Greg is standing in front of the mirror, frantically trying to straighten out his shirt. As per usual, it looks more than slightly crumpled. If Mycroft were forced to deduce anything from this, he'd say that since the divorce Greg has fallen into something of a slump. There are signs of improvement, however; Greg's shoes are shined, his hair actually combed, his jaw line almost clean-shaven (and rather more appealing for the application of the word 'almost', Mycroft thinks). He resists the urge to smile fondly; stressed as Greg is, he'll more than likely misconstrue the quirk of Mycroft's lips as something far less well-intentioned. Greg catches his eye in the mirror and sighs.
"I'm crap at this, aren't I?" he says. It's a rhetorical question, Mycroft recognises, so he merely purses his lips in disagreement. Greg offers him a half-smile. It's still entirely charming and Mycroft feels himself flush. "Do I look all right?" Greg asks.
Mycroft doesn't know how to construe 'you look far more than all right; you are wonderful and you don't know much I would like to attend this wedding as your date rather than as John's friend' without making the other man run a mile, so he swallows down his longing and bites his tongue.
"Yes," he says.
John's honeymoon only lasts for a week, which is at least a fortnight too long in Mycroft's opinion. Sherlock has been sulking constantly, bemoaning John's awful taste in women (he has started calling them 'the vulgar sex', a generalisation that Greg disagrees with on account of the fact that Anderson is a male) and Greg's inability to find him a suitably taxing case. Subsequently, Sherlock has been more than a little taxing himself, especially towards Greg, who is now flopped on Mycroft's couch, his head in his hands.
Mycroft, perched stiffly on the armchair opposite, offers him what he hopes is a suitably empathic look.
"I apologise for my brother's behaviour," he says. Greg winces.
"Don't mention your brother," he sighs, rubbing his face and placing his hands behind his head. As he does so, Mycroft catches a glimpse of skin above his waistband and allows himself a few seconds to appreciate it. "I've had enough of him this week to get me through the rest of the decade quite comfortably."
Mycroft hums in acknowledgement.
"I can assure you that no decade spent in Sherlock's company can be described as 'comfortable'."
"I'm not going to disagree with that." Greg hauls himself up into a sitting position and regards Mycroft thoughtfully. "You're a bloody saint, you know that?"
Mycroft does not know.
"Explain," he says. Greg smiles.
"Yes, ma'am," he grins. "All I mean is that most people would have clobbered the bastard to death with his own severed leg by now. You've put up with a lot."
"That's true," Mycroft agrees. He leans forward and picks up the china teapot resting on the coffee table between the couch and the armchair, pouring Greg another cup of tea. Greg watches him, interested.
"I thought you'd have someone to do that for you, you know," he says, but the glint in his eye tells Mycroft that he's not entirely serious.
"I do occasionally employ foreign dignitaries solely for that purpose," Mycroft replies solemnly, pouring himself a cup. Greg laughs and Mycroft feels himself flush again. He thinks that Greg's laugh is probably his favourite sound.
"You do it because you love him, don't you?" says Greg suddenly. Mycroft nearly drops his cup in shock. 'No', he thinks. 'I do it because were I to decide that enough is enough, he'd have no-one. I do it because it keeps him alive. I do it because I don't know how to do anything else.'
He doesn't think Greg really wants to know that. People always ask questions to which they don't really want to know the response. An interrogative is not always a request for an answer.
"Yes," he replies, taking a sip of his scalding tea.
Greg is looking at the ring on Mycroft's finger rather more intently than Mycroft would like. He swallows and fixes a look of cool reserve on his face.
"Do you wish to ask me something, Gregory?" he questions. Greg immediately turns bright red at having been caught out, and Mycroft thinks that when Greg is momentarily overcome with any sort of emotion, it's a rather beautiful sight. He finds himself vaguely wondering what he looks like when in the throes of other emotions and almost falls prey to the same fate.
"No, no, sorry," Greg says quickly. Mycroft can't fight the small worm of disappointment that burrows to the forefront of his consciousness. Greg rubs the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "Yes, actually. Sorry, it's just been bothering me – well, not bothering me, y'know, I'm not losing sleep over it or anything, that would be really weird, but I didn't know and obviously I couldn't ask Sherlock, and - "
"Gregory," says Mycroft, gently. Greg meets his eye and breaks into an embarrassed smile.
"Are you married?" he asks. Mycroft shakes his head.
"No," he answers. He thinks he sees a flash of something like happiness or relief in Greg's eyes but he blinks and it's gone.
"Right," says Greg. "Good. Well, not good, but you know. That's the answer, then."
"Yes," Mycroft agrees, picking up his cup of tea and permitting himself a hidden smile behind it.
"So I suppose you wear that ring for another reason, then."
Mycroft thinks 'I wear it because it's easier than an outright lie', 'it symbolises everything I'm not allowed to want' or 'it's part of the disguise'would likely ruin the companionable mood that's taken months of effort to build between the two of them, so he opts for the simple and dismissive response.
"If you're here to try and spy on Sherlock, you picked a bad day for it," John says. He doesn't even turn around to see who it is that Mrs Hudson has allowed in. Mycroft smirks a little at the realisation that Sherlock is not the only one who has been influenced by his flatmate.
"I can assure you, this is merely a social visit," he responds, resting lightly on his umbrella. John turns and looks at him as though he's just announced that he's wearing women's underwear.
"You do know that Sherlock's out, right?" he asks, narrowing his eyes. Mycroft raises an eyebrow. Of course he knows. John sighs. "Sorry, I forget. Eyes and ears in the walls, you. What can I do for you, then?"
Mycroft inspects a bullet hole in the door next to him. Clearly, Sherlock had not been dealing with John's marriage particularly effectively. Now that it's over, he suspects Mrs Hudson will be far happier with the state of her furniture.
"I wanted to offer my congratulations, of course."
John balks, a vision of confused embarrassment and worry in a porridge-like jumper, and Mycroft could kiss him, really, because he has made his brother better in ways that Mycroft never could. But Mycroft doesn't do that. He merely smiles his trademark enigmatic quirk of the lips and waits for John's inevitable question.
"Congratulations on what, exactly?" He sounds slightly suspicious. "My impending divorce?"
"Your recent change in relationship status regarding my brother," Mycroft clarifies. It's a needless clarification, really. John knows that Mycroft knows. John blushes.
"Well," he says, and sits down rather suddenly in the kitchen chair. "Thanks, I think."
"No need to thank me." Mycroft twirls his umbrella and John watches the fluid motion. "Indeed, I rather think I owe you thanks, and not vice versa."
John furrows his brow.
"Why d'you think that?"
Mycroft takes a few seconds to compile his thoughts coherently. He is enviably articulate, he knows, but it's not always necessarily effortless.
"I am of the belief," he starts. "That without you, my brother would be rather worse off."
"That's probably true," John chuckles. "He'd be drinking lumpy milk, for a start."
"Quite," says Mycroft.
John looks at him. Mycroft looks back at John.
"So, you're OK with it?" John asks.
Mycroft is, of course, very much 'OK with it'. It would be rather selfish of him to deny his brother a rare chance at contentment, if not happiness. Of course, he could also say 'I envy what you and my brother have' or 'watching the two of you become a unit from two separate entities makes me long for the same thing with a man who will never want similar', but he doesn't believe that would be entirely appropriate, given the circumstances.
"Yes," he states.
Mycroft isn't completely sure that he's being altogether as helpful as he could be. Were the circumstances slightly different, perhaps he could charter a private aeroplane and whisk Greg away on a much-deserved holiday, or inform the head of Scotland Yard that the photographs of a certain Belgian prostitute would be used in a most undesirable fashion were he not to grant Greg a few days off, but the circumstances are thus; Greg is weeping openly into the expensive fabric of Mycroft's shirt and they are alone and Mycroft can do nothing but rub circles into the nodules of Greg's spine – had he really never noticed how fragile the man looks before? He's always seen Greg as a pillar of strength, a force to be reckoned with, but he's just as broken now as Mycroft and it's hauntingly beautiful that they are both here and they are both human.
"You'll stay?" Greg sounds more desperate than Mycroft thinks he's ever heard anyone sound, and he's heard men plead for their lives to men who would rather kill a thousand than spare one.
Greg is lonely. He needs someone. In the times he permits himself to grasp at the optimism that's perpetually out of his reach, Mycroft thinks he could be that person. He thinks he could be the person to give Greg a reason to wake up, be the other half that completes a whole.
Mycroft is not that person. He works long hours with dangerous men and he must be alone. He has to be lonely.
"Yes," he whispers, and it's half true. He's still there in the morning.
Greg spots Mycroft lingering at the crime scene, a tall figure under an umbrella in a downpour, and signals to him, beaming. Mycroft's heart lurches as Greg pulls his coat over his head to protect himself from the thundering shower and dashes towards him.
"Hi," Greg greets him. He's breathless from the run and a hard day, and Mycroft smiles sympathetically.
"Hello," he returns, shifting slightly so that the umbrella shelters them both. Neither says anything for a few moments.
"Your brother's been less of a git lately," Greg says suddenly.
"Oh?" Mycroft is not entirely surprised. John is certainly at least part of it.
"Yeah," Greg grins. "He only called me a 'pining idiot' twice, so that's progress."
Greg looks away. In the distance, lying in the rapidly pooling mud, Mycroft can see a covered body, protected from the water by a plastic sheet. He feels a pang of something very much like sorrow as he takes into account the size of the body. It's clearly a child. Greg's eyes are tired. So tired.
"Thank you for the other night," Greg says quietly, and it doesn't answer Mycroft's one-word question at all, and yet it does, somehow. "Really. Thanks. It means a lot."
"Think nothing of it," Mycroft says, intending to sound dismissive but aware that he sounds more uncertain than anything else. Greg meets his eye again and Mycroft's pulse quickens. He feels more than slightly faint.
"That's the thing," Greg begins. "I do think something of it. I think quite a lot of it, actually. You know, you weren't the first person I called. You were the only one who answered."
"I'm sorry," Mycroft says, because he doesn't know what else he can say.
"Well, that's it," Greg continues. "I think I'd quite like it if you could maybe be the first person I call, if there's ever a next time. Do you know what I mean?"
Mycroft hopes. He doesn't know. He knows how to threaten a man in eighteen languages, including Latin, and he knows how to fold hospital corners and start wars and make tea the correct way, but when it comes to Greg, he is always learning.
"No," he answers, truthfully. Greg smiles.
"Let me put it another way," he says. "Mycroft Holmes, I think you're a bloody marvel, and I was wondering if you'd like to get dinner some time?" At Mycroft's confused look, he carries on, gabbling slightly. "You know, with me. In a romantic setting. Like a date. Actually, not like a date. Just a date. Would you like to - "
"Yes," says Mycroft, and when he sees the genuinely thrilled look on Greg's face, for once, 'yes' seems like enough.