It was four days until Christmas Eve, and Rosie had invited Greg to 221b for a Christmas party. She had drawn invitations and everything. They had all got one; Greg, John, Sherlock, ‘Nanny Hudson’, Molly and Mycroft, and attendance was non-negotiable. Which meant, Greg had realised with not a small amount of glee, that he would get to spend the evening in the company of Sherlock's elusive elder brother, with no crime scene or 'Sherlock related disaster' getting in the way. Greg hadn't looked forward to a party so much in...maybe years.
So there they all were late that afternoon, having tea, jam sandwiches, ‘party rings’ and other sugary confections beloved of three-year olds. The grown-ups were milling about, talking and taking it in turns to be entertained by Rosie. After delighting Molly with her ‘fairy spinning’, Rosie turned her attentions to Uncle Mycroft. She stood at his feet, craning her neck upwards to see those blue/grey eyes turned kindly down on her. She raised her arms expectantly. Mycroft raised an eyebrow and didn’t move (except for a slight smile tugging at one side of his mouth). Rosie made grabby hands in the air
“Sil te plait, Ondle My”
Mycroft forgave the use of a D instead of the C in Oncle – Rosie (although obviously a genius, as Sherlock constantly informed everyone) had yet to master the use of the phonetic C, and replaced every C with a D. Mycroft bent and picked her up, quietly pleased at the sigh of satisfaction this elicited from her as she cosied herself with her arms around his neck and her head on his shoulder.
“Joyeux Noel, ma petite cherie” Mycroft whispered, and Rosie snuggled closer.
“You smell nice, Ondle My.”
“En francais, Rosamunde, oui?”
But Rosie was not listening. She had sat up suddenly and reached out for something behind Mycroft.
“Greg! Smell Ondle My! He smells like doodumbers”
and she grabbed a fistful of Greg's hair as he was passing and yanked him towards them.
Greg was taken by surprise and put out a hand to steady himself, which landed heavily on Mycroft’s solid shoulder. Greg could feel the warmth emanating off Mycroft through his jacket and onto his own fingers. He felt the rebound of his own soft chuckle as the warm air from his mouth touched the skin behind Mycroft’s ear and came back to him. Rosie was giggling, still holding fast to Greg's hair, keeping him at the back of Mycroft’s neck. Greg felt Mycroft's back stiffen, as silent as stone while Rosie bounced on his arm. Greg couldn’t see Mycroft’s expression, but he could imagine the narrowed eyes and pursed lips well enough. Greg figured the least embarrassing course of action was not to make a fuss and just to get it over with quickly. He lent in a fraction and inhaled at the back of Mycroft’s neck.
Rosie was right, a subtle cool scent of cucumber and maybe bergamot was mingling in Greg’s senses alongside the warm, unmistakable hint of perfume that was Mycroft’s skin itself. He smelled clean and oddly familiar and quite delicious.
Mycroft hadn’t moved, standing rigid with his back to Greg. Greg couldn’t move, held as he was by a small, sticky fist. Nobody spoke or moved for what seemed an age.
“See Greg?” Rosie grinned “I am right, aren’t I? Doodumbers!”
Greg cleared his throat.
“Yes darlin', quite right. Your Uncle smells... really good.”
There was another long pause while Rosie revelled in her correct assessment, and still Mycroft neither moved nor spoke. Greg decided this was getting painfully awkward. A few more seconds of such proximity and he would find himself reassigned to traffic duty, traffic duty at the North Pole probably. He turned a playful grin on Rosie and raised his other hand, waggling his fingers at her.
“Now let go of my hair, you minx, or I will be forced to tickle you.”
Rosie squealed loud and sharp in Mycroft’s ear, and he started. Without turning he declared
“Leave the Inspector alone Rosamunde, we have detained him long enough. I believe Dr Watson was trying to get your attention, Detective? Before my niece accosted you?"
“Yeah, er, ta Mycroft.”
Greg’s hand slipped from Mycroft’s shoulder slowly, the warmth it had brought fading quickly.
“See you later, sausage” he winked at Rosie and tickled her under the chin as he headed into the kitchen.
It turned out that one hour is how long you can put Sherlock and Mycroft in the same room, (where they cannot leave and have to be nice to each other) before they begin to compete. Sherlock had started it (of course) by asking if Mycroft had noticed that Mrs Hudson had bought a new hoover (the ever-present dusty exhaust on her stockings at shin height had vanished). Mycroft said that of course he had noticed and had Sherlock realised that John had accidentally put on Sherlocks underwear this morning and that, apparently, they weren’t doing the job. John flushed as the entire room (minus Rosie who was deeply involved with a bowl of strawberries and clotted cream at the time) turned to stare – quite without meaning to - at John’s nether regions. Sherlock smirked. The game was on. For the next 45 minutes there was a constant stream of muttering between the brothers, an uncomfortable background hum to the conversations and games trying to be maintained around them.
“You have a new fountain pen.”
“You need a replacement shower head.”
“Anthea is on leave today, so you skipped lunch."
“So did you.”
“You cancelled your dental check-up, again.”
“You’ve upset your dry cleaner.”
Greg couldn’t hold it in any longer…
“Will you two stop with the competitive deducing! It’s exhausting just listening to you!”
The room went silent. Rosie looked up and giggled. Mycroft glanced up from his chair and offered
“I fear, Detective Inspector, that if my brother and I are to be in the same room for any length of time, that your choices are… ‘this’ (Mycroft wafted a hand gracefully in the air between himself and Sherlock) or complete silence.”
He languorously crossed his legs and blinked slowly at Greg.
“The choice is yours.”
Greg sighed. Personally, he would have chosen silence, but this was Rosie’s party, and she wouldn’t want Sherlock and Mycroft sitting quietly, glaring at each other until her bedtime. An idea came to him, one that may get the non-Holmesian guests some peace and would keep the Holmes boys occupied for a bit as well. Greg slowly slid his hands into his pockets and offered
“How is this… you each get ONE deduction about me, about something I doubt you could know. Whoever wins gets to be smug (‘more smug’ I should say) and whoever loses… um…”
“Whoever loses has to wear this fetching piece of festive knitwear”
and from beneath a cushion he pulled a jumper. A garishly coloured, fluffy monstrosity with flashing lights and a tinny tune emanating from it. Sherlock shook it out. It had a cartoon reindeer on the front… doing a poo, and the caption read ‘Crappy Holidays’. Mycroft visibly recoiled before he could stop himself and sneered his most Mycroftian sneer
“What in god’s name-”
“It was a ‘secret santa’ present from work” explained John quickly.
Mycroft eyed the item with distain.
“I am sorry you are so disliked in your workplace, John” he responded drily. John bristled.
“I’m not disliked! It was a joke gift, ‘find the worst present you can’ sort of thing, y’know?”
“If you say so” Mycroft replied evenly, unconvinced.
Sherlock waved the jumper in front of Mycroft’s face.
“Mycroft, do you agree to the terms? We each deduce Lestrade, and the loser has to wear this?”
Mycroft rolled his eyes.
“Very well. Is there a specific deduction you had in mind, Inspector, or do we just-”
“There is a specific deduction!” Greg interrupted at speed. “Don’t just start telling the room about my secret fear of cheesy-bugs* or something. Both of you, not another word until I tell you the challenge. OK?”
Mycroft nodded and Sherlock smiled one of his fake smiles. Greg visibly relaxed.
“Ok. Right, your challenge is… what was it I wished for over the Christmas pudding?”
(WIBBLY WOBBLY FLASHBACK VISUALS)
An hour earlier, just as everyone had arrived, Mrs Hudson had come bustling into the sitting room with flour in her hair and a huge bowl in her arms.
“Woo-hoo dears! I know I am a bit late for 'stir it up Sunday' but it's not Christmas without a Christmas pud, is it!”
She stared disapprovingly at the kitchen table before plonking the heavy bowl down on its already cluttered surface.
“So, who’s going to be first?”
“First?” Greg replied after a short interval when it became obvious that no one else was going to play along.
“To pop in a trinket and give it a stir! Its tradition. Bad luck not to have everyone in the house stir the pudding before its steamed.”
She held out a little bag, which jangled.
“How about lil’ Rosie has first go, eh?”
Rosie was at her side in an instant, delving her little hand into the bag and pulling out... the spinsters thimble.
“No wedding for you this year, my dear” Mrs Hudson winked as Rosie grinned and plopped the thimble in the viscous brown mixture.
“Now give it a stir, east to west, there we go.”
Rosie had trouble stirring the mixture, so stuffed was it with dried fruit, but two hands and a little help from John did the trick.
“Now Daddy!” Rosie shrieked with glee.
John pulled out the crown from the bag.
“Ooh, ‘King for the day’ dear, won't that make a nice change!”
John smothered his laugh as Sherlock looked over, the joke lost on him. He dropped the crown into the mix and gave it a quick stir clockwise.
Rosie was already dashing over to Sherlock with the bag of trinkets. Sherlock looked like he was going to refuse, to make some snarky comment, but a glance at John stopped him. He smiled at Rosie and reached into the bag... the silver item tinkled as he pulled it out. A bell.
“Ooh-hoo, I hear wedding bells!”
Mrs Hudson positively glowed at Sherlock as she brought the bowl over to him to stir, which he did, perfunctorily. Then came Molly (who rooted about in the bag for an age before retrieving the silver sixpence).
“’Riches, Molly, how lovely.”
Molly shrugged amiably and popped it in the bowl and gave the gloop a rigorous mix. Rosie was already hopping up and down in front of Mycroft. Resigned to his fate, he dutifully placed his hand in the emptying bag and pulled out the horseshoe.
“Good luck for the year, Mr Holmes” Mrs Hudson observed without enthusiasm.
Mycroft turned the horseshoe over in his hand without commenting, examining it closely, then flinging it into the pot he made a movement with the wooden spoon that barely qualified as a stir. Then Greg was suddenly at Mycroft’s side.
Greg plunged his hand in, not even sure what was left (the boot indicating travel, the bachelors button denoting the single life for another year, and...)
“The wishbone!” Greg grinned as he pulled it out. Rosie's eyes gleamed
“Oooh that's the best one! You get to make the pudding wish!”
Greg held out the tiny silver trinket to Rosie
“Oh no love, you can have the wish, make it for me.”
Rosie made a face that she could only have learnt from Sherlock, possibly a cuter version of his ‘I am surrounded by idiots’ look.
“Nooo Greg, you have to, the pudding fairies will only grant your wish. That’s the rule.”
Rosie nodded her head solemnly. Greg mimicked her serious expression, and nodded back.
“OK. How do I do it?”
“Just drop in the trinket, stir and silently wish, dear” said Mrs Hudson, waggling the bowl under his nose.
Greg looked about him, at the amused faces of John and Sherlock, the indulgent smile on Molly’s, the barely contained excitement on Rosie’s and the inscrutable, even expression on Mycroft's face. He grinned, shrugged, threw in the wishbone, grabbed the stirring spoon and closed his eyes tight, moving his mouth silently and exaggeratedly, to show Rosie that he was wishing. When he opened his eyes again, Rosie jumped up and down, clapping.
”Yay! Maybe the fairies will grant your wish Greg, I hope they do.”
Greg leant down and whispered in her ear.
“Well, I hope there are a lot of pudding fairies, ‘cos this was a big wish” and he winked at Rosie, whose eyes glittered with delight.
“Oooooooh” she whispered back.
(WIBBLY WOBBLY FLASHBACK VISUALS RETURN US TO THE PRESENT)
“Your pudding wish? Our challenge is to deduce your pudding wish?” Sherlock scoffed, spitting out the p in pudding.
“Too tough for you?” Greg teased.
“On the contrary. But are you sure you want to go down this road, Graham?”
“You wouldn’t guess it in a month of Sundays, Sherlock, not even you. In fact, especially not you, either of you.” Greg glanced at Mycroft, who seemed already to be deep in concentration and barely listening. Sherlock stared at Greg for a moment, considering. Then he shrugged.
“Very well, if you are sure. I am game if Mycroft is… Mycroft?”
“If we must, brother mine, if we must” Mycroft replied absent-mindedly, which told Greg he was anything but.
“Excellent. Off you go then.” Greg sat down in a chair with an exaggerated flounce and looked from one brother to the other, grinning.
“This will keep you quiet for a while. You have ten minutes. Go.”
Sherlock made a ‘pfft’ noise.
“Mycroft may need ten minutes, however I do not. I will return when the time is up” and with that, he left the room.
Exactly ten minutes later, Sherlock returned looking especially smug. He swaggered into the room and raised an eyebrow at his brother.
“Well yourself” snapped Mycroft, irritably.
“Which means you haven’t the faintest idea what Lestrade wished for. Which means I win.”
Sherlock grabbed the hideous jumper and threw the offending article at Mycroft, who caught it with one hand. Looking at it with contempt he said
“Why are you giving me this? You didn’t guess Lestrade’s secret either.”
The smugness was reaching new heights, even for Sherlock.
“Oh yes I did, brother dear.”
They both looked at Greg.
“Did you?” Greg looked wide eyed at Sherlock and spoke at the same time as Mycroft.
“Certainly I did.”
Mycroft’s eyes narrowed.
“Prove it. What was it?”
“Oh I am not going to tell you, brother mine,” purred Sherlock, and he walked over to Greg and bent down over his seated friend, whispering in his ear. Greg went pillar-box red instantly.
“Tell me I am wrong” Sherlock challenged as he stood up again.
Greg met Sherlock’s eye and gave him daggers.
“I don’t like the way you put things, Sherlock. But yes.”
“Then how would you put it? Please enlighten us... all of us” and he gestured to the room with a swish of his wrist.
Greg looked about him and responded through almost gritted teeth.
“No ta. It's fine. You win. You guessed right.”
Sherlock spun on his heel, triumphant, eyes shining with glee as he met the cold gaze of his nearest and dearest. Taking back the jumper from where Mycroft had abandoned it over the arm of his chair, Sherlock examined it slowly, considering. Then he spoke.
“I will give you a chance, brother dear. There are four days until Christmas Eve, you have until then to realise what I already know. And if you haven’t 'guessed' by then…” (he paused for dramatic effect) “you must wear this knitted eyesore to Christmas Eve dinner, here at 221b, with Lestrade and Molly and Mrs Hudson. Agreed?”
Mycroft's eyes narrowed and his voice was artificially even when he replied.
“And if I do deduce correctly?”
“No jumper, no dinner, no enforced company. Unless you decide you want company after all, that is.”
“I doubt it. Very well. Four days. If you have deduced it, it shouldn’t be that difficult. I would say I know the Detective Inspector almost as well as you do, you have no particular advantage over me. I accept the terms.”
“Excellent. This is going to be fun” and with that, Sherlock turned and, scooping Rosie up in his arms, he began to loudly explain to her the Aesop fable of the cockerel and the eagle (the one where ‘pride comes before a fall’). Mycroft sighed, also purely for effect, and turned his eyes away.
For the rest of the evening, Greg could hear Sherlock’s whispered words echoing around in his head. He tried to ignore them, but they kept sneaking back into his mind…
“You want a boring, middle aged, civil servant for Christmas, don’t you Gavin? A ginger know-it-all with no friends and a penchant for power games, sliding down your chimney?”
Greg swallowed. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea after all. He wasn’t at all sure he was ready for the look on Mycroft's face when he figured out that what Greg really wanted for Christmas… was Mycroft himself.
Mycroft spent the rest of the evening sitting in a chair, studying Greg, his fingers steepled and his eyes narrowed, following Greg’s every move and gesture. He made no secret of it and Greg felt scrutinised, as if he were under a microscope, but he also realised this wasn’t really anything to do with him. This was between Mycroft and Sherlock, Greg was merely the clue, something to be deduced. He still felt very uncomfortable, he could feel Mycroft’s eyes boring into him at every moment, reading him, learning things about him. He tried to ignore it, to engage himself in conversation with Molly, play with Rosie, to turn away so he couldn’t see Mycroft's face, but nothing worked. Greg could feel Mycroft’s eyes moving over his body and it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He rubbed the back of his hairline with his fingers, but it didn’t help.
After an hour of this treatment he’d had enough. He poured two large tumblers of the expensive brandy Mycroft had brought with him as a ‘host present’ and crossed the room to Mycroft’s chair. Looking down at Mycroft with a smile, Greg handed him a glass.
“I feel like I'm an exhibit in a zoo, Mycroft, give it a rest, yeah?”
Mycroft accepted the glass with a little surprise and a nod of thanks.
“My apologies Detective Inspector, I forgot myself. I will, of course, cease observing you so blatantly. These competitions of my brother’s always suck me in, I am afraid.”
“Sibling rivalry?” Greg smiled again, “I know that feeling.”
“Yes, you have quite the army of brothers and sisters, that is obvious.”
“Is it?” Greg looked down at his jumper and inspected his shoes teasingly. “How did you spot that? Or have you been reading my file – I know you have one on me.”
Mycroft gave a slight one-sided smile in return and gestured to him as a whole.
“It screams off you, Detective Inspector.”
“Oh yeah? What else?”
“What else have you deduced about me, peering at me from your chair for the last hour?”
He crouched at Mycroft’s feet, smiling, waiting. Mycroft shifted in his chair and frowned slightly.
“I am not my brother. I do not detail my observations in order to appear clever, Detective Inspector.”
“I know that Mycroft, but I am asking, so you can detail away. What have you figured out about me?”
Mycroft sighed and put down his glass. Steepling his fingers with his elbows resting on the arms of his chair, Mycroft regarded him cautiously.
“I know that you are here for Rosie, to give her a room full of people that love her at Christmas, to enhance the spirit of the season for her. That makes you a kind and thoughtful person.”
“You too then” Greg replied with a smile.
“I wouldn't say that” said Mycroft with a wry ‘almost’ smile.
“I know you offered to work Christmas this year so that your staff could enjoy the holiday with their families. That makes you a considerate and egalitarian leader. The jumper you are wearing is a present from your team (from the department store close to NSY) in a colour judged to flatter your complexion and a fabric that is soft, warm and expensive. You are appreciated by your staff Inspector, they wanted to express their fondness for you, and look after you in their own small way.”
Greg looked down at his new jumper and grinned self-consciously.
“Huh. Well, that's nice. Soppy buggers. What else?”
Mycroft sighed, resigning himself to continuing this conversation.
“You are trying not to indulge in Mrs Hudson’s ‘nibbles’ (despite your fondness for mince pies), you are trying to look after your figure Inspector, which (forgive me) is not usual for you.”
Greg grinned in spite of the insult, he couldn’t deny it after all, he didn’t pay much attention to the way he looked, and he never passed up a doughnut if one was on offer. After his exclamation of mock offence, Mycroft clarified at once.
“You are not usually vain or focussed on appearances, I should say. Which leads me to think that you have a new beau…” (Greg shook his head ever so slightly) “… or entertain hopes of a liaison in the near future. Someone has caught your eye, Inspector. Someone you want to impress.”
Greg was suddenly still, and his voice was low when he ventured
“You went home to shower and change before coming here, in spite of the fact that it would make you late, that is unusual. You are wearing new clothes, watching your waistline, you have even polished your shoes. I doubt Sherlock would care or John would notice such a thing, so it was not for their benefit.”
Greg swallowed and couldn’t keep eye contact with Mycroft as he said
“Molly is newly single again (her waterproof mascara and ‘smash the patriarchy’ socks tell us that much) and you and she always struck me as cut from the same cloth (intelligent in a quiet way, warm hearted and with a need to help others). I would imagine her to be the object of your efforts, except...”
Mycroft paused and ran his tongue along the inside of his mouth. Greg recognised the movement, it was an old friend and Greg knew what it meant - Mycroft was trying not to say something, trying to keep something in.
“Except?” Greg prompted. Mycroft raised his eyes to Greg’s slowly as he contemplated how to finish his sentence.
“Forgive me, but… I was under the impression your preferences had shifted along the Kinsey scale somewhat as you have aged.”
Greg looked amused at the way Mycroft had phrased that last sentence.
“Shifted? In which direction?”
“I merely meant that in your youth I imagine you as a 2/3, now I would estimate a...4?
Mycroft's face was completely expressionless as he said this, purposefully expressionless Greg decided. Greg shrugged to buy him some thinking time before he spoke. He never really talked about this stuff, but he wasn’t surprised Mycroft knew it anyway. Not that he cared who knew, it had just never really come up. People tended to not talk about relationships around Greg for fear of upsetting him about the divorce, he supposed. But that was ancient history, water under the bridge, he barely even thought about it anymore. His attentions had been... elsewhere for quite some time now. Greg cleared his throat and replied quietly, his chest tightening in anticipation of the conversation that was almost within reaching distance.
“ Go on…”
Neither man had moved a muscle in the past minute, they looked like whispering statues; one seated in his chair, legs crossed and hand gripping his brandy glass as if it would float away if he relaxed his hold, the other crouched in front of the chair, ignoring the protests from his knees and suddenly feeling much too warm in his new jumper.
Mycroft’s voice lowered in response to Greg’s hushed reply.
“So, I would imagine the balance of probability tips out of Dr Hooper’s favour and into...”
Greg’s pulse was hammering in his ears.
Mycroft suddenly shifted in his chair, uncrossing his legs and raising his glass to his lips. When he lowered it again, his voice had returned to its usual volume and there was that haughty tone that had been lacking for the last few minutes.
“… whomever it is you are intending on meeting after you leave here. I take it you have an appointment with some man. A man who would care about the state of your shoes, who would appreciate the softness of your clothing (you were hoping he would come into close enough contact to appreciate it). Given your restraint with the mince pies you may even be hoping that he sees a great deal more of you than he has thus far.”
Greg shook his head with mock disappointment, hiding the real disappointment he felt at Mycroft’s sudden change in demeanour.
“Close, but no cigar I am afraid.”
Mycroft’s eyebrows knitted.
“Where did I make my error, Detective Inspector?”
Greg shuffled slightly closer to avoid being overheard. He’d give Mycroft another chance at this conversation.
“I do have my eye on someone. I did wanna look nice this evening. I do... have hopes. But I am not meeting anyone after I leave here.”
Mycroft’s eyes scanned the room. Sherlock. John (so wrapped up in each other and Rosie as to barely even notice the presence of anyone else). Molly (already discounted). Mrs Hudson. There was no one else in the room. Dismissing the thought of Greg and Mrs Hudson under the mistletoe, Mycroft sighed dramatically and held out a hand with a graceful motion.
“Then pass me the jumper, Detective Inspector, I am at a loss to fathom you.”
Greg smiled. Maybe Mycroft hadn’t chickened out of the conversation, maybe he honestly hadn’t cottoned on.
“That happen to you often Mycroft? Not understanding something?”
Mycroft’s mouth tightened and he raised his chin defiantly.
“No. It is... discombobulating.”
Greg laughed and knocked against Mycroft's leg playfully with his arm.
“Want a clue?”
Mycroft’s eyes narrowed.
“No. If I am in need of clues, I have already failed.”
“Nonsense. My job would be impossible without clues, even your brother needs 'em.”
“I am not my brother.”
“No, you are not. Thank god. One is enough, ta.”
Greg glanced over at Sherlock, who was completely absorbed in Rosie’s completion of a ‘lock and key’ puzzle he had made for her (complete with homemade lockpicks) and was paying no one else any heed whatsoever.
“Oh well. You still have four days, Mycroft. I hope you figure it out. I really do. Mind you, I kinda wanna see you in that god-awful jumper too.”
Greg rose giving Mycroft a conciliatory pat on the knee as he used it to help him rise, and he wandered off into the kitchen to gently confiscate Rosie’s new toy before she was arrested at nursery school for ‘going equipped’. Mycroft watched him go and then silently left the party, without saying goodbye to anyone.
* Cheesy-bugs = local idiom for Woodlice. See also Cheese-Pigs, Billy Buttons and Dandy Postmen (because us Brits are weird).
Chapter 2: Adventures in The British Library
Three days until Christmas Eve.
Incoming text from DI Lestrade…
(G) Mycroft, I’m at NSY. I’ve just been told my personnel file is being accessed by military intelligence for a 'classified reason'. The Chief Super is freaking out. What are you doing?
(M) Research, Inspector. MH
(G) You don’t have to do that. You can ask me whatever it is you want to know.
(M) I didn’t want to bother you, to involve you with this foolish competition with my brother. MH
(G) I get that. But really, you can ask me anything.
(M) That is appreciated, Inspector, thank you. MH
That night as Greg was brushing his teeth before bed, his phone peeped. A text from Mycroft. He grinned, spilling toothpaste smoosh down his front. Cleaning himself off, Greg sat on the lid of the loo and opened the message.
(M) You wished for a new challenge. MH
(G) Kinda. Elaborate...
(M) A new work challenge, promotion perhaps? MH
(M) Blast. Was it a wish on behalf of someone else? (Please let old Mrs Scoggins at no.23 find her lost Tiddles, something of that sort?) MH
(M) Ha-ha no. Purely selfish, my wish.
(G) A challenging, selfish wish... you wished for an opportunity to visit your family in America, a change of scene with people you care for? MH
(G) Where is the challenge in that?
(M) Apologies. My family are a challenge, I may have been projecting. MH
(G) Ha, I see your point, but nah. I don’t need a change of scene, I like London. I don’t need to go anywhere for this wish.
(M) This is most frustrating. MH
(G) It’s fun.
(M) Goodnight Inspector. MH
(G) Night Mycroft. Sleep tight.
Two days until Christmas Eve
Incoming text from M Holmes…
(M) Are you well, Detective Inspector? MH
(G) Morning Mycroft. Fine ta. How are you?
(M) No I meant, this wasn’t a wish for health reasons? You aren’t ill, are you? MH
(G) No, fit as a flea, me.
(M) That is good to know. MH
(G) ‘cos it narrows down the wish options?
(M) Yes of course. MH.
(M) However, it is also gratifying to know you are in good health.
Have a good day Inspector. MH
Greg hadn’t been expecting that clarification. It wouldn’t have occurred to Sherlock to add that. It was nice to know that Mycroft had bothered to take the trouble to be polite. Surprising, even. Greg shrugged. The Holmes boys were a mystery, you couldn’t predict them. He thumbed off a quick reply-
(G) You too, Mycroft.
As it turned out, Greg did not have a good day. A missing dry cleaner had turned up inside his own tumble dryer (or at least, some of him had) and Greg had spent a long and stressful afternoon talking to the neighbours, forensics etc, and hanging about on the street with his team as the building was searched for the remaining pieces of Mr Frith. Greg had slipped away in the fourth hour for a quick breather and a fag, tucking himself away under the arches of the railway tracks so as not to be spotted by Sally and berated for his lapse in willpower.
No sooner was the cigarette at his lips than a hand appeared from behind him, silently proffering a light. Greg saw the glint of a cufflink in the light from the flame and knew only one person who would wear double cuffs if they weren't going to a wedding. He gently cupped the offered hand in his own and raised it to his cigarette slowly, taking his time, enjoying the opportunity of touch.
‘His hands are so soft’ he thought, ‘not like mine. What would he think if I touched him, really touched him, with my callused, rough old hands? He'd run a mile I expect. Ok, New Years Resolution is to moisturise hands’ Greg chuckled internally as he released Mycroft’s hand and turned, smiling, to face his handsome nicotine enabler.
“Thanks. Really should give up for good this time. Maybe in the new year.”
Mycroft’s eyebrow twitched fractionally.
“No” (Greg continued before Mycroft could speak) “I didn’t wish to be able to quit smoking. Maybe I should have” (Greg muttered this almost a little sulkily) “you are not gonna get your head round what I actually want, are you, Mycroft?”
“I fear not, Detective Inspector. You are an enigma.”
Greg grinned in spite of himself.
“Ha! Never been called that before. But… Sherlock managed to figure it out.” he couldn’t help adding, impishly.
“I am aware of that fact. There is no need to point out my failure, Inspector.”
Now it was Mycroft who sounded a little sulky. Greg backtracked swiftly…
“Sorry, I didn’t mean-”
Mycroft raised an accusatory eyebrow.
“I just meant, maybe you are overthinking it, y’know? Being too clever about it? I am not a complicated man, Mycroft.”
Greg stepped a little closer, raised his eyes to meet that piercing blue/grey stare and lowered his voice.
“Sure you can’t guess what I want?”
Mycroft’s eyes had widened with the decrease in their personal space, but he held his ground and shook his head almost imperceptibly.
Greg mentally took a deep breath and then raised his eyebrow in the manner that had got him laid more times than he could count. He practically purred
“It isn’t obvious?”
Mycroft scanned his face, obviously searching his features for something. Greg let his tongue be just visible for a second skirting his mouth, not lasciviously, but enough to make his point - or so he thought. He watched as Mycroft’s eyes dropped and watched the movement. Greg smiled encouragingly.
Mycroft’s eyebrows knitted and he sighed, turning his gaze from Greg’s lips to the crime scene still in full swing on the other side of the street.
“You are a bewilderment, Detective Inspector.”
Greg gave up, stepping back a pace, allowing Mycroft a more civilised amount of personal space.
“Maybe I am. But what is it Sherlock says to John? 'You see but you do not observe’?”
Mycroft visibly bristled. Greg winked, even as the disappointment washed over him internally.
“Never mind Mycroft, it's not important, I guess.”
Greg pushed his hands into his coat pockets resignedly, and made to turn towards the activity on the other side of the street, but before the movement was anything more than an idea, Mycroft grabbed Greg’s arm,
“Oh but it is, Inspector, it is.”
“Why? ‘Cos of the ugly jumper? Or ‘cos it means losing to your brother?”
Mycroft looked at Greg as if he had asked a phenomenally stupid question, and when he answered, his voice was smaller than Greg had ever heard it. Not quieter, just… smaller.
“Neither. It is because it seems important to you, this wish, and I find... I want to help with its attainment, whatever it is.”
Greg was baffled.
“Why would you, want to help I mean?”
Mycroft let go of Greg’s sleeve instantly and drew himself up, obviously feeling he had become too familiar. His voice returned to its usual clipped tone.
“You are quite right, of course. It is none of my business.”
Greg sensed the change, realised he had said something wrong. He tried to lighten the mood, get Mycroft back on side.
“That's not what I meant. I just meant why would someone like you (busy, important etc) want to help a shabby old copper you barely know, get his pudding wish? Branching out into fairy godmothering on the side, are you?”
Mycroft scoffed. His shoulders relaxed a fraction.
“Hardly, Detective Inspector. I lack the temperament for that particular career. But in answer to your question…” (Mycroft hesitated) “I find I have no satisfactory response. I may have just got caught up in the holiday season or maybe I am merely enjoying the distraction. But if I cannot deduce your wish - and it is becoming increasingly evident that I will not - I hope that you will tell me what it was, and if I can help with its fulfilment, I find I would like to. Besides, we don't 'hardly know each other'. We have often been in the same room and we have conversed about my irritating sibling on many occasions over the telephone and even in person, sometimes.”
“Yeah, but that's not the same, is it? As properly knowing each other?”
Mycroft seemed genuinely unsure.
“Well, um, not really. I mean, what’s my middle name?”
Mycroft opened his mouth to reply and Greg realised his mistake.
“Ok, stupid question, you have an eidetic memory, you’d know that from my file, you’d know practically everything about me from whatever data you have access to. Plus you’re a Holmes, so you’d know the rest from what you can read off my choice of sandwich or the way I hold my keys or whatever, but I don’t know your middle name, do I? I don’t know what your favourite book is or where you live, even? If anyone is the enigma Mycroft, it is you.”
Greg hadn’t meant that to come out quite as pouty as it sounded, and he felt the fortress slam down around Mycroft, his body visibly stiffening as he straightened up an extra inch. Mycroft stared coolly down his nose at Greg.
“I see. You are right, Detective Inspector. We do not know each other. I misspoke. My apologies. I will wish you a good evening.”
Mycroft turned to leave but Greg blocked his path.
“Don’t get sniffy, I wasn't having a go at you.”
“It is of no matter, Detective Inspector” said Mycroft with a slow blink of indifference.
Mycroft’s phone beeped.
“I must leave you now Inspector, good evening.”
Greg sighed, resigning himself to ending this meeting on a sour note.
Mycroft walked away down the street and into the car that had pulled up right on cue, and Greg watched the car pull away. When he was alone again, Greg made an exasperated noise at the back of his throat and kicked heavily at the crumbling wall of the railway arch.
Greg’s phone beeped. ‘What now?’ He half-heartedly glanced at his phone but, seeing the contact ID, he hurriedly swiped open the message.
(M) Alexander Mycroft Holmes. Great Expectations. Kensington. MH
Greg smiled widely and quickly typed back
(G) Gregory Anton Lestrade. Catch-22. Bermondsey.
After sending this, he thought for a beat and then followed up with
(G) Thanks Mycroft. Night.
(M) Goodnight Inspector. AMH
At home later that night, all the parts of Mr Frith accounted for, Greg was sitting on his bed, three beers in, staring at his phone. Then, decision made, he held his breath and sent the following...
(G) Arsenal. Guitar. The beach.
There were a couple of very long, very tense minutes before his phone beeped a response...
(M) I do not follow football. Piano + Cello. The mountains. MH
He wrote back! Greg couldn’t quite believe his luck. Mycroft had actually responded with something other than ‘why are you sending me these banalities Inspector, please stop wasting my very precious time’. Greg could feel the beginnings of butterflies starting in his stomach as he typed back...
(G) Inception. Pasta. French lager.
(M) Casablanca. Salmon. Scottish single malt. MH
The minutes flew by, Greg texting three ‘favourite things’ and receiving three in return. He tried not to think too hard about what was happening, about the fact that Mycroft Holmes was willingly engaging in conversation with him about frivolous, personal things, lest he break the spell that seemed to be making this actually happen. Back and forth they went for more than half an hour, until Greg started running out of ideas. He cringed inwardly as he sent his favourite dinosaur, season and colour.
(G) Stegosaurus. Autumn. Red.
(M) Diplodocus. Autumn. Petrol Blue. MH
‘One more,’ Greg thought, ‘let’s see how far I can push this’. His tongue nervously skirted his mouth as he sent the message. Not three things this time, just one thing, one piece of information he was pretty sure even Mycroft didn’t know about him. Something secret.
(G) 17yrs old. Back of my Dad’s car. Susan.
The second he pressed ‘send’ he regretted it. In what universe had he thought it okay to send Mycroft Holmes details of how he had lost his virginity, and, by implication, ask for such intimate details in return? Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.
He stared at his phone. It did not register a return message. Not for nearly eight minutes. Then, just as Greg was about to text an apology for overstepping and explaining about the three beers, at last a response came.
Was this going to be a reprimand? Please God, don’t let it be a reprimand…
(M) 21yrs old. The British Library. Charlie.
“Mycroft!” Greg half laughed, half yelled this out loud in his quiet room, gobsmacked that Mycroft had allowed himself to respond to Greg’s message with anything other than a disgusted rebuke or a patronising scolding at Greg’s impudence, let alone some sort of ‘public sex’ confession.
Greg’s fingers typed so fast he had to delete two spelling errors before he sent…
(G) THE BRITISH FUCKING LIBRARY??!!
(M) I do not believe that is the building’s official title, but under the circumstances I see your confusion.
Greg could hear the amusement in Mycroft's words, he was clearly enjoying Greg’s surprise.
(G) Mycroft, you dark horse!
(M) I would prefer it if you didn’t mention this to the Chief Librarian. She is a bit of a stickler.
Mycroft Holmes, bloody Mycroft Holmes sharing confidences and being playful. It was unheard of, wonderful, but unheard of. Greg wondered if Mycroft had also been a little overindulgent with the alcohol this evening.
(G) No problem. Your salacious secrets are safe with me. Bloody hell, Mycroft. You win that round.
(M) I wasn’t aware that it was a competition. I am pleased to have been victorious, however. Goodnight Inspector.
(G) Night Mycroft. Don’t lose sleep over this jumper thing, will you?
(M) I must admit, the thought of being seen in semi-public wearing that polyester disaster is affecting my ability to drift off.
(G) Yeah, it’s pretty hideous, I agree.
(M) Horrifying. Good night Inspector.
(G) Goodnight Mycroft.
As Greg drifted off into an easier sleep than he had had in a while, part of his brain was berating him for not asking if ‘Charlie’ was short for Charles or Charlotte (although he was 90% sure he knew the answer), while another part of his brain contentedly registered the loss of the ‘MH’ in the last of Mycroft’s messages that night. Would it be back tomorrow, he wondered?
One day until Christmas Eve.
(M) Detective Inspector…
‘That’ll be a no’, Greg was pleased to note as he replied from his breakfast table.
(G) Good morning, Mycroft. Up with the lark, I see? What can I do for you this fine day?
(M) You sound in good spirits today, Inspector?
Greg’s night had been spent with dreams of being out on an autumn day, eating salmon and drinking fine scotch in well dressed, long-legged male company, while cello music played softly in the background, then a visit to a library in the mountains. He’d woken feeling more rested and energised than he had for years.
(G) Yep. Slept really well. Feeling pretty chipper. You?
(M) I also slept well. Thank you. Now to my reason for contacting you… would you mind meeting me later today?
(G) Ok. No problem.
(M) Don’t you want to know why?
Greg grinned at his phone, pleased they weren’t video calling or the soppy expression on his face would have given him away in a heartbeat.
‘Doesn’t matter why, you gorgeous imbecile. Whatever you want, Mycroft, for whatever reason, I’ll be there.’ This is what Greg thought, whereas what he wrote was…
(G) Ok. Why?
(M) I wish to interrogate you further about this wish of yours.
(G) Figured. Where’d you wanna meet?
(M) The Savoy. The American Bar. 8pm.
Greg spat his mouthful of morning tea across the table.
(G) Jesus Mycroft! The Savoy? I thought you were gonna say the coffee place outside the Home Office or something!
(M) Inspector. I feel bad asking for your time for such a frivolous matter. I would like, at least, to make you feel that this wasn’t a complete waste of your time, by inviting you somewhere worthy of the tube fare.
(G) You are not wasting my time, Mycroft. Savoy it is. I’ll need a tie, I take it?
(G) Ok. See you at 8.
The American Bar was everything Greg had imagined it would be. Leather chairs, warm, polished wood, glass and mirrored surfaces. Creams and caramels from floor to ceiling, and a grand piano being played unobtrusively in a corner.
Mycroft was already waiting when Greg arrived. Greg was precisely on time and when he spotted Mycroft, he knew instinctively that Mycroft had arrived early to be there to greet him and put him at his ease in this intimidatingly swanky location. Greg smiled. It was unexpectedly thoughtful of him, considerate.
Greg had nearly been late, stopping off (as he had) at the John Lewis on Oxford Street to pick up a new tie for the occasion. A petrol blue tie with a subtle sheen to it. Bit special, bit different than his usual polyester excuses for neckwear. He honestly hadn’t picked petrol blue on purpose, he hadn’t, that was his story and he was sticking with it.
Mycroft was sitting at the bar, sideways to make room for his long legs, which were neatly crossed and encased in slim, midnight blue suit trousers. Greg berated himself for focussing on the bit of ankle that was inadvertently on show. Red socks, though? Bright red too, hidden beneath that dark exterior, not visible when Mycroft stood, or when seated behind a desk or in video conference. A secret splash of colour.
Greg subconsciously touched his new tie with nervous fingers (ok, yes, the tie he was wearing purely because it was Mycroft’s favourite colour) and he allowed the suggestion of a thought about Mycroft’s vivid sock choice to drift across his mind before he batted it away.
‘Ridiculous. Mycroft’s brain didn’t work like that. It wouldn’t occur to him to… to… what? Choose red socks to please me? Don’t be a soppy old fool, Lestrade.’
Still, Greg was unexpectedly touched at seeing this hint of playfulness in Mycroft’s attire. Again, playfulness… in Mycroft Holmes, and he tried to control his indulgent smile as he sidled into the seat next to his companion, giving him a friendly pat on the shoulder as he did so.
“Inspector. How was your day?”
“Good thanks. Yours?”
“Not over yet, I am afraid.”
“Oh sorry, you wanna keep this brief? Or reschedule?”
“Not at all Inspector, this is a pleasant interlude in an otherwise drearily repetitive day.”
Greg gave Mycroft a warm, closed mouth smile, one that made his eyes crinkle at the edges. He rubbed his hands together and picked up a drinks menu.
“So what’s good here, eh?”
“That depends. What do you like?”
Greg raised an eyebrow at Mycroft in his trademarked, puckish manner.
“Can’t you deduce that either?”
Mycroft blinked twice in quick succession. Greg was momentarily pleased to recognise in Mycroft's face that he was trying to decide if Greg had meant the drink or if the eyebrow had implied something else entirely. With disappointment though, he watched Mycroft dismiss the notion that Greg could have meant anything other than the obvious, then he narrowed his eyes and gave Greg that look that felt like he was in an x-ray machine. Greg sat still and held the eye contact with a cheeky smirk still on his lips.
After a few seconds, Mycroft gave a triumphant little huff, turned away from Greg and beckoned to the blond Adonis waiting bar.
“Breathless Charm for the gentleman please, Sanders.”
“Certainly Mr Holmes.”
The barman nodded and began busying himself with bottles, his back to his audience. A tumbler was placed in front of Greg in no time at all and he looked it over.
“What's this then?”
Mycroft looked rather pleased with himself, though he was trying not to let it show. Greg enjoyed the way the smile kept trying to creep across Mycroft’s lips, while he kept fighting to keep it hidden. Mycroft cleared his throat.
“It is a cocktail inspired by Fred Astaire’s performance dancing to 'the way you look tonight'. It is bourbon, orange blossom, honey and soda. The muyu vetiver liqueur creates woody, earthy notes and the theoria hysterie adds a spiced element. I think it will suit you remarkably well.”
Greg lifted the glass to his lips as Mycroft watched. The taste was heavenly. Mycroft was right, this was Greg's drink, he just hadn't ever had it to know that. It was warm and dark, but with a sweetness that was very easy to drink.
Mycroft smiled smugly.
“I haven’t entirely lost my powers of deduction then. Good to know” he whispered into his own glass as he shifted slightly in his chair.
There were a few more glasses of exceptional drinks, chosen by Mycroft (which Greg appreciated, as he was sure he would be slightly uncomfortable with the prices of these bloody lovely concoctions if he looked properly at the menu).
Mycroft hadn’t really asked Greg anything about his wish, which puzzled him a little. They didn’t even mention Sherlock. They talked about the upcoming music festival on the South Bank (the theme was ‘music that broke the mould’ and so both Mycroft and Greg had found something that appealed to them – Blues for Mycroft, Punk for Greg), they swapped book recommendations and Greg had been delighted to prise out of a pinkening Mycroft that he secretly watched The Great British Bake Off. They had played a few more rounds of ‘three things I like’ and Greg was warmly fuzzy when he heard it, so he wasn’t sure, at first. It was almost whispered, self-conscious but matter-of-fact at the same time.
“I love you.”
Greg felt his throat tighten and his breath stop short in his chest. Had he heard right? Feeling his face flush as red as Mycroft’s socks in an instant, he almost choked out the word
Greg looked up as he said it, to see Mycroft looking into the eyes of Sanders, the barman. The barman nodded and turned away. Had he misheard? Or was this the moment Mycroft had chosen to confess his love to the bartender of the Savoy?
“Um. What was that?”
Mycroft slowly returned his gaze to Greg.
“What was what?”
“What you just said.”
“I was ordering drinks. A rather special drink actually, it comes as a duet, so to speak. Inspired by the song 'Something Stupid'.”
“Is that the one where a nice evening is spoiled when person A blabs that they are in love with person B?
“Indeed. C. Carson Parks, I believe.”
“And the drink is called…what you said?”
“Yes, Inspector. Of course.”
'Of course that's what he meant. You silly arse, Lestrade' Greg reprimanded himself.
Two glasses arrived in front of them. Mycroft cleared his throat for the second time that evening and gestured with a graceful swish of long fingers, to the glasses.
“These drinks are meant to be had in tandem, as it were. One is rum, vermouth and port, the other a gin with citrus and quince tea. I admit I have always wanted to try it but never felt able to do so as I am invariably here for work, not the time nor the situation to ask if someone would share a cocktail with one.”
“No, I guess not. Glad I could be useful.”
Mycroft’s eyes sparkled in anticipation.
“Which would you like?”
Greg sparkled back in return, enjoying seeing a rare, relaxed warmth in Mycroft's demeanour.
“Can't you guess?”
Mycroft narrowed his eyes, but in fun this time.
“Yes. I was being polite.”
Mycroft pushed the rum glass towards Greg with one elegant finger. Greg grinned at Mycroft's (naturally) correct deduction and lifted the glass.
Another spectacular choice. Greg was going to have trouble drinking anything again unless Mycroft had hand-picked it for him. This was warm and thick and like a velvet blanket wrapping around him. He audibly sighed as he relaxed his elbows on the bar and rested his chin in his hand, smiling boozily in Mycroft's direction. Mycroft slowly put down his glass and tentatively offered
“Now we swap.”
Mycroft looked hesitant for a moment before he quietly explained.
“These drinks are made to be had together, they are made for each other. They are very different but... complementary.” Mycroft ran his tongue across the inside of his mouth. “You see why I could not order this when I am here for work?”
“Yeah, might be a bit odd sharing glasses with the Home Secretary. I can see that.”
Greg tried to keep his response light, but all the while his brain was hearing Mycroft’s mellifluous voice whispering ‘made for each other’ and ‘different but complementary’ around inside his alcohol fuzzed head.
Greg reached out, took the glass from in front of Mycroft and put it to his lips. ‘This is what Mycroft tastes of at this moment’, Greg couldn’t help but think, ‘this taste is clinging to his lips’.
As he swallowed the sharp and clarifying liquid, he murmured thickly
“Mmmm. I get it. Better together.”
Mycroft watched Greg drink and said nothing. Then he nodded and returned his gaze to his glass.
Mycroft had to return to the office soon after, and as Greg was putting on his jacket, Mycroft subtly motioned to Sanders to put the bill on his account.
“Oh, Mycroft, no, let me, please” Greg jumped in, suddenly very aware of just how much expensive alcohol he had consumed in the last 90 minutes.
“Nonsense Inspector” came the hushed response, Mycroft obviously uncomfortable with the discussion of money in public.
“Well, we’ll ‘go dutch’ then, let me pay my half, eh? S’only fair.”
Mycroft turned and leaned into Greg’s space so as not to be overheard arguing over the bill.
“Hush now. I asked you here, I will cover the cost of our evening. Thank you though.”
Mycroft leant back and turned away slightly, hinting that the conversation was over. Greg sighed. Bit uncouth to insist any further, he supposed.
“Ok, but next time’s on me, yeah?”
Mycroft was straightening his own jacket and turned slowly on his heel to look Greg full in the face. He looked ever so slightly puzzled.
“Next time, Inspector? The wager with my brother ends tomorrow night, there would be no time and no reason for another meeting of this nature.”
Greg exhaled heavily. ‘Couldn’t just let me have the possibility, just for a minute, could you eh?’ he thought.
“Just a slip of the tongue, I guess. You are right, Mycroft, no reason to do this again. Except…” (his guardian angel prompted him to add)… “this was fun, wasn’t it?”
“Fun?” Mycroft’s eyebrows furrowed.
‘Oh. Obviously not’. Greg internally berated himself for investing a bit too much in their evening together.
“I… er…” (Mycroft was blinking again) “yes, I suppose so.”
Greg laughed mirthlessly.
“Don’t gush Mycroft, please, my ego can’t take it. Its fine, I get it.”
Before Mycroft could reply, a waiter sidled up to inform him that his car had arrived. Greg and Mycroft walked out together in silence. As Mycroft approached the car, he surprised Greg by offering him a lift home. The car would take Mycroft to Whitehall and then, if Greg wished, it would take him home to Bermondsey. Greg wanted to refuse, he was smarting from their last words and wanted to sulk by himself on the tube. On the other hand, he was tired, a bit sloshed, and the wind was bitter, so he accepted. With a shrug of indifference he hopped into the large black saloon, scooting across to allow Mycroft ingress, pressing himself into the far side window, giving Mycroft more room than he would have needed if he were three times the size.
The car pulled away and silence engulfed them. Greg didn’t fill it as his inner voice always prompted him to. Let them sit there in silence, see if he cared. Mycroft had made it clear that he hadn’t considered this a social visit, in spite of the fact that Greg was certain Mycroft had been enjoying his company at the time. Greg recognised he was a bit tipsy and feeling sulky and sorry for himself, and as he folded his arms and looked out of the window, he tried to distract himself with the buildings and roads whizzing by. ‘It was a short drive from the Savoy to Whitehall, we should be there already, shouldn’t we?’
Mycroft cleared his throat and Greg heard him shuffle around in his seat to face Greg a fraction.
Greg didn’t take his eyes off the window.
“Please don’t misunderstand me, I did not mean to offend you.”
“Dunno what you are on about Mycroft, its fine.”
“Inspector… Gregory, look at me, I am trying to apologise.”
Greg looked around grudgingly, but the look on Mycroft’s face melted any childish pouting from his mood instantly. Mycroft looked tired, concerned even. There was a small crease between his eyebrows that hadn’t been there all evening, and Greg felt a little cruel for having put it there. To most people, looking at Mycroft, he would have looked just the same as he always did, but Greg had seen that look on Mycroft’s face before, whenever Sherlock was being reckless or deliberately snide. Mycroft was worried and maybe a little hurt? Greg changed tack immediately. He turned his body towards Mycroft and reached a hand across the seat, stopping before he reached the other man, but just resting his hand between them on the sumptuous leather seating seemed like a closeness.
“No honestly, Mycroft, there is no need. Its fine, I understand, I really do. This thing with you and Sherlock, I get it, it’s important to you, and I am happy to help if I can. You don’t have to pretend its anything else. I know we aren’t, y’know, ‘mates’, I know you don’t really bother with stuff like social chats over a drink, and that’s fine, that’s you. I just forgot for a moment that we weren’t just chatting, that’s all. Too much excellent booze, I guess. It’s all good, I swear. Don’t worry.”
‘There. That would work wouldn’t it? Take that look off Mycroft’s face? Repair the damage?’
Greg watched Mycroft’s eyes for a response. He opened his mouth, but no words came for a moment. Mycroft slid his tongue across the inside of his mouth, took an artificially even breath and then spoke, quietly, in the darkness of the car.
“Thank you, Gregory, you are gracious as always. But you are wrong on three counts. Firstly, there is a need to apologise; I did not intend to offend you, but I did and I am sorry for that. I did not mean to sound dismissive when I questioned your use of the word ‘fun’, I just couldn’t ascertain, for a moment, your meaning, the intention behind your choice of word. When I realised you meant nothing more than for me to take the word at face value, it was too late.”
“What do you mean ‘face value’? What else could I have meant by it?”
Greg was confused, befuddled by strong drink and a little wrongfooted by the fact that he was now pretty sure the car was doing circles, just driving around and around Whitehall in some sort of loop.
Mycroft responded even quieter than before, making Greg have to lean a little closer to hear.
“Sherlock often uses the word ‘fun’ to describe our interactions, and he always employs sarcasm for the word. I am afraid it has become a habit to assume that word, when used to describe interactions with me, is used with mockery.”
“Secondly, I did have an enjoyable evening in your company. You are very easy to spend time with, Inspector, which is not something I often say. Furthermore you have been very generous with your time and your good humour and I shall recall our conversations with amusement, when I look back on them. Please do not let my lack of experience with sincerity give you any doubts as to the quality of your company. Finally, I am grateful for your help, in this matter as in all matters to do with my insufferable brother, and as always you have gone above and beyond the call of duty in coming to my aid.”
Greg’s relief was audible in his voice when he softly replied
“So, to sum up, you had a nice evening too. Good.”
For a moment, a streetlight lit up the smile he was giving his companion. Mycroft heaved a dramatic sigh and gave a small smile in return.
“Brevity may be the soul of wit, but I am afraid I am a pompous arse at the best of times, so why use one word when one hundred would do? It is a bad habit of mine, again I apologise.”
Greg laughed gently.
“Thanks for saying all that, I’m sorry I overreacted, just had a long day. Stupid of me.“
“You are not stupid, Inspector, never say that you are.”
This was barely more than a whisper, and Greg responded in kind.
“Greg. You called me Greg earlier, well Gregory, which is close enough I suppose, why are we back to Inspector?”
Mycroft gave a small nod and continued in their hushed tone.
“Gregory, if you insist”.
“How about Greg, if I insist?” Greg smiled teasingly.
“I will try.”
Greg noted that the car had stopped doing laps and was now actually driving Mycroft to the office, so he quickly tried to squeeze in a bit of trivial chat so they could leave on a friendly note. He raised his voice back to normal conversational levels and offered
“I might have to go back to that bar, y’know, it was pretty special.”
“I am glad you liked it. It is a favourite of mine.”
“Go there a lot?”
“Alas no, but when I can.”
“For work? or…”
“For work, yes.”
“You don’t go there ‘cos you have a thing for the bartender then?” Greg teased. “You and Sanders seemed pretty chummy.”
Mycroft scoffed good-humouredly.
“Jonathan Sanders is aware that I am a generous tipper, that is all.”
“Whatever you say, Mycroft.” Greg winked. Mycroft tutted but his eyes twinkled in the dim light of the back seat.
“Sanders would no more think of me than I would think of him Gregory… Greg, the mere thought is preposterous, even in jest.”
Greg considered the man next to him in the small, dark confinement of the car. He had never seen Mycroft so relaxed, so open to conversation, as he was tonight. Greg blamed that last rum cocktail for the fact that he decided asking his next question was a good idea, but he had to know for sure…
“Preposterous because you don’t like-”
Both men spoke at the same moment…
“Blonds?” said Mycroft, puzzled.
“Men?” said Greg, the word coming out a little loud in the small space between them.
There was a silence of only a few seconds, but it felt like an age to Greg. He couldn’t see Mycroft’s face in the darkness (where was light pollution when you needed it?), couldn’t gauge a response without visual cues and, worried he had gone too far, he tried to backtrack.
“Oops, sorry, none of my business, definitely too much to drink tonight. Forget I said that.”
He still could not see Mycroft clearly, but he heard a slow intake of breath and braced for the worst.
“I do not like… blond men… Greg.”
Greg was momentarily stunned. Astonished that Mycroft Holmes was confiding in him like this, quietly sharing personal details in the back of a car like… like… friends? Maybe like friends? Greg had to remind himself to reply before Mycroft thought he had said something wrong.
“Yeah? Great, um I mean, that’s good or whatever, y’know, its fine.” (‘Smooth Greg, very smooth, you plonker’) “Thanks for trusting me with that. Sorry if that was a little too personal.”
Mycroft hesitated before he murmured
“It is not something to apologise for…”
He seemed to be waiting for something, Greg thought, reassurance maybe? Greg knew they were one minute away from Mycroft’s office now, he had to make the end of this evening good somehow, make Mycroft glad he had suggested meeting up. Greg decided ‘light and easy‘ was the way forward, he had a talent for that. He chuckled and ran a hand through his hair, trying to sound at ease, trying to keep the tightness in his throat from being audible.
“Yeah, you’re right, there has been enough apologising tonight. Tell you what, I’ll swap you a fact about me. We have something in common there.”
Greg could tell from the sound of his voice that Mycroft was looking at the floor as he practically whispered…
“A disliking of blonds or a liking for men?”
'He must know the answer to that already' Greg thought, 'all that chat the other day about 'shifting preferences' '. Greg lent his head to one side and almost cooed his response…
“Both, I think.”
The car pulled up and the privacy divider slowly fell, letting Greg see their driver for the first time. He had completely forgotten anyone else was there. After a pause of a millisecond, Mycroft picked up his umbrella and thanked Greg for an interesting evening. Greg did likewise and Mycroft turned and put his hand on the door handle to open it. The driver stepped out of the car and Greg took his chance.
“If I do go back to that bar…”
Mycroft did not move, his back to Greg, his hand on the interior door. Waiting.
“…I will have to remember the names of all those great cocktails.”
Mycroft’s shoulders relaxed infinitesimally.
“So… what was that really delicious drink called again?”
“Which one was that? You seemed to enjoy each of them, as I recall.”
“The one that came as a pair?”
There was a pause in the darkness. Greg shut his eyes, focussing all his attention on the next words out of Mycroft’s mouth. It came quietly, just as it had when Greg had heard Mycroft utter the words to Sanders, but he was ready for it this time.
“I love you.”
Greg drank in the sound, tried to make his sozzled brain remember the way Mycroft sounded when he said it. What he wouldn’t give for Mycroft’s eidetic memory right now. He replied slowly, in equally hushed tones.
“I love you… yeah, that was it.”
He immediately continued in a loud and cheery tone
“Cheers, Mycroft, see you tomorrow at your brother’s, I guess. Unless you have an epiphany overnight, of course.”
“One can only hope. Goodnight Inspector.”
Mycroft left the car without looking back and, as he and the driver sped through the city, Greg tried to decide which part of the last couple of hours to think about first.
I actually wrote this for Christmas 2019 but it wasnt quite finished in time to post then. Which did mean that I was able to go to London's Savoy and try out the cocktail menu - for research purposes only, you understand - (before covid closed everything a few months later) so I can tell you that Breathless Charm and I Love You are both very real, very delicious and very expensive drinks that can be had there. If you feel like spending £20 per cocktail, definitely go, its a gorgeous location.
Chapter 4: Christmas Eve
Greg was just beginning to stir the next morning, when his phone beeped. Rolling over in bed and picking up his phone, he noted the time through blurry eyes (6.08am) and the messager (Mycroft). Greg smiled affectionately at his phone. It was tonight. The Holmes Showdown. Greg sat up (a little too quickly he soon realised, he had definitely drunk too much last night) and rubbed his eyes before opening the message.
(G) Morning Mycroft. Socks are always welcome, but nope.
(M) A book?
(G) Wrong again.
(M) A coffee machine?
(G) I would definitely like one of those, but that wasn’t what I wished for.
(M) This is frustrating in the extreme.
‘Poor, clueless sweetheart.’
(G) Why the pre-breakfast panic guesses? Getting nervous?
(M) That god-awful jumper arrived late last night by courier.
Greg was suspicious. ‘That’s not all though, is it Myc? Come on, spill it.’ He flung his legs out of bed and perched on the edge as he typed.
(M) And it came in festive wrapping.
‘Out with it, Mycroft. You know you wanna tell me.’ Greg smiled as he repeated himself.
(M) And with an insulting note.
‘There we go.’ Greg laughed with sympathy. ‘The poor darlin’.’
(G) Oh god – what did the note say?
(M) I decline to tell you.
(G) That bad huh?
(M) Sherlock had obviously been working on the wording for some time. He was very… thorough in his criticism of my intellect, my emotional range and my physique. I fear he may be correct on all counts.
(G) Hey! None of that. You are ridiculously clever, your ‘emotional range’ is just fine (when you choose to show it) and
Greg stopped typing.
‘Oh god, what to say?
Your physique is such that just a glimpse of the shape of you keeps me up at night?
That I would wear away the freckles from your skin with my tongue, given half a chance? Mmmmm.
For Fucks Sake Greg, concentrate on replying before Mycroft thinks you agree with Sherlock’s doubtlessly cruel opinions.’
He started typing again.
(G) and you are a healthy bloke, you take care of yourself, that’s obvious. Sherlock is just being an arse to try and distract you from your task. Ignore him.
(M) I assure you I was not fishing for compliments.
(G) I know that.
(M) Well then, thank you, that was unnecessarily kind. Now… back to the matter at hand. Is there a skill you have always wished to master?
(G) So many, but I didn’t wish for any of them. Sorry.
(M) You can go off people, Gregory.
Greg heard the deadpan delivery in his head and he grinned, his fingers dashing across the screen…
‘Off’ me? When we you ‘on’ me? I’m sure I would have remembered that.
Greg typed jokingly, but he swiftly deleted it, unsent.‘ Don’t be an idiot, remember who you are talking to.’
‘Yes I remember’ his brain interjected unhelpfully. ‘I am talking to the bloke who has had sex in the British Library, to the man who smells like cucumber and whose hands are as soft as cashmere, to the bloke who says ‘I love you’ like he means it, even when he is just reminding me of the cocktail menu, to the man who has no idea what is going on inside my head, despite being the smartest man on the planet and despite days of actively trying to figure it out.’
Instead he wrote…
(G) Haha, you like me really (if only because I give you a break from ‘Sherlock duty’ every now and again).
See you tonight maybe, don’t let this take over your day, ok?
The very moment after he had hit ‘send’ he saw the typo. He hadn’t written ‘maybe’. What he had actually written was…
See you tonight baby, don’t let this take over your day, ok?
Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! MAYBE not BABY! Shit! Was that autocorrect? Nope, couldn’t have been, they sound alike but they’re spelled completely differently! Shit. That was just me. Me not thinking… like the moron I am! Quick! Fix this!
Greg typed furiously fast, hoping jokey denial would get him out of this stupid ‘Freudian typing slip’…
(G) Ha! Sorry, that was supposed to be MAYBE, not baby! Weird rhyming error. It’s too early in the day for me, obviously.
No response. ‘Uh oh.’
(G) Mycroft? Did you have a heart attack or something?
Nothing. ‘Bugger.’ Greg waited three minutes before sending…
(G) Okay, now you are worrying me. Mycroft?
(M) My apologies Detective Inspector, I was momentarily distracted with a work email. I did not notice your typographical error. There is no harm done.
(G) Phew. Thought I’d lost you for a moment.
(M) Not at all. See you tonight. Maybe.
Greg tried not to focus on the fact that he was suddenly ‘Detective Inspector’ again and wondered if he believed Mycroft’s claim that he hadn’t seen Greg’s slip up. Mycroft Holmes miss something? Not likely.
Greg was early to arrive at 221b that night. The cosy aroma of roast goose and sherry seduced Greg up the stairs and into the sitting room. Mrs H had outdone herself. Greg presumed it could only have been her who had gone so overboard with the decorations that it looked as if an army of drunk Christmas elves had thrown up all over the flat. Tinsel and lights and more lametta than Greg had ever seen in his life sparkled everywhere. It wasn’t tasteful, but it was wonderful.
Greg took in his surroundings and considered his fate. Christmas Eve dinner with Sherlock, John, Rosie, Molly and Mrs Hudson, and maybe also… If Mycroft hadn’t guessed, he would have to come to dinner too. Wearing the jumper. But if he didn’t turn up, that meant he had figured out Greg’s wish. Greg couldn’t decide which was worse, having Mycroft arrive clueless and Sherlock being extra smug, or Mycroft not arriving, which meant he did know and Greg would have to wait for the inevitable fallout.
A horrible thought gripped him. If Mycroft (genius that he was) didn’t know then it probably meant, on some level, that he didn’t want to know, and in that case Greg would rather he never found out. But… would Sherlock tell him? Could Sherlock resist gloating and proving he knew what Mycroft didn’t? Greg hadn’t thought of that. He had to make sure Sherlock was going to keep his mouth shut. He waited until John took Rosie to change into her party dress and then sidled up to Sherlock, who was crouched, poking the fire and trying to look like he wasn’t also watching the clock for Mycroft. Greg decided just to be blunt, subtlety was often missed (or ignored) by the younger Holmes.
“How did you know?”
Greg half expected Sherlock to feign ignorance, just to make Greg spell it out, but Sherlock just continued to stab at the coals and replied smoothly
“I observed you as you wished.”
Greg rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, I figured you’d do that, which is why I kept my poker-face on and was careful not to give anything away.”
Sherlock gave an exaggerated sigh and turned to face Greg.
“Yes, Gavin. Which was why I watched the expressions your face didn’t make, what you studiously didn’t look at when you wished, what you turned your body away from. The one thing you made a very obvious effort not to pay any attention to, as you wished. I had my suspicions before, of course, but that night you may as well have hung a huge neon sign with an arrow pointing at my brother’s head.”
Greg nodded, resignedly.
“Protest too much, did I?”
“Precisely. Unfortunately for you (or fortunately, if you want my opinion), the one blind spot in my brother’s omniscience-“
Sherlock was suddenly pointing at Greg with a long, surly finger –
“-and if you ever tell Mycroft that I used the word ‘omniscience’ in relation to him I will break into your flat and cut the left arm off each of your hideous suit jackets.”
Sherlock relaxed again and continued…
“His one blind spot is people’s feelings towards him. He has always considered that others see him as ‘Banquo’s ghost’ (Greg frowned and Sherlock assumed – wrongly – that Greg had missed the reference, so rolled his eyes and clarified), the 'spectre at the feast', entirely unwelcome. He wouldn't notice the way you moon after him, no matter how obvious you are.”
“You could corner Mycroft in his own office and snog him senseless, moaning his name, and he would still assume it was a case of mistaken identity. In this one area, my brother is fundamentally stupid. You have no idea the trail of broken hearts he has left in his wake, through sheer blindness. I enjoy watching him blunder about, oblivious in these matters, immensely.”
Sherlock considered Greg for a moment, then lowered his voice conspiratorially.
“I will let you in on a little secret, Lestrade. Anthea was selected as my brother’s assistant a few years back, not only because she was immensely capable, comparatively intelligent, and so forth, but because she had been psychologically profiled to ensure she would not fall in love with him. Mycroft has lost so many assistants over the years due to their pining after him, they drop like flies beneath his (to me, indecipherable) charms and leave miserable and without hope. My brother thinks he depresses them, that they cannot bear to work with him for any length of time. He truly is an idiot. Anthea, however, has her gaze firmly elsewhere and so has been the only assistant my clueless brother has been able to keep.”
Greg’s heart ached for the man who thought so little of himself that he would sooner believe that people couldn’t bear to be near him, than consider that maybe they liked him.
“There was one particularly revolting episode when his then PA (forget his name… rugby player, adherent earlobes), anyway, he had decided to try and get my brothers attention with a saccharine attempt at-“
But whatever it was that ‘adherent earlobes’ did, Greg never found out, for just at that moment the front door sounded and Mycroft’s cat-like tread could be sensed, rather than heard, on the stairs. Sherlock leapt back from the fireplace, spinning around, poker still in hand, frowning when he saw Greg smirk at his eagerness. Mycroft appeared at the entrance to the sitting room and paused, framed in the doorway, awaiting Sherlock’s response. He didn’t have to wait long.
“Mycroft! Why aren’t you wearing the repulsive jumper?” Sherlock tried to keep his voice even.
“Because I do not need to wear it, brother dear” came the smooth, cool reply.
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed and he stepped a pace closer to Mycroft, who did not move from the doorway, He stood stiff and straight, clutching his umbrella tightly in one hand and a small paper bag with the jumper just visible at the top, in the other. Mycroft did not look away from his brother, he did not seem to have noticed Greg’s presence in the room at all, in fact.
“You know what Graham wished for?” Sherlock asked suspiciously. Still without looking at Greg, Mycroft replied
Greg’s heart had been beating like a drum while the brothers talked, his mind scrabbling for clarity – ‘no jumper, so he knows? He knows I fancy him, and he is here anyway? Is that it? What does that mean? What’s happening?’ At Mycroft’s confirming ‘I do’, Greg’s eyebrows practically hit his hairline.
Mycroft addressed his response to Sherlock, as cool as the cucumber scent of his shower gel.
“I believe so. Detective Inspector, if I could ask you to come here for a moment?”
Only now did Mycroft move his gaze to Greg, and Greg could tell that Mycroft was trying hard not to communicate anything in his expression. Whether this was for Sherlock’s benefit or his own, Greg did not know, but he walked as nonchalantly as he was able across the room to the doorway.
Sherlock made an amused huff and flung himself into his chair, pretending to pay them no heed and giving his attention to fingering the poker he was still clutching.
Mycroft turned to the side as Greg approached him, leaving him a gap to stand just beyond the doorway, facing each other in the hall. Greg didn’t speak, didn’t know how the next few minutes were going to go down (was this an ‘Honestly Inspector, I am flattered, but you must realise this is entirely ridiculous’ sort of conversation? Or maybe ‘I am not sure exactly what you hoped to achieve with this childish display, but please cease and desist’?) He didn’t hold out much hope for a response like “Grab your coat, Inspector, you’ve pulled” but the thought made him almost smile as he braced himself for whatever was coming. He raised his eyes to Mycroft’s face with the quiet stoicism of a man about to face a firing squad.
Mycroft looked back at him, those sharp blue/grey eyes hunting Greg’s face, searching for something. Sherlock cleared his throat, expectantly and not subtly. Mycroft blinked, frowned and leant towards the Inspector, who began to pinken instantly.
Mycroft was very close now, his feet hadn’t moved but he had bent at the waist until his face was within kissing distance. Just as the thought crossed Greg’s optimistic brain that he might actually be about to get a snog, Mycroft’s head turned a fraction and he whispered at Greg’s ear…
“I have failed. Utterly. Tell me, please, don’t make me wear that monstrosity in front of my brother. Help me, Gregory, tell me what you wished for. The hellish fun he will have if he realises I have lost, I cannot bear it. Please.”
Greg’s shoulders relaxed. It was alright, Mycroft didn’t know. Nothing need change, everything could continue as normal. Thank God. Then he realised, with a jolt like a lead weight falling through his stomach – it wasn’t alright, he didn’t want things to stay as they were. He wanted Mycroft to know, needed him to know, right this second, in the hallway, with his bloody brother watching if necessary. Greg gulped. So, what was he going to do about it?
Mycroft hadn’t moved, and he whispered again
“Please Greg. I’ll do anything.”
Greg swallowed again. ‘Okay, bugger it, here we go.’
“Anything?” Greg whispered back, resisting the temptation to inhale as he felt the warmth of Mycroft's skin radiating off him.
“I swear it. Tell me.”
Greg pulled back, gave Mycroft a small, reassuring smile, reached over and pulled the door to the sitting room closed. Sherlock’s eyes watched him as he did so, the clunk of the door against the frame leaving them alone in the small hallway that led to the stairs down to the ground floor. Greg gently reached out and unhooked Mycroft's umbrella from the crook of his arm, instead leaning it against the wall. Then he took the small bag from Mycroft’s hand, allowing their fingers to touch at the point of exchange. Greg dropped the bag at his feet and drew himself up, raised his chin and met Mycroft's eye once again. ‘Deep breath Greg, this evening is going to change quickly, one way or another’ he thought as he opened his mouth and breathed the words
“I’ll tell you, but first... kiss me.”
Time stood still for a moment. Neither man moved. Then, as if in slow motion, Mycroft stepped backwards to see Greg more clearly, backing away until his heel clunked against the wall behind him, shock and disbelief on his face. Greg smiled encouragingly and pointed above their heads to the mistletoe hanging by the doorway (he must remember to buy Mrs Hudson a bottle of her favourite Bombay Sapphire gin in exchange for her impeccable Christmas decorating skills).
Mycroft still hadn’t spoken, an expression of confused panic on his face. The fact that he hadn’t thought to hide such a look told Greg a lot about how much mental processing his little request was taking up in Mycroft's mind. He tried to elicit a response, any response, the silence was becoming excruciating. With another small smile, Greg chided him gently.
“It's bad luck to refuse mistletoe, Mycroft.”
Mycroft blinked, coming back to the room, somewhat. He cleared his throat and ran his tongue quickly across his lips before replying, in a low and hesitant tone that didn’t sound at all like the usual Mycroft.
“I didn’t realise you were superstitious, Detective Inspector.”
Greg shrugged, still looking at Mycroft softly, reassuringly.
“I'm not. Well, not ‘super’ stitious, maybe just a little stitious.”
Mycroft frowned. Greg chuckled and raised his eyebrows expectantly. ‘Well?’ they may as well have said. Mycroft leant his head to the side slightly and regarded Greg with still-visible confusion.
“I don’t understand this, Detective Inspector.”
Greg smiled tenderly.
“Wow. What's that feel like?”
“Don’t worry, you'll understand in a minute. Just kiss me. Then I promise I will tell you what I wished for.”
Mycroft’s brow was furrowed, and his eyes skirted nervously about the space around Greg. He shook his head slightly as if to say no, but even as he did so, his left hand was curling around Greg’s bicep and his right was around Greg’s waist and he was much closer than he had been five seconds ago.
Greg waited. He was barely breathing, wanting to be as quiet as possible to hear the next words out of Mycroft’s mouth. Mycroft leant towards him, stood a step closer, Greg could feel the heat burning off him through his suit as he lent down. Greg’s eyes closed automatically as Mycroft moved his face closer. The smell of him. His smooth cheek brushed against Greg’s stubbled face for a moment as Mycroft opened his mouth to speak.
Greg lifted his chin slightly and waited, breath held, not making any sudden moves, not wanting to say or do anything that might scare off the approaching moment.
“I don’t understand” Mycroft said again, little more than a murmur this time, as he lowered his lips to Greg's.
The kiss Greg received was feather light, hesitant and fleeting. Barely a brush of warm, dry lips against his own, so gentle - as if Greg might break from the contact. Greg strained every effort not to move, not to take, not to ask for anything more than Mycroft was willing to give him. He could tell Mycroft was hardly breathing, his eyes also closed. His lips were so soft, just as Greg had imagined. He fought the desire to open his mouth ever so slightly and run his tongue along the line of Mycroft's lip as Mycroft ended the kiss, too soon. Far too soon. That brief press of Mycroft’s mouth on his own was heavenly, but not ‘passionate’. Rather it was nervous, doubting, Greg thought.
His chest tightened. He had made a mistake. It was wrong of him to have asked Mycroft for this. Asked? Pressured more like, Greg realised with a jolt. Mycroft had come to him for help (which must have been bloody hard for him) and Greg had demanded a quid-pro-quo? What a dick!
Just as Greg was about to apologise for putting Mycroft in this position, to try and brush it off as a Christmas prank or too much sherry, he noticed that, while Mycroft had stopped kissing him, he hadn't backed away. Mycroft’s face was still mere millimetres from Greg's, he could feel Mycroft’s breath on his cheek, could feel Mycroft’s slender fingers on his upper arm and clutching at his waist. Greg tried to focus his eyes on the face so close to his own. Mycroft’s eyes were still closed. Maybe… just maybe…
“You ok?” Greg whispered.
Mycroft nodded slightly but didn’t move back, his eyes still closed.
“Was ‘that’ ok?” Greg asked.
Mycroft opened his eyes then and regarded Greg close up and with laser focus. Finally he spoke in the barest whisper which, given their proximity, was perfectly audible.
“Why did I do that?”
Greg replied in a similar low murmur, trying not to shiver as he felt Mycroft’s breath ghost his lips.
“Because I asked you to.”
Mycroft hesitated before continuing.
“But… why did you ask me to?”
‘No going back now’ Greg thought as he replied, as matter-of-factly as he could manage whilst huddled up against Mycroft in the dimly lit hallway, breathing the same air as him and smelling that cool, fresh scent evaporating off his heated skin.
“Because it was my Christmas wish... a kiss from Mycroft Holmes under the mistletoe.”
Mycroft pulled his head away from Greg’s slightly, to see his face with more clarity.
“That was your wish?”
Greg gave Mycroft a closed mouth, almost apologetic smile. “That ok?”
But whatever it was that Mycroft was going to say was lost as Sherlock opened the door forcefully and suddenly, and with an exclamation of
“Ugh. If I need an emetic I know where to come.”
Mycroft backed away from Greg as if Greg were on fire, clearing a half metre between them in a millisecond and banging his heel against the wall behind him once again. The force of the movement sent his umbrella clattering to the floor. Sherlock rolled his eyes and continued
“Sorry to interrupt ‘this’ (he waved his hand dismissively at the two men) but John is texting me from upstairs wondering if he and Rosie might come down yet? They didn’t want to spoil the moment, but their way is apparently blocked by two kissing idiots.”
Sherlock turned sharply towards the sitting room, but then half turned back and proclaimed
“And as you seem to have finally started using your eyes, brother dear, I will take that–“ and he whipped the paper bag containing the awful jumper from the floor where Greg had placed it “- and give it back to John, I think he secretly likes it.”
No sooner had Sherlock retreated back into the sitting room, than Rosie came stumping down the stairs (swishing her party dress and admiring the way the sparkles from the skirt danced on the walls in the hallway light), followed by John (looking apologetic) who nodded to both of them and sped Rosie past and into the sitting room (no doubt in order to give Sherlock one of his ‘WTF looks’ that he did so well) and lightly but unsubtly closed the door behind him.
Alone again, Greg looked up slowly into Mycroft's face. He expected to see the man’s chin raised and his face a blank canvas again, but the expression Mycroft was wearing was not what Greg had anticipated. He looked… quietly amused. His stiff posture was back, but there was no intent behind it, he looked playfully reprimanding (which, Greg noted, was a good look for him. Really good, actually. Focus, Greg!).
“What?” Greg asked, smiling with confusion and hope.
“You wasted your pudding wish on… me?”
“Was it a waste?”
Greg asked hesitantly, his big brown eyes looking up at Mycroft not at all like a sad puppy, or at least unintentionally so. Mycroft rolled his eyes, straightened his back even further and answered Greg in his most supercilious tone
“You needn't have called upon ‘supernatural forces’ Gregory, for something you could have had whenever you wanted it. The 'pudding fairies' need not have been bothered with something I was always willing to give you.”
The grin spread across Greg’s face so fast that he worried he looked a bit goofy, even as he watched Mycroft fight to keep an answering smile off his lips, a battle he was losing. Attempting to maintain some dignity, Greg tried to answer Mycroft in a similarly playful but rational tone.
“Well, how was I (or the pudding fairies) to know that, Mycroft? You are impossible to read, and you know it.”
Mycroft muttered as he stepped towards Greg from the wall where he had retreated upon seeing Sherlock. His eyes were soft and his tone kinder than Greg had ever heard it.
“I gave you many indications Gregory, I thought you were ignoring them on purpose, polite refusal without embarrassing me with an actual rejection.”
Greg met his step forward and they were suddenly close enough to share breath once again. Greg was befuddled by Mycroft’s words and he wondered if their proximity was misting his brain.
“What indications? When? You never...”
Mycroft was so close now he only needed to whisper, and Greg could feel the hot exhalation on his cheek as Mycroft replied close to his ear.
“You think I take ‘anyone’ to the Savoy, Greg?
Greg shrugged but his eyes shone with mischief as he breathed back.
“You might do, for all I know. Might be like McDonalds for you.”
Mycroft was too close for Greg to see it, but he felt Mycroft’s smile against his jaw.
“The first drink I ordered for you? Breathless Charm?”
“Thought that was just what it was called.”
“I also ordered you 'Silver Delight' and 'Nights of Longing'. It hardly requires a cryptanalyst to-”
Greg shook his head and exhaled a laugh.
“If I'd known it was a code, Mycroft...”
Then something occurred to Greg which jolted him like an electric shock to the chest. He swallowed and took a slow, deep breath, pulling back just enough to be able to look Mycroft in the eye. If there were any ‘pudding fairies’ still hanging around, he could do with a little more of their magic in this moment.
“What about the other drink? The one that came in two glasses? Was that… part of the code too?”
Greg felt the sudden stillness of the air between them as Mycroft stopped breathing, and Greg found that he was holding his breath also.
At that precise moment, the door to the sitting room burst open again, and a speeding blur of sparkles, taffeta and ribbons went whizzing by them at thigh height, screaming with laughter at the top of its little lungs something about the Octonauts and the Christmas ‘snot blob’ (possibly) and dashing down the stairs calling for Nanny Hudson to come and see.
Mycroft seemed bruised by the sudden activity, by the noise and chaos, coming just at that moment when it had been so silent. He cleared his throat and stepped away from Greg apace, straightening his already straight waistcoat with a tug at the bottom seam.
“Not a conversation we ought to have in my brothers hallway, given its sudden similarity to Piccadilly Circus.”
Greg conceded the point with a nod.
“Yeah, fair enough. It can wait.”
But neither moved. The two continued to stand in the hall, neither wanting to end the moment but neither knowing what to say or do next. Mycroft looked down at his shoes while Greg reached out a hand absentmindedly to peel a loose piece of wallpaper off the wall by the door. John stuck his head round the doorframe and quickly retreated out of sight when he realised the two men were still there, silent statues of equal parts awkwardness and anticipation. Greg chuckled at being reduced to an adolescent wanting to snog his date on his parents doorstep.
“Do you want to maybe, go somewhere?”
Greg asked, quietly enough that John (who was hovering behind the door now and not even pretending that he wasn’t) couldn’t hear.
“Now?” Mycroft looked taken aback, but Greg could see a hopeful gleam in his widened eyes.
“You mean… to talk?”
“I mean like a date. Come on” and Greg made for the stairs, turning at the second step to hold out a hand to an overwhelmed looking, pink-tinged Mycroft who was not far behind. Opening the door to the street, Greg exclaimed in surprise and delight as he bounced down the steps
“It’s snowing! Actually snowing! Proper snow, on Christmas Eve!”
Mycroft tried to look disapproving at the sky, but he didn’t pull it off. Releasing Mycroft’s hand, Greg spun around on the pavement, arms outstretched, his face tilted upward.
“I haven’t seen snow like this in London for donkeys years!”
Mycroft watched, fully expecting the Detective to stick out his tongue to catch a snowflake. When Greg beamed, the wide, open-mouthed grin of an excited child, Mycroft noted that it seemed to take two decades off his face, and seeing it took the same again off Mycroft’s heart (although that was obviously ridiculous, sentimental tosh and he would never admit to it, not even under torture). Mycroft shuffled his feet to remove the snow already beginning to cover the vamps of his shoes, and shook his head benevolently.
“The pudding elves have outdone themselves.”
“Fairies Mycroft, not elves.”
Greg walked over to where Mycroft stood, sheltering under Speedy’s awning, and stepped closer as Mycroft raised a hand and began to brush snow off Greg’s shoulders.
“What is the difference?”
“Dunno actually, um, wings? Shoe-making skills? Pointy ears? God knows, but it’s definitely fairies who deal in Christmas pudding.”
“Whatever you say, Inspector.”
Mycroft was now picking snow out of Greg’s hair absent-mindedly and Greg stood still, allowing the administration and watching Mycroft's face with a closed, but still very wide, smile. When Mycroft noticed he was being scrutinised he slowly lowered his hand and looked back at Greg, a little sheepish. Then he looked past the now slightly shivering detective and down the street, hunting for his car.
“Where do you suggest we go? Back to The Savoy?”
Greg’s eyes twinkled mischievously, and the corners of his mouth fought to be allowed to grin once more.
“Oh I dunno… I was thinking maybe… the British Library?”