew my psychologist’s name!”

 

“Did he?”

 

“He knew a whole lot of things he shouldn’t have!”

 

“My God. How creepy.”

 

“Exactly! So anyways, I thought he’d gotten it all because he was some devious criminal mastermind who’d gotten the read on me and maybe did a bit of snooping, but no! It turns out he works for the government, that’s what he said, and his PA, the leggy brunette, said as much. I could see her texting about Darfur, or something, and Sherlock is always going on about Mycroft being a government drone.”

 

“Mycroft…”

 

“He’s always coming to 221B with these cases for Sherlock, stuff about the royal family, that type of thing.”

 

“Oh yes, I know, I read the blog.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“It’s so exciting.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

And John had barely even started on their first pint at that point.

 

.

 

Jim tailed Mycroft to no avail the following week, and after seven days of his fruitless effort, decided he needed to change tack.

 

If he couldn’t get at the Iceman, he would have to go around.

 

Besides Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, there was one other man that stood out as having a direct connection to the man.

 

Harry Simons, Jim discovered, was often seen eating together with Mycroft Holmes, the two of them keeping up this Transport Ministry facade even through dinners.

 

Discussion ranged from politics to news of the day to even the weather. They were quiet, discrete, and no doubt in code.

 

Jim had had enough of that.

 

“Mycroft Holmes,” he said, opening the top of a large trunk, staring down at the man inside.

 

The man - middle-aged, with salt-and-pepper hair and glasses knocked askew - glared up at Jim.

 

“You're going to tell me all about him,” Jim said, reaching down to tug away the man's gag.

 

The man only gave him a stony glare.

 

This next move would determine a lot of things.

 

Jim reached down, knife in hand,  and cut the bindings around the man's knees-

 

-and promptly fell over backwards as the man - very spry for his age - socked him in the jaw and leapt out from his confines and began sprinting away, wrists still bound together. He ran off, into the dark, into the night, with little regard for where he was or what was ahead.

 

Jim propped himself up oh his side, rubbing his jaw, and watched the man disappear down the dirt road. It was almost comical, the way he stopped this way and that before sprinting off again.

 

A moment later Jim glanced up at his pissy looking driver, whose face said What the hell, boss, you had me drive all the way out to fuck all just to let this fucker get away? What the hell are you thinking? You want me to shoot him?

 

Jim motioned to stay his driver-slash-hitman's hand.

 

“Down boy,” he said. “I got all I need. Let's see who he calls.”

 

Harry Simons, he could see, was clearly a civilian. Government worker for sure, but he was no spook. He had no interrogation training. He’d absolutely no idea what he was doing.

 

So what was he doing getting involved with some secret agent man?

 

.

 

When Jim finally met Sherlock in person, things only got more confusing.

 

The consulting detective handed over a USB stick, for whatever reason, adding that these were the missile plans Mycroft wanted.

 

Mycroft??

 

This odd form of payment was strange enough that it eclipsed the delight Jim felt seeing the shock and betrayal all over John Watson’s face when he realized his IT guy had done him wrong. (Wake up, John! The IT people all work for the government, Jim thought, they were always doing you wrong!)

 

Jim took it curiously, eyes never leaving Sherlock’s, as he gave it a peck.

 

Now, what the hell did Mycroft Holmes have to do with all this, and just what the hell was he?

 

.

 

Jim slid into the empty seat across the lone diner at a new Mediterranean restaurant - reservations were a killer - chef had been some reality star who’d just finished filming the last season and used his newfound fame to open the joint and Jim nearly had to literally kill to get on the list so last minute.

 

His dinner companion blinked, fork halfway to his mouth.

 

“That seat is taken,” he said to Jim.

 

Jim just batted his eyes, before waving over a waiter. In wrangling himself onto the list he’d actually worked up a hunger. He scanned the menu, humming.

 

“What’s good?” Jim asked.

 

“The seared octopus I’ve ordered isn’t bad. However, if you insist on crashing my dinner date, please do order the Shrimp Alhinho so I can try.”

 

Jim looked up, and peered at him from over the menu.

 

“So it’s a date?” he asked. “You’re waiting for a date.”

 

The man didn’t answer.

 

“I think I'll get the cal-”

 

The man nearly slaps the menu out of his hand.

 

“Don't be a heathen.”

 

Jim stared for a good, long moment, before he holding out his hand.

 

“Name’s Jim,” he said. “Though you already know that, what with Sherlock messing up your little plans, hm? It’s good to finally meet you, Mycroft Holmes.”

 

Mycroft Holmes looked far from happy, but he did deign to shake the man’s hand.

 

There was something a little electric about it - finally coming face to face with the mysterious Mycroft Holmes, shaking his hand. Dinner between two kingpins, a meeting of minds, two puppetmasters who worked from the shadows.

 

Little did Jim know, however, that Mycroft was, at that moment, having an internal meltdown at the prospect of having to vacate London for a the next decade.

 

The shrimp arrived, and then the main courses. Mycroft seemed to be in a rush to leave, and the rest of the meal was had in relative silence. None of Jim's jokes or jibes got any sort of rise out of him, any response at all, really. So Jim watched him like a hawk, and Mycroft paid Jim no attention.

 

As the bill arrived, and Mycroft snatched it before Jim even had a chance, he said,

 

“I expect my associate to be returned without harm.”

 

Jim blinked.

 

“Associate, huh?”

 

Mycroft looked at him coolly, and, upon the return of his card, left without another word.

 

.

 

Jim opted to walk that night, flipping off his driver who insisted he get in the car because he couldn’t prevent him from getting shot even if he was the best bodyguard on this side of the UAE if Jim was going to wander around on the streets out in plain sight.

 

He needed to clear his head.

 

There was something about Mycroft Holmes, if he could only put his finger on it.

 

The man was, even at 6’1”, fairly unobtrusive. He carried himself in a way that sort of seemed to...blend into the furniture.

 

In a way, his boring government persona was the perfect cover. And his tailored suits and penchant for fine dining spoke of his posh breeding. He should seem bland, unappetizing even, if not for this strange undercurrent of fear. Fear? Danger. Both.

 

Like he was hiding something - something that few people in this world understood. Some the general public couldn't stomach. It took quite the spine of steel to be able to make the kind of unsavory calls people at his clearance level needed to make for the greater good.

 

Jim scowled, shouldering a German couple out of the way. Dumb tourists and their dumb travel guides blocking the sidewalk.

 

Jim froze, epiphany fast dawning. His mind was fast connecting all the individual dots, leaving no room to process the angry exclamation of the Germans who'd bumped into him when he stopped abruptly.

 

The travel guides. Best restaurants in London. Eating at the same restaurant three times over thr course of a week. Methodically trying every seafood dish at the trendy new Mediterranean place. The close-lipped foodie friend. Eating as if it was his job , because it was his j-

 

Jim’s eyes went wide.

 

.

 

“You’re a crit-”

 

A hand slapped over Jim’s mouth.

 

Despite everything Jim now knew about Mycroft Holmes, in this very moment, he looked scarier than ever.

 

“I’ll tell you everything, but not a single word passes through your mouth - not now, not ever,” the man hisses, sotto voce. The silencing hand did not relent one millimeter as he pressed on. Jim was starting to regret seating them in a corner booth away from prying eyes.

 

“If my identity so much as appears as a rumor on the D-list food vlogs , I will make sure you never eat in this town again. You’ll never be able to order curry without wondering if the dish has been tampered with. Maybe poison, maybe they just spit in it. I have clout in this world, Jim Moriarty, and you don’t. You put my name out there and I will use it . I have friends in high places, sir , and they owe me favors. I’ve made careers, I’ve launched veritable nobodies into international stardom. Don’t think for one moment you’ll ever be able to set foot into any decent restaurant again if you cross me. You'll live off cheap instant noodles for the rest of your life. Not even the good Korean kind.”

 

His voice was low, measured, and going off intonation alone, sounded nothing like a threat. He could have been reading the menu. No, no, Jim had heard the man read menus.

 

Jim had forgotten to breathe by the end of the little monologue. His eyes were wide; he was completely still.

 

Then the shock receded, for both parties, and Mycroft gently lowered his hand.

 

He was trying his darndest to stave off his embarrassment, knowing he couldn’t possibly afford to look anxious in front of this man, this cold blooded killer. Ten years away from London was at stake here. Mycroft could not afford to lose his place as a food critic, the identity he’s built his entire life on, and he could not afford to lose London - his last ties to his self as Mycroft Holmes.

 

Jim opened his mouth, then closed it. He tried again, and closed it. His brows pinched together as he dropped his gaze to his plate and speared a shiitake mushroom, shoving it into his mouth and chewing angrily as he thought. So he'd been right. Big whoop he was nearly always right. So why didn't it feel as usual? It felt unresolved. What a plot twist! A food critic? What was he to do with that? No, no, this couldn't be the end of it, he needed a second act.

 

His eyes flickered from his plate to Mycroft’s now impassive face and back. Finally, he set down his fork, only to pick up his wine glass and drain it, before setting it down and waving over the waiter for a refill, brow still furrowed. A million thoughts flitted through his mind as he processed and reprocessed the chain of events. Everything he knew - everything he thought he knew about Mycroft Holmes - mistaken. Where did that leave him now?

 

He was loath to admit it, but he was out of his depth. Food industry crime didn't normally interest him. They were so niche that the payoff was too low. They were dispassionate business moves rather than rage or spite driven acts of human folly. Boring.

 

He drained his second glass of wine, between shoving the rest of the chilled winter vegetables in his mouth.

 

Jim cleared his throat.

 

“Um. This is good.”

 

Mycroft’s face was still coolly blank.

 

“Yes it is.”

 

“Are you giving them a -”

 

Jim cut off, feeling something sharp dig into the crook of his thigh.

 

He looked down to find that Mycroft had gotten a dessert fork in hand, which was now pointed at, on the verge of digging into, quite some sensitive bits.

 

Jim gave him his most affronted look. Mycroft raised an eyebrow.

 

“Alright, alright,” Jim hissed. “Candied apple Christ on a stick goddammit.”

 

The fork receded.

 

More silence. Mycroft picked up his dinner fork, returning to his kabocha.

 

“So do you like your job-”

 

That earned him a sharp glance.

 

“Okay, OKAY. Jesus.” Jim's eyes flitted around the room, searching.

 

“So what can we talk about then?” he asked, definitely not petulantly.

 

“Did you hear Simon Rattle's Mahler at the Barbican this week?” Mycroft asked pleasantly.

 

Jim wrinkled his nose and stole a quail egg off Mycroft's plate, ignoring the stormy look that earned him. He was just a food critic , he couldn't do any real harm .

 

“Really? Ugh. Hey, how about you tell me about Sherlock instead?”

 

“I'm sure you have many more salacious tidbits than I do, seeing as you're the one with him under surveillance.”

 

“Not that! Childhood stories, come on, you must have embarrassing ones.”

 

“Ah yes, Mr. Moriarty, you've heard of the concept of privacy, haven't you?”

 

“Pft, privacy . Tell me, what did he do that got on your nerves the worst? You two definitely have some murky history.”

 

“While my brother and I may not be so incredibly close now, I have always been fond of him and do not take kindly to your antagonizing Sherlock. I understand he enjoys the, game, as he calls it, but know now that if something should happen, I will not hesitate to testify.”

 

Jim looked at him as if he'd suggested taking a dip in the Thames.

 

How ordinary. How boring . Jim scratched his arm. Maybe he was developing an allergy. To normal people. Ugh.

 

“So does Sherlock know?” he asked out of the blue.

 

Mycroft gritted his teeth.

 

“Not. In. Public.”

 

.

 

Jim peered into the refrigerator, then looked back at Mycroft.

 

“This is all you’ve got?”

 

There was a little cup of yogurt sitting in the fridge, and a half-filled tray of ice cubes in the freezer.

 

Mycroft flipped on the light switch; the incandescent bulbs brightened the kitchen, illuminating his incredulous expression.

 

“We just had dinner ,” he said.

 

“Not dessert!” Jim added, plaintive. He gave Mycroft a look that suggested he was mortally wounded, and then peered back into the fridge. He closed it with a soft sigh, then a moment later succumbed to curiosity and flung the door open again. Still nothing. Annoyed, he closed it.

 

“It’ll be the same no matter how many times you do that,” Mycroft said.

 

Jim checked again.

 

“This is so sad,” he whispered into the empty cool light of the refrigerator. Eyes full of emotion, he bade the lone yogurt goodbye, and closed the door on it once again, plunging the non-fat cup of vanilla-flavored dairy product into darkness.

 

“So. Does Sherlock know?”

 

Mycroft took a seat on a stool by the kitchen island, world-weary and resigned.

 

“No one knows.”

 

“Your little government friend?”

 

“He likely suspects, but we’ve never discussed it in so many words.”

 

“So. How does it work?”

 

Jim opened and closed kitchen drawers and cabinet doors, not exactly looking for anything, but unable to sit still.

 

“Look. I understand you’re some sort of bored genius not dissimilar to my brother, and as much as I disapprove of the inherent risks the two of you are taking and would like very much to protect him, I obviously don’t have the means in deterring you and, by extension, there really is no point in continuing my involvement in the “”game”” as you’ve termed it, now that you’ve uncovered my deepest secret.”

 

Jim shut a cabinet door abruptly, looking at Mycroft in bemused surprise.

 

“How do you do that?”

 

“What?”

 

“Talk in scare quotes.”

 

Mycroft’s grave expression didn’t change, and Jim sighed yet again leaning heavily back against the counter.

 

“Yeah that’s. That’s true, I suppose. I mean, I could always tell him. Threaten your life. That sort of thing.”

 

Mycroft rolled his eyes.

 

“Sherlock doesn’t go in for that sort of thing . And good luck convincing him he’s been wrong about his own brother for over a decade, you know he wouldn’t trust you just on principle.”

 

That just made Jim smile.

 

“And the second you let my identity out, you’ll never get good dessert again. I know you have a sweet tooth now, Mr. Moriarty, and if you ever want chocolate mousse you didn’t have to make yourself from scratch you’ll want to just walk away and leave me to my humble existence in lonely peace,” Mycroft finished emphatically.

 

“Jim, please.”

 

“What?”

 

“None of this Mr. Moriarty thing, you’re not a client. Just Jim.”

 

“...Jim.”

 

“See? Not so hard was it?”

 

“Now, if we have nothing further to discuss, I'd be happy to see you to the door.”

 

“Tch. Touchy, touchy.”

 

Well then, Jim thought. That was that.

 

.

 

“-is what I thought , but then I realized - hey, look, you’ve wasted a good week of my life, a good week where I spent countless hours surveilling you and , let me assure you, Mr. Holmes, I am a busy man. My hourly rate is practically extortion. I feel like you owe me, at this point,” Jim mused, pointing a fork at the man.

 

Mycroft stared, and then looked around the restaurant.

 

“Where is Andrea?”

 

“She’s um, bit tied up,” Jim said. Mycroft’s personal assistant, Andrea, was presently stuck in an elevator - and would remain so for the duration of dinner if things went according to plan.

 

Mycroft narrowed his eyes at him.

 

"I hope you don't mean that literally."

 

"I would never. Me, tie up an associate of yours? Please. But after all the grief you've caused me, I feel like I am owed a due, and I've magnanimously decided you shall be my personal food guide for the week."

 

"Grief?"

 

Jim scowled, then picked up a fork to poke at his plate of wrapped fig appetizers.

 

"I have Sherlock watched as well, you know that. I see every time you visit that mess of a flat he and his doctor share, and how you point out this or that crime on the news. Do you know how many times you’ve directed him toward pursuing one of my schemes? You have any idea how much money you’ve cost me?"

 

Mycroft had the good sense to look mildly surprised and sympathetic.

 

“I was only trying to make conversation,” he said, apologetic enough, until he added, “you two are far too clever for your own good.”

 

Jim glared and stole a bite of red snapper and rice, cooked in saffron broth, from Mycroft's plate. He contemplated carving the man’s eyes out with the spoon.

 

“So,” he said, changing the topic from around his spoon, “what is it that I'm eating?”

 

.

 

“You know,” Mycroft said the next dinner, when it seemed he'd resigned to the idea that the world's only consulting criminal was to be his dinner partner for the foreseeable future, “you and my brother are really quite alike in broad strokes, though not so much in detail.”

 

“How do you mean?” Jim asked, interest piqued.

 

“Well, for one, Sherlock so hates seafood, and would never have touched the sea snails you've just devoured,” Mycroft said. Jim shrugged as if to say, his loss.

 

“But on the whole, the two of you are preoccupied with doing, and don't seem to understand being. That is, how to just be , and I do believe you miss out on half the pleasure of life when you don't understand being ,” Mycroft said.

 

That earned him a minutely sour look from Jim, offended at the insinuation he didn’t understand pleasure , but he went on.

 

“You equate your accomplishments with your self worth, and replacing identity with the work is a sure recipe for dissatisfaction.”

 

Jim considered his words skeptically, and then demanded to try Mycroft's entree.

 

.

 

And so it went.

 

.

 

Jim looked down at his plate.

 

“So what did you order me?

 

“Diver sea scallops with foie gras, fermented Japanese turnips and apples, charred green asparagus, and chicken jus.”

 

Jim took a bite.

 

“And what did you get?”

 

“Milk-braised veal parcels with goldbar squash, chanterelle mushrooms, and balsamic sugo,” Mycroft recited.

 

“I understood none of that,” Jim nodded. “Let me try.”

 

Mycroft cuts a piece with his fork, and holds it out. Without missing a beat, Jim leaned forward to accept the bite without taking the fork, fully expecting Mycroft to balk at the idea of feeding him. Except Mycroft just continued with his own meal as if it were perfectly ordinary, unconcerned at Jim’s concern.

 

“Good?”

 

“Yes,” Jim said begrudgingly.

 

Mycroft nodded.

 

“How was your day?”

 

Jim scrunched up his nose.

 

“If we can’t talk about my work, we could still talk about yours,” Mycroft reasoned. At there was some reason to it, Jim supposed, in a strange, nonsensical way.

 

“Aren’t you concerned at all, that the majority of my proceedings are what could be termed as, well, criminal?” Jim asked, drawing loops in the air with his fork as he thought through his words.

 

Mycroft shrugged, unaffected.

 

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re a consultant, similar to my brother, meaning you advise, and then the decisions and actions are ultimately within the clients’ hands,” he said.

 

Jim squinted.

 

“You know that Sherlock is technically breaking and entering in, like, half the cases he takes, right?”

 

“Hearsay,” Mycroft answered decisively.

 

“What are you, a lawyer?”

 

“My editor provides legal counsel.”

 

“...right. Well. I guess if you don’t mind hearing, as no one is going to believe you anyway, even if you try to report it. And if you did there would go your career as well, so.”

 

“Please, Jim, this isn’t an elaborate sting, and you know it.”

 

“...right.”

 

“Just polite dinner conversation.”

 

“...right.”

 

.

 

“- and so I tell him, Fyodor, you can’t just send them a note ! Where is the pizazz, where is the style? You come from this long, long line of creatively cruel mobsters - your uncle Vladlen did things with disembowelment I hadn’t even thought of . Are you really going to be the first one in your family to leave a note? You’re going to pull out your little typewriter and write out the little ransom figure?”

 

Mycroft nodded politely, realizing then that he had underestimated just what kind of can of worms he’d opened by suggesting Jim tell him about his day.

 

“Of course, I’m doing this through intermediaries upon intermediaries right? So hard to get the tone right. I mean, you fumble delivery and you can kill a joke.”

 

Jim trailed off, thinking.

 

“I should hire actors ,” he mused, before digging back into his mascarpone ravioli.

 

.

 

“Do you know how long I spent wrangling that Syndicate together? They are so tetchy about foreigners. Acting all high and mighty when - oh this is good, what’s this one?”

 

“Cornish new potato risotto with wild mushrooms, barbeque grelot onions, and truffle.”

 

“Order this again next time.”

 

“Duly noted.”

 

.

 

The familiarity extended, unsurprisingly, past a week, and, surprisingly, past boundaries Mycroft had thought were in place.

 

“I thought about what you said and - “

 

Jim stopped in his tracks, seeing that Mycroft was at the door. He’d pushed past the man and barreled into his house upon being let in (term used loosely; the door had opened) and started rattling on before he realized what he was seeing.

 

Mycroft was standing in the foyer, bags packed, coat on.

 

Jim saw red.

 

“After all the concessions I made, and I so generously let you live after wasting my precious time. You - you miserly coward - you -”

 

He stopped. Mycroft stopped, only looking at him impassively from the door.

 

Oh.

 

“Oh.” Realization dawned.

 

“You’re just traveling-”

 

“For work, yes.”

 

“-to eat.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Um. Um, okay. I guess. Have fun.”

 

Jim sighed noisily and turned on his heel, heading toward the door only to be stopped before both feet were out the door.

 

“Jim, I’m not abandoning you.”

 

Jim gave him the most incredulous look.

 

“Don’t think so highly of yourself, Holmes .” Who did he think he was?

 

“Our conversations over dinner have been pleasant,” Mycroft said politely, and Jim wanted to throw a shoe at his face. “Do feel free to ring when I’m back, I’m sure there will be some new restaurant you haven’t tried yet that we could go to, London’s food scene has been quite interesting these past years.”

 

“I’ll ring you in hell ,” Jim snapped, storming off.

 

.

 

“-is what I said last week, but then I went to that Japanese place you rated by myself on Thursday and I think things have really gone downhill. I ordered the exact thing you had and it was dry and I bet they overcooked it, and when you're back in town you should really go again and then downgrade their rating, you really should,” Jim said, fiddling with the flatware the waiter had just placed before him. Mycroft hadn’t ordered for him yet, which was an understandable mistake, because he hadn't known Jim was coming.

 

Mycroft stared, and then looked around the restaurant, maybe to ascertain this was indeed happening, before his eyes landed back on Jim.

 

“You followed me to Portugal,” he commented, not quite a question.

 

Jim stopped fiddling and scoffed.

 

“Noo, I had airline points that were expiring,” he said, ignoring Mycroft's smile at his answer.

 

“Right.”

 

Plus these guys here are planning to steal a painting which is such an amateurishly foolish idea. There are some rare coins being transported at the same time. Much more low key, much easier to fence. Practically no work for a small fortune each,” Jim said, putting their conversations back at their usual pace as Mycroft waved the waiter back over.

 

“He'll have the Rabilho tuna.”

 

.

 

The two of them strolled back to Mycroft’s hotel, as Jim had “ soo much to catch him up on,” a statement Mycroft politely refrained from commenting on.

 

However, as they passed the front desk and Jim followed him into the elevator, the concern arose that he would have to remind Jim what goodbyes were yet again.

 

The concern dissipated as Jim stopped in front of a door that wasn't Mycroft's, pulling out a key, only to be replaced by a new concern.

 

Jim caught him staring.

 

“Oh, haha looks like we'll be neighbors!”

 

Mycroft stared at his door.

 

.

 

In Valencia, Jim was chasing some diplomat down, someone with specialized knowledge of supposedly defunct weapon plans or whatnot that Jim had found a buyer for from some post-Soviet state.

 

 "Is there something on my face?" Mycroft asked, seeing a Jim studying him with great focus. 

 

"Hm, nah, I just love watching you eat. It's so," Jim gestures unhelpfully. "Neat. Precise."

 

In Barcelona, things were easygoing, and Jim revealed that he had started the Iceman nickname when he'd mistakenly thought Mycroft was some government operative (which admittedly gave Mycroft some closure), after he'd burned his tongue on some chili ice cream.

 

“Of course I'm passionate about this,” Mycroft had answered easily. “I love what I do.”

 

“Me too,” Jim said as he considered his own position. “I made it up myself, you know.”

 

In Bordeaux, Jim was tracking down an investor who owed lots of people lots of money, but somehow found time to wrangle Mycroft into taking a wine tour with him.

 

“I’m not a sommelier, Jim.”

 

“That’s fine, you can taste the wine and then tell me which one of the meals we’ve had it would go best with.”

 

In Paris, he demanded cake.

 

By the time they'd gotten up to Amsterdam, Jim had dropped any pretense of coincidence.

 

“You're so lucky my work is flexible enough as to allow for this kind of travel,” Jim said over Anjour pigeon and red beetroot with apple balsamic. “Imagine how lonely you'd be and how silly you'd look dining your way across the continent without my company.”

 

“Yes, quite so,” Mycroft replied politely.

 

Then in Rome, worlds collided.

 

Jim noticed a waiter watching, and noticed it was the same waiter watching in Florence, and in Milan.

 

He followed the man around the room with his eyes, trying to place him. A hired hand sent by a former client? A blackops agent for some state?

 

Then - no, he wasn’t here for Jim. He was here for Mycroft. Mycroft, who’d been mistaken over and over for a government man. Easy, stupid mistake.

 

He was organized crime.

 

As the man retreated back into the kitchen, Jim sighed and threw down his napkin, and Mycroft glanced at him as he stood up.

 

“Excuse me, I have to go cut a bitch,” he said, ignoring the confused expression. “Fucking Camorra.”

 

.

 

The man crashed back against the industrial freezer, caught off guard, and suddenly found a large butcher’s knife much too close to his neck.

 

“'Ndrangheta sends its regards,” Jim said.

 

.

 

“Almost done?” Jim asked as he returned to his seat.

 

“Are you alright?” Mycroft looked concerned.

 

“We should travel together to the next city,” Jim said in lieu of an answer.

 

“Of course,” Mycroft replied with a confused smile.

 

“In fact, we should leave Italy altogether. I’m sick of tomatoes,” Jim said, crossing and uncrossing his legs and waving a waiter over.

 

“I might have started a mafia war,” Jim mused under his breath as they made their way out. He shook his head. “I don’t know how you survived this long without me.”

 

.

 

In Vienna, Mycroft went all moony.

 

Even before taking a single bite, Mycroft smiled down at his plate.

 

“Look at that knifework - beautiful. And the vibrant gradients of purples and greens, a veritable visual feast. I almost feel bad I have to eat it,” he said with a chuckle, even tilting the plate to show it off to Jim, and Jim gave him a funny look.

 

“You’ve been here many times?”

 

“Oh, yes, one of the great joys in what I do has been tracking the Chef’s career.”

 

When the waitress came to collect their plates, he further surprised him by turning to her with a message.

 

“Do give my regards to the chef, please,” Mycroft said in a congratulatory tone. “Well done, yet again.”

 

She smiled good naturedly, no doubt thinking him just another diner.

 

“I’m a great fan,” Mycroft explained.

 

“Aren’t we all?” she said.

 

So enthused was he about the meal that the fact that Jim had been unusually quiet over dinner escaped him.

 

These dinners really were just work, after all, Jim realized. Food was his great passion, and his life’s work. Everything else was secondary.

 

.

 

It was past 3 in the morning when the phone rang, and Mycroft tensed, waking abruptly.

 

He felt around the nightstand, wondering if it was Sherlock or Jim calling, and what sort of trouble they’d gotten themselves into.

 

“Hello?” he asked, voice groggy.

 

“Mycroft,” said the man on the other line, and jolting Mycroft to wakeful surprise immediately. “You cheating on me?”

 

“Harry!” he said. “I was wondering if I was ever going to hear from you again.”

 

He’d left messages, as per usual, and Harry had ignored them, as per usual. The only difference was that Harry had stopped showing up at restaurants as Jim had started showing up (to be honest, Andrea had complained as well - brilliant girl was wonderful with getting him every reservation on time, and one of the perks of her job had been being able to eat out once in a while as well).

 

The old man chuckled.

 

“Don’t worry, it’s a work thing, no hard feelings,” Harry said. “Always knew you’d leave me once someone younger came along. Discussing the kinds of things you kids do. Sports. Stocks. I don’t know.”

 

“Are you alright?” Mycroft asked. He considered them friends, after all. Harry sounded good humored enough, though the hour at which he was calling was odd, considering they were both in London on the same time zone now. “Have you been okay these past few weeks?”

 

“Ah, well, I just wanted you to know I had fun while it lasted,” Harry said.

 

And then he hung up.

 

Mycroft stared at his phone, wondering whether he was asleep or awake.

 

.

 

“Sorry I’m late,” Jim said, sliding into his seat, a bit harried. “Embezzlement case nearly gone bottoms up - you really need to pick better days to drop in on your brother, Mycroft, really.”

 

“Lovely to see you too, Jim.”

 

“You’re welcome. What are we having?”

 

“Steak today, you said you missed it, after all that seafood on the coast. Charcoal crust wagyu tenderloin served with radicchio, walnut, and crispy mustard.”

 

As if one cue, the waiter appeared with Jim’s dish, and it was just like any other night. Jim regaled Mycroft with his more creative exploits, and Mycroft explained this and that dish to him, peppering in odd agriculture trivia.

 

But then the check came, and Jim reached for it.

 

“You can’t,” Mycroft said deftly, taking the bill from him. “I need exact receipts.”

 

“Then go out with me,” Jim blurted out in frustration. “To - to - a non-food thing! Or a non-work food thing. Have dinner with me.”

 

“We are having dinner.”

 

“Not work dinner, dinner dinner.”

 

“You’ve just said dinner three times in a row.”

 

“I am asking you to date me .”

 

Mycroft stared, internally marveling at his ability to still be surprised by the events of his life. It’s another moment before he realizes Jim is staring imploringly, waiting for an answer.

 

“I - I can’t date you, you’re trying to kill my brother,” is his weak excuse.

 

“I’m not trying to kill him.” Jim rolled his eyes, gesturing, grasping for the right word. “We’re just. Just - adversaries.”

 

“You blackmailed me about my career.”

 

“Incidentally! I didn’t know about your career!”

 

The mild expression of being lost hadn’t left Mycroft’s face. Jim kicks at the table ineffectually.

 

“I like having dinner with you.”

 

The waitress came by, mistaking Mycroft’s holding out the bill for having finished with it, saving him from having to respond right off the bat.

 

Her appearance shocked him out of his reverie, and blinking several times, Mycroft stayed her hand and quickly gave her their dessert order. Some obscenely decadent molten chocolate thing Jim was so preoccupied he hadn’t grasped the name of.

 

She leaves, and he looks down at his cleared plate setting.

 

“I’ll just leave you to your dumb lava cake then,” Jim said sullenly in clipped tones. But he sat there, until the waitress returned with a plate, before finally forcing himself to move. “Sorry it went this way. You won’t hear from me again.”

 

In the split second before he looked up, he prayed he wouldn’t find an expression he didn’t like.

 

What he found, instead, was a dessert fork. And Mycroft’s calmly impassive face, as usual.

 

Jim took the fork.

 

“Are we sharing dessert?” he asked, as Mycroft cut into the cake and let the steaming fudge spill out to decimate the frothy cream.

 

“You know, for a genius, you tend to ask very simple questions.”

 

.


.


Jim frowned at the little handwritten index card on the counter, and reached down to wipe a stray piece of smudged butter off of it. Yeugh.

 

Then he jumped - the oven timer went off to let him know it was done preheating - and nearly dropped the cup of flour.

 

“Dumb apple cakes and their dumb ingredients,” he muttered.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

Why was everything trying to startle him today?

 

Jim whipped his head around to glare at Mycroft.

 

“Get out of my kitchen,” he hissed.

 

“This is my kitchen,” Mycroft said without missing a beat. He saw the mess on the counter and brightened. “Did you buy groceries?”

 

No .”

 

“Oh, you’re baking.”

 

“I’m -” Jim stared down at the half formed batter with growing trepidation. What the hell was he thinking , trying to make something from scratch. For Mycroft. Mycroft the food critic. Jim didn’t even cook. He sure as hell didn’t bake .

 

“No,” Jim protested again in futility, as Mycroft strided over, smile on his face.

 

“That’s very kind of you,” Mycroft said, coming up behind Jim to wrap his arms around his waist, and leaning down to drop a kiss on top of his head. He had no right to be so easygoing , Jim screamed internally.

 

“Yeah,” Jim said, clearing his throat. “What would you do without me.”

 

“Indeed,” Mycroft agreed. “I’d be lost without you, completely.”