Mycroft’s house was nothing like Greg had imagined, and yet outwardly very like a place one might expect Mycroft Holmes to live. It wasn’t like him, but it reflected how he wished to be perceived. Or maybe Greg was fooling himself and he hadn’t really been allowed to see glimpses of the real man. All those drinks at the Diogenes, wandering from reports of Sherlock's well-being to more personal talk. It wasn't intimacy. It wasn't two men becoming friends.
He was here at the intimate Christmas gathering though, wasn’t he? 'Intimate,' to Mycroft, apparently meant something different to him than it did to Greg. There were dozens of people in the stately home; mingling happily with champagne or mulled wine in hand, enjoying the trays of canapes handed round by attentive catering staff. Instead of festive holiday jumpers and silly headgear, there were tailored suits and glitzy cocktail dresses. Greg, wearing his best navy blue suit and the tie his nieces had given him for his birthday, felt woefully underdressed. He wanted to loosen his collar and find a comfy seat to sink into. Or rather, he wanted to be at home in comfy joggers, watching the Doctor Who Christmas special and drinking amaretto-laced cocoa.
By and large he was considered an outgoing person, which he was to some extent. But this was his third holiday party in two weeks, it had been a tiring day at work, and frankly Greg was intimidated. He would happily have ducked out if it wouldn't be rude. However, he'd barely been here an hour, and aside from a brief greeting when he’d arrived, he’d hardly seen Mycroft. Clutching his mulled wine, Greg smiled vaguely in the direction of anyone glancing at him and drifted toward the door of the drawing room. Christ, a drawing room. Felt like he was on the set of Downton Abbey.
In the drafty, gloomy hallway, Greg tried to look as if he knew where he was going. There were open doors leading off the entry hall, from which lights shown, and he heard voices coming from several of them. Presumably all rooms where guests were welcome. One at a time Greg poked his head into the rooms, trying to appear as if he were looking for someone he knew, and not desperately trying to appear comfortably at ease. Perhaps he could make his excuses to Mycroft and leave early.
Spying Mycroft’s elegantly clad back disappearing into a door across the corridor, Greg headed his way. He pushed open the door, which was ajar, and stopped in confusion. The room he’d entered was like a jewel box. Warm, vibrant colors, golden lamplight gilding the cozy velvet armchairs and rich Persian carpets. Every wall of the small chamber was lined with polished dark wood built-in bookcases, their shelves loaded with books. A small gas fire leapt cheerfully in the hearth. He stumbled to a stop, abashed; Mycroft was alone, and on the phone. Wincing in embarrassment, Greg began to back out of the room, hoping to be unseen.
A hope which was to go unfulfilled. Mycroft turned, caught sight of him and faltered. His expression went from surprise to something that looked like embarrassment, followed by pleasure. “Sorry,” Greg mouthed, tiptoeing backward. Mycroft waved a dismissive hand, covering the receiver briefly to whisper for him to stay.
Pleased, Greg halted his backward retreat, shoving his hands in his pockets. As Mycroft resumed his conversation--which chiefly seemed to consist of him grunting--Greg looked around, curious about his surroundings. The room was an entirely different kettle of fish from the rest of the house. He drifted closer to the bookshelf nearest him, trying to indulge his curiosity without looking like a snoop. Paperbacks jostled with hard covers; there appeared to be classics and best sellers alike. His eye skimming over titles, Greg faltered when he came to a curious and charming sight. Nestled between copies of G.K.Chesterton’s works was a nook containing a diorama. A lit street scene featuring a rotund little figure, which he recognized after a moment as Father Brown. Grinning in delight, Greg scanned the shelves, spying other such nooks. A few shelves further down he came across row after row of romances, most of them Harlequin and Mill & Boon, a fact which made him fight back a charmed giggle.
It took longer than a minute for him to place the diorama among the romances. Not because it wasn’t familiar, but because it was all too familiar. The exterior of his building; the tiny Japanese maple next to the bright blue lacquered door, white painted brick and tall narrow windows. At one, damask curtains hung, identical to the very ones that cloaked his lounge window. Face heating, confused, thoughts in a turmoil, Greg turned. Mycroft, phone glued to his ear, was watching him, eyes bright, face a bit pale.
The two men gazed at one another, an entire silent conversation of hopeful conjecture and shy assurance flashing between them. Mycroft was only jolted out of the spell by an indignant squawk on the other end. “Erm, I’m sorry, Mummy. I’ll have to call you back. Something vital, so sorry.” He disconnected, eyes on Greg’s. “H-hullo.”
“Hi.” Greg felt foolish, face warming. The flush was echoed in Mycroft’s cheeks. He cleared his throat, but unable to think of a single thing to say he fell silent. He desperately wanted to ask just why Mycroft had an exact replica of his street and building. How he knew it so well and why he had taken the time to recreate it. No words passed his lips; doubt and uncertainty gripped him. Greg knew what he hoped, but if he was wrong...he didn’t think he could bear the disappointment.
“You, er, enjoying yourself?”
“No.” Greg’s nascent blush flammed into a painful reddening of his entire face. “I mean-!”
Mycroft laughed, a startled, honest sound. He broke into a smile, seeming to relax. “Nor am I.”
“It’s your party.”
“Which I host out of obligation, not pleasure.”
“Maybe they’ll all get food poisoning and go home,” Greg suggested, aiming for humour.
Mycroft’s eyes laughed, even if his mouth did not. “There’s an idea, but I fear the only way I will find escape is to hide.” He crossed to the door, closed it, and put his back against the well-polished black walnut. He held to the door knob behind his back and sank his teeth into his lower lip, worrying it. Regarding Greg, he ventured, “You could...hide with me?”
“Not very well mannered of us,” Greg said, fighting a grin. He shifted, stepping a little closer. He shivered at the way Mycroft’s pupils flared with excitement and definite interest.
“I’m tired of being well mannered.”
“Lucky for you I’ve no manners.”
“Oh I don’t know,” Mycroft returned, stepping away from the door and toward him. “You haven’t mentioned the very obvious homage to your street and home.”
Greg swallowed, “Ah, that. Yeah...um.” He drew in a none-too-steady breath, hope fluttering in his chest, “You...seem to know it well.”
“I’ve, well, studied it more than once.” Mycroft was pink again. It was adorable.
“Keeping an eye out for Sherlock.” It was an opportunity for Mycroft to take an out, if he wanted it.
“Wishing for the courage to knock on your door, rather,” Mycroft parried quietly, eyes on Greg’s, “I’ve often wished I could simply arrive on your doorstep and ask you out. For a date," He clarified, lest Greg misunderstand him.
“Why--why couldn’t you?” Greg managed, throat tight. His head swam and a shriek of excitement threatened to burst from him.
Mycroft dampened his lips with a quick, nervous swipe of his tongue, “You might say no.”
“Maybe. You could try it and see?"
“Perhaps I’m a coward?”
“Not you,” Greg disagreed. He drew in a breath, crossing the carpet between them. He held out a hand, asking silently for Mycroft to place his own in it. He was rewarded by the ready ease with which Mycroft did so. A tingle of pure pleasure shivered through him at the touch of the cool palm against his own. He folded his fingers around Mycroft’s with care. Stepping close, until the toes of their shoes were nearly touching, Greg said softly, “You could ask now. No one here but you and me. No risk.”
“There’s always risk...but sometimes it’s worth it.” Mycroft brought their clasped hands up between them, smoothed a thumb over Greg’s knuckles. He was smiling, a bit shy, but dazzling. “I think you’re very worth it, Greg.” His lips parted on a breath, a faint tremble in the upper lip. “Would you care to join me for dinner some evening? I know a very intimate French bistro with excellent food and very private booths.” He smiled with sudden and devastating charm, “I’d love to flirt with you by candlelight.”
Greg's pent up breath left him on a purely happy sigh, "I believe you know where I live. You can pick me up tomorrow night at eight."
Mycroft's smile glowed, as he squeezed Greg's hands. "I'll be there," he promised in a gentle whisper, "on the street where you live."