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Holmes comforts (3/4)

BBC Sherlock

Rating 15 (slash, angst, civil service protocol)

Spoilers: none

(Previous part here)
 

You weren't supposed to phone someone after a date because it looked needy. On the other hand, what had happened at the warehouse could hardly be counted as a date, even on the loosest of definitions. On the third hand...I have to think this through carefully, Mycroft thought. If I give myself free rein I will start talking or writing interminably about my feelings, and that will almost certainly have John running away. Stick to a text: I can't betray myself in 160 characters.

That was inaccurate as well, of course: Come live with me and be my love.  Or: All the privilege I claim for my own sexuality, is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone. But he mustn't be self-indulgent. What was important was not what he wanted to say, but what John needed to hear.  He knew Mycroft's feelings: all that remained was to ask his verdict on them. No, not all that remained. He was still haunted by memories of the warehouse. John hadn't been troubled when he'd been face to face with a supposed criminal mastermind, but he had been when dealing with a lover. That was...worrying.

One text to express all he felt, and any message he sent was liable to Sherlock's interception, since he daren't risk John's position further by contacting him at work. So his words must be comprehensible to John, but not Sherlock, which was...difficult. It took him hours to work out what to say, and to nerve himself to send it:

Please consider taking this project further, if not with me, then at least someone reliable. London is a dangerous place I worry about you and SH constantly. MH

Its punctuation was inadequate, and some of its implications deeply unfortunate, but at least it was unlikely to get Sherlock suspicious. And he was very sure he did not want Sherlock knowing about John and him.

He didn't have to wait long for John's reply:

Screw you. JHW

Abrupt and profoundly ambiguous. He did wish John could understand that texts conveyed no tone of voice.

***

The next three weeks made it clear that John's message hadn't been intended literally. Mycroft supposed it was hardly surprising that he hadn't measured up to John's expectations. He very carefully resisted the temptation to start a run on the pound, or organise a new initiative by the Met vice squad, because that would be childish, but he did give in to the regrettable impulse to send Robert Kuryakin on long term secondment to Saudi Arabia. And to turn up to 221B Baker Street after 23 days of no contact.

"You've lost some weight," said Sherlock blandly. "In fact, you're looking almost gaunt. Coalition giving you trouble, or is it the strategic defence review finding we can't afford to start any new wars?"

"You've been watching Channel 5 news again," said Mycroft. "An excellent start. I want to discuss Brazil with you. You know, big country in South America, where the soya beans come from." During the conversation, he batted off Sherlock's sneers absent-mindedly, his focus on John, sitting there watching them, silent and unsmiling. Which might be about him, or Sherlock, or the strategic defence review, or just his shoulder hurting him. He couldn't read John, he'd never been able to. And he couldn't speak to him, with Sherlock here.

"I'll make some tea," John said at last, getting up. "Want some?"

"I'll come and help," said Mycroft, but he knew once he got into the kitchen it was hopeless. He could hardly slide the doors shut, and Sherlock's hearing was acute. John put on the kettle and then stood and looked up at Mycroft, an empty mug clamped between his hands. To hide the fact that his hand was shaking? Or wasn't shaking? To stop Mycroft trying to kiss his palms again? He didn't know, he couldn't get through to this compact, shielded, silent stranger in front of him. There were no words, no gestures possible.

But then, as the kettle started boiling, Mycroft looked round and saw the wipe-clean message board on one wall, half-filled with John's neat notes on shopping to be done. He went over and wrote rapidly beneath the list: Can't we at least stay friends?

And suddenly John was beside him,  his palm smearing across the whole board, list and all, so that the heel of his hand was stained with red, and then scribbling in an unfamiliar scrawl: Warehouse tonight 7 pm?

He handed the pen to Mycroft, and their fingertips touched, and Mycroft smiled, and wrote YES. And then he took out his handkerchief and began to clean the board very carefully, as he explained to John the benefits of internet grocery shopping.

***

He was sitting in the office of the warehouse, having some of his own, drinkable brandy when John arrived. He didn't look a man who wanted to shag Mycroft senseless, more like a small boy in really serious trouble, skulking with his hands in his pockets. He sat down opposite Mycroft and eagerly gulped down the glass of brandy that Mycroft offered. There was a long pause.

"I should probably apologise," John said at last.

"No need," said Mycroft automatically, and then quickly started on the speech he prepared. "Let me say first of all, John, that I'll do anything, almost anything that you like. So tell me what you want, what turns you on, and you can have it, I promise." It would probably help, he thought, if he could start sounding seductive, rather than terrified. He also suspected that his body language was shouting 'Not toilets!' so loudly that even John could deduce it.

Well, maybe not at the moment. But at least John was actually looking at him, which was a start.

"Tell me what you want," he repeated, and he knew there was a hint of desire in his voice now.

"I don't know!" John burst out.

"Sex?" said Mycroft, trying not to look at the brandy bottle, because a drinking session with John was really not going to be a good move.

John nodded, and then said: "But I don't, I don't know who I am anymore, what part is me."

You're a gay killer with psychological problems, who looks on the verge of some kind of breakdown, Mycroft carefully didn't say. You're just about to be outed by the CIA for sleeping with your flatmate's brother. It's perhaps not surprising that you're having an identity crisis. But he was even less well equipped for therapy than seduction. He had to try and get through to John somehow.

"What do you like doing?" he said to John. "Prefer?"

John shook his head. "I thought I knew, but I, I'm not sure anymore."

It was a puzzle now, and Mycroft was good at puzzles.

"Warehouses," he said. "You wanted to come here tonight. It was OK last time. What's good about warehouses?

John was thinking, which was at least a start.

"It's easier," he said at last. "If I'm trying not to be me, be a different me, a warehouse...because it's not quite normal...but I can't explain properly."

He's spent so many years hiding from himself, thought Mycroft, that it's not surprising he hasn't got the vocabulary for what he feels. But I have.

"There's an effect of alienation, isn't there?" he said. "The large empty space, where you should normally have people and noise, the semi-darkness, and there are shadows at the corner of your eyes where something that you can't quite see clearly could be lurking. It feels dangerous, but it's not a romantically creepy space, but rather banal, mundane, the real world is literally right outside. It's just that you might not be able to get outside in time, and a warehouse may well have strange dark corners where a body could lurk unseen for days."

"Are you reading my mind?" John said, and there was a subtly different worry in his voice now.

Mycroft smiled: "Why do you think I bring people to warehouses when I want to menace them? You wouldn't get the same effect in Starbucks, would you?"

There was a sudden answering smile from John: "I'm sure you could be menacing even in Starbucks, Mycroft."

"Thank you. But I'm not trying to menace you tonight, John, I'm trying to make you comfortable. So would you like this warehouse or prefer another one?"

"You have a network of warehouses?" John asked, with a hint of a giggle.

"Of course. Well, they're not actually mine, but I borrow them. I can show you some of the others if you like, but I do prefer this one."

"I think, so do I," said John, and some of the nervousness was back. "I'm always happier if I'm somewhere where I know where the escape routes are." John's hands were now gripping tightly onto the chair arms, Mycroft noticed, as if the very mention of 'escape'  had him bracing himself to run.

"It's not surprising you feel like that," Mycroft replied, as calmly as he could.

"You don't think that's weird?"

"You work with Sherlock: I'd call it common sense to be prepared to make a quick exit at all times." And there was a cue there, he thought. He stood up and came round the desk, spreading his arms out: "If you should need to evacuate the building, the emergency exit can be found on your right. Proceed through the warehouse, do not stop to receive your possessions..."

John was laughing, and Mycroft was tempted to start trying to kiss him, but he still looked like someone who might explode if touched. He settled for sitting on the carpet beside John's feet, trying to fold his long legs out of the way. Dear God, this seduction business was bad for the back, wasn't it? He looked up at John.

"What else do you want, need?" he asked, trying to make it sound as if it was an entirely normal question, the equivalent of 'What would you like to drink?"

"I don't know," John said, and the bafflement was back again. "What I'm used to, it's how it is, because of me  hiding things away."

"By what you're used to," said Mycroft slowly, "you mean quick encounters, where you don't even want to get undressed because it leaves you vulnerable, and you don't want to be hanging around afterwards, and you certainly don't have time to talk."

"Yeah, it's not romantic, just functional. Get stuck in, get out, before-"

"Before it gets dangerous? It is dangerous, you know, you could get attacked one of these days. It could get...violent." He brought  out the word reluctantly, but he had to know what John wanted.

"I know." John's voice was quiet, matter of fact.

"I...I said anything for you, John, almost anything, but I don't like violence, I'm scared of it. But you, you like danger, don't you?"

"I don't enjoy violence," John replied, and there was a sincerity in his voice that made bringing up the people he'd killed seem unfair. "But I am used to it, it seems almost normal now."

"And you like danger, don't you?" He knew the answer even before John nodded. "I can try and do things, be things, but I'm not good on danger. I'm very ordinary."

"Ordinary is good, nice," said John. "I don't know I want that kind of danger anymore. It's fine when you're young, there's a thrill even: the anonymity, the release, escaping your own boring self. But I'm nearly 40, I've had enough of that, I'm scared as much as I'm turned on half the time now. It's not the physical danger, so much...but I could get laughed at, arrested, wreck my whole life for a ten minute thrill. Not good."

"If it's not what you want, don't do it."

"But it's a habit now. It's how I cope."

"I'm quite good at helping people get into better  habits, even if they don't immediately see the need to." Mycroft said.  "But for now, why don't we just concentrate on getting comfortable?"

He pulled off his own shoes hastily, and then, more slowly, reached out and very carefully began untying John's shoes. John let him do that, let him pull them off. He wondered about starting on John's socks, but he wasn't sure what the reaction would be. But he did let his fingers circle and drift over John's ankle bone for quite a while before he risked looking up again. He thought it was starting to work, that there was a tension in the way John held the chair arms now that wasn't purely about running away.

"I don't like violence," Mycroft said slowly, "and I think we should have quite a safe encounter.  So I should probably prove to you," he added, as he pulled off his jacket, and started unbuttoning his shirt, "that I am not armed." He stood up once he had stripped, making the most of his height now. Though six foot something of naked civil servant was probably not a very appealing sight, he suddenly realised, trying to hold in his stomach.

"Turn round," John said, and Mycroft did so. God, he felt exposed with someone behind him, no wonder John preferred keeping his clothes on in such situations. He stood still, halfway between arousal and terror. He wasn't sure exactly what John would do, or even exactly what he wanted him to do. He wasn't supposed to be the one with trust issues, but even so, he flinched momentarily when John's fingernail ran gently down his spine. But now it was time to stop thinking, and start feeling: obtain and collate intelligence, not attempt to analyse it. John was right behind him now, though he could hardly hear his breathing over the sound of his own. Still partly clothed: the soft fabric of John's worn shirt was pressing against his back, but beneath that, John was naked, aroused. He'd even  taken his socks off, which was...encouraging.

"There are all sorts of ways a man can carry a concealed weapon," John said, and his voice was rough, and his hand was sliding down Mycroft's back.

"You'd know," said Mycroft softly, "probably better check carefully."

"Good idea," said John, and Mycroft could hear the smile in his voice.

***

The sex was better that time, if still a little painful. Mycroft was starting to feel more comfortable using his body; John was starting to remember that the body he was using had a personality attached. He even stayed long enough afterwards for Mycroft to explain the dead letter boxes they should use to arrange the next encounter.

The sequence of encounters went on into the new year, and Mycroft knew patterns were beginning to emerge, creating something that wasn't yet a relationship, but was at least an ongoing connection. They were starting to meet more often, not just when John's restlessness became unendurable, beginning to work out what the other liked, what helped them, what didn't. That a bed was really better for Mycroft's back than a floor. That you did not approach John from behind without advance warning, or his body would react to danger faster than his mind could stop it. That Sherlock was not to know about their...situation.

"Why not?" John had asked, when Mycroft has insisted  on this.

"Because he's not good at sharing. He never has been."

"But he's not interested, so what does it matter to him?"

"He disrupted my dates, when I used to have them," Mycroft pointed out.  "He's disrupted yours. Don't you think it would be double the opportunity for him to meddle?"

"I suppose so," said John, and then went back to removing Mycroft's cufflinks.

***

"This is rather nice," said John, as he sprawled slightly limply on the hotel bed beside Mycroft a few weeks later, "the bed's a bit narrow, but the shower was nice and hot."

"Clearly marked fire exits, as well," said Mycroft, and then realised he was being tactless. "I'm sorry, I know that's not important anymore."

"I could get to like this kind of comfort," said John, "it'll be hard to go back to warehouses now."

"I was hoping," said Mycroft, "to take you somewhere rather more luxurious next time."

"Sounds good."

"I have a proposal to make, but it requires some rather complicated explanations first." He hoped he wasn't being rash about this, he thought, it was a delicate matter. "I need to explain to you about developed vetting."

"I presume that's nothing to do with animal health, but I'm a bit blank otherwise."

"Otherwise known as positive vetting. It's an enhanced kind of security clearance for particularly sensitive government jobs. Not just checking files, but actively investigating a person's life and background."

"Oh, yeah, I remember now. I had a friend at Barts used me as a referee once for something like that, for some hush-hush research job. This bloke, spook came round and asked me all kinds of things about Danny. How much did he drink, did I think he was cheating on the exams, was he sleeping with anyone else in the department, male or female? It was bloody intrusive stuff."

"They ask you at your own interview if there is anything in your own past that if it came to light would be a potential source of embarrassment. They can't look into your mind, thank goodness, but concealing any of your actions from the vetting staff is a risky business. They're very thorough, and very slow. The whole thing can take up to a year."

"So you had this when you went into the civil service?" said John.

"Yes, and I have to submit to regular revalidation, though I'm not due one for several years." said Mycroft. "In fact, unfortunately, due to some of my more unusual responsibilities, I am subject to an even more stringent form of vetting, network vetting. Any significant contacts of mine have to undergo positive vetting as well, to ensure their suitability. You may perhaps have wondered why I didn't attempt to find another partner, of either sex, after Janet left me?"

"I didn't like to ask. It's not just that you're married to your work, then?"

"No. It might be possible to find someone attracted to a boring middle-aged man of rather staid habits," said Mycroft, "but if you add to that the prospect of being positively vetted, it's a definite passion killer."

"You..do you really have to wait for a year before you can date anyone?" John demanded.

"No, you can begin a relationship, but if the vetting division decide your partner is unsuitable, you either give them up or you give up your job."

"And you put up with this? You can't have any kind of proper relationship? And you presumably can't even do what I do, did, and have a few meaningless encounters, because they'll find that out, won't they? You poor sodding bastard, Mycroft." John said, rolling over to look at Mycroft. "Why the hell do you put yourself through this? Is the power really worth it?"

"Did they let gays in the army when you joined up, John?" Mycroft said calmly. "They didn't, did they? And yet you still became a soldier, you thought it was worth it. I consider what I do to be important, vital even, to many people's well-being. And I have been used to making personal sacrifices for the good of others for most of my life."

"Sherlock, you mean?"

"Yes."

John's brow furrowed. "But how the hell do they square Sherlock with positive vetting? They don't get much more unsuitable than him, do they?"

"Sherlock has, on occasions, been of vital assistance both to our own government and certain other ones, For the purposes of positive vetting only, he is therefore considered by both the Service and the CIA as unproblematic."

"They think Sherlock's OK? My god."

"Extended contact with him, such as sharing a flat with him, isn't a problem. Which is very useful in your case, John."

"So this is now going to get me sucked in, is it?" said John slowly. "Have I got this right? Because I'm involved with you, I have to be positively vetted, and they will discover all my lurid past, and you'll have to choose between me and your job. Or have you already had to decide?"

"No, at the moment you can still come under the heading of transitory contacts," said Mycroft. "But if we take things further, it will be a different matter. I mentioned I had a proposal for you, John. It's by way of being, well, not actually a proposal, but something vaguely similar."

"Do I want to know where this is going?" John asked, sounding surprisingly business-like for someone who was completely naked.

"The British civil service has certain systems in place to ensure its impartiality. If civil servants have particular interests in a company or an organisation, for example, they are required to register this officially. There is a somewhat similar register that is used on occasions for more personal matters. If someone, for example, starts a relationship with someone in their department of a more senior grade, they are required to inform the personnel department of this, to ensure there is no question of favouritism in the future."

"You can't even sleep with your own colleagues on the quiet? Does anyone in the civil service ever get any action?"

"Yes, provided that we register our interests. Which I would like to do regarding you, John, if I have your permission."

"I'm flattered, I think. But, I mean, aren't I completely unsuitable? I'm really not the kind of man you can bring home to MI5. There's...there's the cabbie, and the ASBO, and the handling stolen police ID, and-"

"All involving Sherlock, and thus by definition, not a problem." Mycroft said.

"And the dodgy sex in bars!" John burst out. "They're not going to like that. God, even I can see it looks pretty messed up now."

"The service is surprisingly tolerant of past indiscretions," Mycroft said. "If you make a clean breast of your past at interview, it will be embarrassing, but it shouldn't be a problem."

"You know," said John, sitting up and looking down at Mycroft, "six months ago I was happily in the closet, and now I'm having to discuss my sex life with assorted civil servants."

"Were you really happy in the closet?"

"No, it's worth it, I suppose...I know."

"What I'd like to do tomorrow then, is invite you to my house," said Mycroft, "which will of course, get logged by the CIA, and they'll liaise with the Service again-"

"Who can tell them I am now officially down on the list of People Civil Servants are Allowed to Shag, presumably. That's fine. Any other countries need to know about my private life?"

Mycroft paused. There was one more thing more he had to say, and he still wasn't sure if he dared to. But none of this could be made to work if he didn't explain properly.

"The Service are the only one who really matter," he said at last. "But, I said they'll be prepared to overlook previous encounters. However, if there were to be future behaviour like that, it would be...awkward."

"You're saying I need to give up quickies now I'm with you?" John said with a sudden surge of anger. "Don't you trust me? Have you been keeping tabs on me all this time, check if I'm cheating on you? Which I haven't by the way." He stood up abruptly, and turning his back on Mycroft, started putting on his clothes.

"No, I have never demanded, I have never asked you about that, you must admit it," Mycroft protested.

"You don't need to ask, do you, you've had all those surveillance teams watching me all along. It's not just me who's got trust issues, is it?" John pulled on his jumper and swung round, arms folded, to glare at him.

 It would be easier having this conversation if I was dressed, thought Mycroft, trying to sit up and not look ridiculous.

"I haven't...," he said at last, "I...when we, I knew this was going to continue, that you wanted it to continue, I established a procedure. I arranged with Anthea that she would redact any irrelevant personal information about you from the surveillance reports before I saw them. I have observed many aspects of you r life recently, John, but not that, I swear."

"I've had Anthea looking at my personal details as well? Do I have any privacy left?"

Mycroft's urge was to curl up in a ball and hope this would go away, but he forced himself to stare into John's taut, hostile face.

"I can give you anything else, John, I can try and give you anything else, but that I cannot give. Both the Holmes are in the spotlight in our own peculiar way. You cannot associate with Sherlock or myself and remain anonymous. You will be exposed in almost every way. If you want to turn back now, I understand."

And suddenly there was that determined tilt of John's head that Mycroft loved, and he was saying coolly: "The British army does not turn back, Mycroft. Not once the action's begun."

"What if you're charging towards the cannons, the machine guns?"

"Not even then," said John and smiled. "What time tomorrow?"

 

Part 4

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
fengirl88
Oct. 22nd, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC)
oh yes this!

"All the privilege I claim for my own sexuality, is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone." and J saying he's not the kind of man M can take home to MI5! and M thinking this conversation would be easier if he was dressed. and the British army not turning back when the action's begun. I will shut up before I just quote the whole thing back at you.

lovely stuff. am worrying for M with that brother of his complicating things, though...
marysutherland
Oct. 24th, 2010 04:53 pm (UTC)
So you're OK with fatalism as long as it's queer Austen fatalism then? I went back to Persuasion originally because I was looking for something I could somehow re-use for the note writing scene, but that quote was just too good not to nick.

Mycroft is going to get one really enjoyable evening in the next section, but I'm afraid the next story will need extra loadings of angst to compensate, because yes, Sherlock is now on the case.
fengirl88
Oct. 24th, 2010 05:01 pm (UTC)
um - not sure how to answer that one! though the co-opting of that line for sexuality rather than sex did please me mightily. it might also be because it's a general statement rather than (/as well as?) a personal one.

maybe the quotation is coloured for me by knowing what it does in Austen - that it unlocks a happy ending for the person who speaks it. I know that isn't the case here but in my mind the phrase still brings that in with it, I guess.

(thank you for the angst warning...)
marysutherland
Oct. 25th, 2010 08:50 am (UTC)
I promise there will eventually be a happy ending, but it takes quite a bit of manouevering on my part for the middle aged and staid to win out over the reckless and gorgeous.

Sorry for teasing you about the fatalism. I think Mycroft isn't normally fatalistic, he's almost always prepared to fight his corner, even if he doesn't necessarily expect to win all the time. It's just he's unusually hampered in the upcoming triangle by having scruples.
fengirl88
Oct. 25th, 2010 11:03 am (UTC)
*becomes ridiculously excited at the prospect of this*

can imagine that DOES take quite a bit of manoeuvring.

Mycroft unusually hampered by scruples? *melts*

which I really did NOT expect ever to do about Mycroft. what the fic in this fandom does to my brain is nobody's business...

went back to reread Tastes and saw your description of M in this one as Sir Humphrey crossed with Romeo - lovely, and may explain why I've been finding him so irresistible in this.
marysutherland
Oct. 26th, 2010 08:05 am (UTC)
Well Mycroft always has the civil service scruples that you don't misuse official powers for your private benefit. Otherwise, you're no better than a politician. Which is why, while he was justified in exiling Robert Kuryakan for sheer bloody hopelessness, sending him to somewhere homophobic was dodgy.

What's really hampering him is trying to resist manipulating John. Which he is going to end up doing, of course, but it's just about justifiable this time.

et_cetera55
Oct. 22nd, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
He very carefully resisted the temptation to start a run on the pound, or organise a new initiative by the Met vice squad, because that would be childish LOL!
This whole chapter was brilliant - I loved it so much! Looking forward to seeing more :)
marysutherland
Oct. 24th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
One bit of fluff about to go up, which will end this part, but then I've got extra angst to make up for that in the third story.
et_cetera55
Oct. 24th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the warning!
darthhellokitty
Nov. 27th, 2010 08:27 am (UTC)
I see upwards that we can expect a happy ending, and for me a happy ending is better after some struggles, so yay. :-)

I really like the way you portray Mycroft and his feelings in this. I'll admit that I never thought him needing to be extremely careful in his liaisons, but it does make sense - and makes his life terribly lonely.

"The British army does not turn back, Mycroft. Not once the action's begun."


Oh, John! My heart!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )