"Mr. Holmes, this is definitely what you'd call indiscreet."
Stephen Hassell was sitting on the bed, smoking a clove cigarette and watching Mycroft as he fumbled about in his suitcase.
"I wouldn't worry about that for now," he said with a brisk smile, though he was a little annoyed that Stephen had spoken to the niggle he'd held all day. "The British Government might own me for three hundred and sixty four days a year, but my Christmases have always been my own." He plucked the cigarette out of Stephen's mouth, took a drag of it, and put it back.
Mycroft's experience of English country houses amounted to one: Linwood. He had never before spent a blustery winter's night in smaller and cosier quarters, where a single log fire warmed every nook and cranny of the 17th century stone house, including a nude sleeper among crisp linen on the bed. A place where a person who snored in one bedroom could be clearly heard in another; where a simple meal cooking in the kitchen drifted a delicious aroma of orange and cloves to every room on the ground floor, and pine needles from the Christmas tree found their way into every crack and gap in the flagstones underfoot.
Yes, he reflected contentedly to himself as he pulled his pyjama shirt on and fumbled with the buttons. Stephen had been right to insist they spend that Christmas at his own country home, rather than in the cold comfort of Linwood.
"I'm glad you came out here with me, Mycroft," Stephen said suddenly.
"I should hope so."
"No, you're different out here."
"Oh?" Mycroft raised his eyebrows. "Well, I suppose I am," he said stiffly. "But you can hardly expect me to be anything other than discreet at work, Stephen. As I said, my holidays are my own."
"No, they're not." Stephen smiled. He was thirty-nine, and the hair just above his ears was starting to speckle with grey. But with a dimple on one side of his face and none on the other, he looked like a schoolboy when he was amused.
"No." Stephen beckoned him; when he hesitated, he took him by the wrists and pulled him down. "I'm pretty sure that they're mine."
Stephen's tongue, too, held the tang of oranges and cloves. There were undertones of salt that were stronger on his chest and hands, and his breath was hot and sweet on Mycroft's face. Giving in, Mycroft sought him urgently; he could feel Stephen's calves brushing up against his own in a rough male kiss, so that he was no longer sure where Stephen ended and he began.
"Mycroft." Stephen's voice was low and near. "I - "
"No." Mycroft abruptly drew away, extricating himself from their tangle of arms and legs. He took several deep breaths in silence. "No. You know I… don't say such things," he explained awkwardly. He rubbed the back of his neck and exhaled.
"Well, what if I say them, and you don't have to?"
"No. Even worse. Let's not ruin this one day of the year by our disagreeing over a word." Mycroft got up in a businesslike way; the moment was over, for now. He slid into pyjama pants; the evening was chill. "I'll go for more wine," he offered.
"That's kind of you."
"No, it's self-preservation. That last bottle you brought up was ungodly."
Stephen laughed as Mycroft made his way out along the passage to the main living area, padding along the floorboards in feet unaccustomed to bareness and climbing down the dusty, precarious stairs into the wine cellar. The cellar was lit only by a weak, dusty globe; already a little light-headed from the last bottle of ungodly wine, he stumbled a little on the last three steps before reaching the dim cool of the cellar itself.
For God's sake, you are not a blushing debutante. How utterly ridiculous you are sometimes, Mycroft Holmes.
No oranges and cloves here. He could smell nothing but dank earth and secret growth in the dark. He searched quickly along the wine rack; the cellar was frigid, with little icy draughts nipping at his ankles. Selecting a bottle, he drew it out carefully and rubbed at the label with the heel of his hand.
Chtau Margaux. 1995 Vintage.
Well, he shrugged, wine was meant to be drunk. Happy with his selection, he turned back to the stairs, folding the bottle in the crook of his arm and drawing it close to his body to protect it.
His last coherent memory was twofold; seeing his own foot on the dusty step below, and hearing the crash of breaking glass in the house above.
"Well, I'm calling that a success." John finished wiping clean the kitchen countertop and dropped the cleaning cloth into the bin beside the sink. 'That' was the fact that he and Molly had managed to entertain Sherlock, Mrs. Hudson, Greg, Melissa, Hayley and Harry all afternoon without undue incident. "One Christmas, done and dusted. All present or accounted for, healthy and well, and nobody's in disgrace – though I'm going to have to make it a bit clearer next year that all toys bought for a certain young lady need to be of the silent kind. Seriously, Harry, off. It's driving me mad."
He poured a glass of white wine and went back into the living room with it, handing it to Mrs. Hudson. He'd not yet told Harry this, but he was absurdly proud that every other adult in the house had had at least one drink that afternoon, and she'd managed to stay strong. He and Molly had planned yet another "dry" Christmas; Harry had insisted on trying her willpower. Three months of therapy at the Harley Street Clinic had done her good. She looked up from where she was sitting cross-legged on the floor, a stuffed polar bear in her hands.
"John, don't be so miserable," she objected. "For God's sake, it's a polar bear that sings "I'd Like to Teach The World to Sing" in the voice of Jimmy Durante. I could play this all day."
"You have played it all day," he said. "Give it a rest, before the batteries mysteriously go missing."
"Good technique, that one," Lestrade remarked. He was also sitting on the floor. Mycroft may have chosen not to be at the Watson household for the festivities that year, but he hadn't forgotten to send in Charlie's first Christmas gift. This was a full wooden Victorian train set, painted in exquisite detail in bright primary colours. Lestrade had immediately set to work assembling it and wouldn't let anybody else play with it.
"Having fun with that?" John sat down on the sofa beside Molly, who was snuggled up in one of his jumpers and already dozing; she lay her head on his shoulder.
"I'd be having a lot more fun with this if I could get it to work."
"Well, Dad, you're trying to attach that carriage the wrong way," Hayley spoke up.
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are." Sherlock was standing on the other side of the room near the window, a glass of sherry in his hands. "Turn the clip over."
"Nope, other way," John said as Lestrade obligingly twisted the clip over. "Left to right."
"Why is it that everything with a penis thinks he's an expert when it comes to trains?" Harry wanted to know of nobody in particular.
John shook his head woefully. "Jesus," he groaned. "We nearly got through one day without that, didn't we?"
"She's got a point though, John," Melissa said. "I mean, if Greg just stopped being so stubborn and let me and Hayley help him half an hour ago when we offered, we'd have a fully functioning train set for you boys to lie on the floor and play with by now."
"Besides." Hayley, newly eighteen and proud of the privileges that came with her birthday, sipped her own glass of wine. "I just offered Dad my opinion, and I'm pretty sure I don't have a -"
"Okay, stop," Lestrade broke in.
Before this could degenerate into a squabble and marr the day, Sherlock's phone rang. He absent-mindedly put his glass of sherry precariously on the windowsill and fished it out of his pocket, looking at the incoming caller ID for a second.
"Excuse me," he said, making his way to the hall doorway.
"What's up, Sherlock?" John asked.
"Mycroft," he said briefly on his way past. "Give me a moment."
"So. How has work been, Molly?" Mrs. Hudson asked as Sherlock wandered off into the hall.
"Oh, tiring." She smiled through it, but she'd looked tired since Charlie had been born. "I've been looking at some really interesting things with viral pneumonia, and I think we'll get the grant we applied for to be able to do some more research. We'll know in the middle of January."
"But you've got time off over Christmas, surely?"
"Ten days. And they'll all be worth it." Molly smiled at Charlie, who was just then being dandled from Hayley's knee - something Lestrade hadn't been all that excited to behold. "It'll be lovely," she went on contentedly. "We were going to go away for a week to the Lakes District, but it's been so cold, so we may as well stay here."
"Charlie won't remember it, anyway, whether you stay or go," Mrs Hudson smiled. "Oh, she does look dear in that little dress! And so big - like she's ready to get up and run about already."
"A while to go before that happens," John remarked. "Thank God. She's going to be trouble once she can get about on her own."
"Oh, wait until she's old enough to back-answer." Mrs. Hudson glanced instinctively at the doorway where Sherlock had just exited; he was someone she would always view as her little back-answerer. Not for the first time, John wondered. According to legend and both of them, Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson had met when Sherlock was twenty-four, but it seemed sometimes as if Sherlock must have been younger.
"You can't have one, Peanut," Lestrade teased his daughter. "Not for at least five years. Your mother would kill me."
"I wouldn't worry about that, Dad. I'm waiting for you and Mel to have a baby first," Hayley shot back.
"What's the weather in hell look like at the moment?" Melissa interjected innocently. Hayley smiled.
"Quite chilly," she said. "In fact, one might say it's nearly freezing. How old is Charlie now?"
"Five months and three days." Molly sounded proud, as if her daughter being alive all this time was one of her greatest accomplishments. "I can't believe we've – "
She cut herself off as Sherlock's voice, sharp and anxious, floated in from the hall.
"Mycroft… calm down. No. No, you are of absolutely no use if you're going to be incoherent. Give me the address."
John and Lestrade looked at each other. Lestrade got up from the floor, and John removed his arm from where it had been wrapped around Molly's shoulders.
"The address, Mycroft. Now. No... just the address."
With an apologetic, half-anxious look at his wife, John rose and went softly out to the hall doorway, where he found Sherlock pacing around with his phone at his ear. Their eyes met for a few seconds as Sherlock listened down the line.
"Mycroft," he said again. "Are you injured? Do you need an ambulance?"
There was a brief pause.
"Yes, you've told me that. Do you need an ambulance?" Without particularly waiting for an answer, Sherlock reached out to get his coat off the coat stand; Lestrade gently brushed past John to do the same. Behind them, the entire living room had fallen silent.
"Listen," Sherlock said. "We're on our way. Don't panic and don't move unless you need to. Don't contaminate the crime scene any more than you have to."
"Crime scene?" John demanded as Sherlock unceremoniously hung up the phone and shoved it in his coat pocket.
"He's been attacked." Sherlock was putting his scarf on. "I don't know how badly… he's in distress and not making sense, though I've thankfully got an idea of where he is. Lestrade, I think we're looking at an abduction."
"He doesn't know where Stephen is."
"Shit. Gimme the address," Lestrade said. "I'll get a unit out there-"
"Not your jurisdiction," Sherlock said. "And we need to assess what's happened before we bring a team of police officers in to make a disaster of the evidence on hand. Come with us, John. He may need a doctor."
A/N- This is the sixth in a series that is outline in my profile and begins with After the Fall, if you want to know how we got to here. As you can see, it's a stronger T than I've ever written before and may well be changed to an M. Since the ratings system here is so highly subjective, I absolutely encourage any of you to PM or review me if you see something you personally think violates the T rating. I'll notify if the rating is changed in an A/N for anyone following who may want to unfollow or be wary from that point. As a guideline, it won't be sexually explicit, but there will be occasional coarse language. and it may contain stronger violence than those of you following may be used to reading from me.