Mycroft/Anthea • 4708 words • ao3
8:30 am - Observe and comment on Anthea's new haircut.
He'd hired her for a great many reasons, but the first was that she was incredibly intelligent, while also remaining completely unbiased. In fact, if Anthea had ever had personal interests, he hadn't been able to to find them, and as the years went by and she grew more and more attuned to his very particular ways, her own life and personality (such as they had existed) had become completely subsumed to his.
It suited him, and he assumed it suited her for she'd never given any indication otherwise.
He looked down at his daily schedule and frowned. No, it wasn't a sudden burst of selfishness, he decided. That was too simple an explanation, and one certainly not suited to the facts. What the facts told him was that everything Anthea did was for his benefit, not hers, and if he trusted her to make sure he ate and slept and went to the dentist and used the loo, he could trust that making a critical study of her forthcoming haircut was vital to his well-being.
His eyes tracked her as she came in, made a beeline for the espresso machine, and crouched a little to check her makeup in the reflection. It was exactly like any other morning. Anthea was a woman of routine.
Right - her hair. He frowned and narrowed his eyes; he couldn't quite see a difference but that was only due to nearsightedess. Not a dramatic change, then, for which he was suddenly quite grateful. In fact, he realized, as she finally came into his office, if she hadn't pointed it out, he would not have noticed at all.
"Half a centimeter off all around, and two on those... front bits." He didn't know what they were called, if they were called anything, and he didn't need to know. Sherlock probably would, because he was inordinately fussy, and he'd claim it to be a matter of precision. Mycroft was quite content with 'bits'.
"What?" She glanced up from her ever-present blackberry, but only for a second.
"Your hair." He was still looking at it, trying to decide what else he should say, considering and discarding several unnecessarily sentimental evaluations. He ultimately decided that the truth was, perhaps, the best option. "I like it."
Her fingers stopped and she looked up in earnest, now, and her face broke into a lovely smile. "Thank you," she said, meaning it. Either she'd forgotten her pre-programmed compliment, or she was surprised and pleased that he'd gone along with it. Mycroft suspected a combination of both.
When she'd dropped off the morning's work in the form of a neat stack of manila folders, he realized something.
He felt... odd. Pleasant, in fact, and it had been a particularly tiring and stressful week, so he was surprised at the depth to which this small pleasure affected him.
He liked Anthea's haircut because nothing about her had changed, and more than that - he liked her smile, and the sure knowledge that he had put it there.
Ah. It all made sense, then. A little overt, perhaps, but he supposed an attempt at subtlety would have simply been pointless. Filling a need, yes, though not a vital one - but not all that is important is vital, and sometimes, the very smallest of actions create the largest of consequences. It was for this reason that he'd hired Anthea - to understand this balance. And, as always, she performed admirably.
He sailed through his morning work with a light heart, the memory of a smile priming his mind for a more effective day.
4:00 pm - Engage in sexual activity.
Mycroft stared at his planner, not quite able to believe what he was seeing. He read it again, just to be sure.
No, it definitely said what he thought it said.
"Anthea," he called out, and when she didn't answer, he got to his feet and peered out of his office door. "Care to explain this one?"
He'd had dates scheduled for him, every now and then. Sometimes he knew about them in advance, sometimes he didn't, but then there had been the whole business with Diane and that had been... well.
They'd actually had something approaching a relationship, and he'd been quite fond of her, but they had... mutually unresolvable differences in lifestyle.
Simply put, she couldn't understand why his life was so carefully structured, and one day, she'd realized that she had no more place in it than an appointment on a calendar.
He had been sad to see her go, but in all truth, nothing much had changed.
Which was why this confused him. True, he hadn't complained about Anthea's matchmaking attempts, and he had enjoyed the company. But this was clearly different. And, quite frankly, alarming.
Anthea looked up. "Sir?"
He held up his planner with a disapproving look.
She took it from him and was unable to help the small smile that jumped to her face. "Why, look at that. It seems you're to engage in sexual activity. Best get on it, there isn't much time."
"Anthea." He gave her his very best withering glare, which slid right off of her like water. "This is ridiculous."
"Actually, it's not. I'm afraid I've been remiss, sir. I plan these things very carefully, you know, but this one got a little delayed. I managed to squeeze you in."
Dear god, the woman was an unstoppable force. When she put it like that, not only did it sound perfectly logical, but she had made an innuendo out of it. One that he was certain she would cheerfully deny.
Mycroft cleared his throat. "It isn't - I know you veritably run my life, but there are some things - "
"Have I ever steered you wrong before?" She was crowding him backwards, inching forward and he'd step awkwardly back, until he felt the back of his thighs connect with the edge of his desk.
"No, but - "
He couldn't finish his sentence, because her lips were in the way.
He sighed, the air whooshing out of his nostrils, and he could feel her lips curve into a smile. He really should have known better. He could argue the finer points later - such as motive, because really, if Anthea had wanted a go, all she had to do was ask. He wouldn't've turned her down. He wasn't blind.
He slowly relaxed into it, and his hands came up to trace the curves of her sides; the neat fit of her dress across her ribcage, her distinctly tall hipbones that he had an admitted noted appreciation for, and further, stroking along the perfect curve of her rear and fetching up under the hemline of her skirt.
He pulled back just slightly and raised an eyebrow. "Are you wearing underwear?"
She smiled, angelically. "No."
Later, when he was flushed, sated, and back behind his desk, he realized the syndicate connection he'd been puzzling over all morning was simply staring him in the face.
He looked up quickly but Anthea was gone. Probably to fix her hair and makeup, both of which had gotten considerably mussed about. Damn.
I ought to give her a raise, he thought, shaking his head. Whatever she did, it worked.
9:00 pm - Find something nice for Anthea's birthday.
Did Anthea even have a birthday? Well, she must, obviously, but it had never come up before, and it was with quick, frustrated movements that he pulled up her file. He did have a file, she was his employee and not the other way around - no matter what it felt like sometimes, especially when she did things like this.
Elizabeth Anthea Jones
DOB: January 15, 1981
So it was. He frowned. She'd never mentioned her birthday before, it had never... come up. Why now? Was this another ploy to introduce altruistic stress relief into his work schedule?
"You've never mentioned your birthday before," he remarked, several days later during a five-minute period labeled Make small talk, doodle.
Anthea's thumbs clicked away as she looked up. "No, I haven't." Her tone suggested that Mycroft was being a right idiot, which he supposed he probably was.
"May I ask why? That is," and he didn't wish to be acerbic, despite Anthea's seemingly unending supply of patience, "why is it only now that you've brought it up? We've never done this whole... presents business. You've never wanted one."
She looked a little bit... smug, as though his response had been predictable, or pleasing. "This year, I do."
Mycroft was, as it happened, particularly good with gifts. Sherlock was as well, when he put his mind to it, but unfortunately he let his dreadful personal biases get in the way, and only when he truly liked someone did he put a full effort into it. It thus fell to Mycroft to choose the requisite presentables to family and friends, signing every one 'from Mycroft and Sherlock with love.'
So, he thought, this shouldn't be too difficult. It was just a matter of finding out what Anthea liked, wanted, or needed, and fitting it into an acceptable price range.
He ran up against a wall at the very first requirement.
He didn't know what Anthea liked. That is, he didn't know that she liked anything at all, if she had, he surely would have known about it by now.
He began a full-scale investigation.
The hardest part was keeping it from her, which led to inevitable ruminations on just how much he'd come to rely on his once-secretary. She couldn't be called that anymore, her work was much too - assistant? No, that sounded even less important. Whatever she was, he needed her, and he could go behind her back and pull all of her internet history and credit bills and surveillance tapes and phone conversation transcriptions, but it was tiresome. He'd forgotten what it was like to have to do all the work himself.
And, in the end, he was left right back where he started. Anthea had no interests. When she wasn't sleeping, she was working, and as her job was essentially organizing Mycroft's life, there wasn't much room for anything else.
He couldn't get her something related to her interests, then. He couldn't get her a generic present, because that wasn't good enough, and obviously this sudden interest in birthdays was significant. There was something she wanted. It was a matter of finding it.
The next week (for he still had plenty of time) was spent observing her closely, trying to find any indication that would point to a want, or even a need - but it seemed that everything Anthea needed, she had, and if there was anything she wanted - well, he couldn't find any evidence of it.
It was frustrating. She didn't even have any pens that were running out of ink.
On January 14th he realized, with an uncomfortable and hovering sense of doom, that he still hadn't the slightest clue what to get her, and he'd exhausted all possible methods of information-gathering.
There was nothing for it. He would have to ask.
He waited until work was winding down for a day, during one of his scheduled coffee breaks. He cornered her by the espresso machine.
"...Anthea," he began, because it was always a good idea to get her attention first, or he'd inevitably end up repeating himself.
"Yes?" She tucked an invisible stray hair behind her ear, peering into her reflection in the chrome.
He paused, trying to find a way to say this that didn't make him sound completely at the end of his rope. There wasn't. He was.
"...What is it, exactly, that you want for your birthday?"
There was that smile again. A slight hint of smug, yes, but mostly undeniably happy, and it always made him feel just that much more off-balance. "See, was that so hard?"
He frowned at her. For a very long moment. Her smile didn't change one bit.
"That was the point, then."
"You wanted me to ask."
He winced. "I pulled every report I could find, you know."
"Yes, I know."
Anthea had the most infuriating habit of looking completely innocent when she was at her very most devious. He sighed. "There are times I find myself pathetically glad to have you on my side."
"I wouldn't dream of being anywhere else, sir."
He had turned to go, but that made him pause, and look back over one shoulder. His brow furrowed and he considered, once more, her motivations - her apparent lack of them, to the point of not even wanting a present to celebrate her date of birth. "You really don't, do you," he murmured, but it was more to himself than anyone else, and when she looked up, distracted, her eyes clearly seeing numbers and maps and far more important things than her somewhat astonished boss. It was simply a statement of fact, something he'd known for a long time but perhaps didn't fully understand until this moment.
This, here, was what she wanted. This life. His life, as a matter of fact. She'd played him like Sherlock's violin and that was all the present she'd needed.
In spite of that - or perhaps because of it - Mycroft got her a present anyway. It was a necklace, in pearl and gold to complement her coloring, and when she wore it it would rest perfectly against her breastbone in the negative space framed by her suit jacket. He watched her discreetly from his office, and saw the wry smile that grew on her face. She glanced up at him - grinned wider - and carefully fastened the clasp around the back of her neck.
He normally didn't like it when people around him changed their appearance, though it was a fact of life he'd grudgingly accepted. He had a feeling that this change, however, would be a thoroughly pleasant one.
9:30 pm - Spend the night at Anthea's.
He stepped out of his office.
"You are explaining this one before, and not after," he said, the tone of his voice brooking no disagreement.
Anthea didn't even look up. "I have reason to believe your rooms at Pall Mall are being watched."
Well all right. That was a very good reason indeed.
All traces of amusement left his face. "And you're bringing me to your place instead? Don't be daft." It was the first place any spy with half a modicrum of sense would look, though, to be fair, most of them didn't. "We have any number of safe houses, all of which would be closer."
"And," she continued, like she hadn't even heard him, "you have to pay a visit to your brother tomorrow. He hasn't bought groceries in almost two weeks."
Mycroft winced. He desperately hoped Sherlock wasn't falling back into bad (that is to say, illegal and chemical) habits - it was that fear that drove him on to ever more invasive security measures, no matter what Sherlock had to say about it.
In all likelihood, he was just being stubborn about using Mycroft's money - again - but he had to make sure, and Anthea was quite right. This was something he had to do in person.
It took less than a moment's reflection to recall that Anthea lived only two streets away from Sherlock's current living arrangement, such as it was. The difference made by those two streets was remarkable. Anthea's neighborhood was predictably typical, though possessing a steady good taste and a certain elegant charm.
He had never been here before.
She was still poking away at her Blackberry with one hand as she unlocked the door blindly. Mycroft tried to lean forward to see what she was working on, but she closed it with a sharp 'snick' - and smiled over her shoulder. "No more work," she said softly.
He expected, at this point, that there would be no surprises. He'd been through all of Anthea's files as exhaustively as he could, so naturally, he assumed her flat would reflect that - spartan, typical, tasteful but dry.
Well. One out of four wasn't bad.
Of course, 'tasteful' was an understatement. Everything was coordinated in warm tones - cinnamon, cream, and brown sugar, the floors paneled in patterned teak. The sofa had a rumpled chenille blanket draped on on arm; the lamp beside it had branches like a tree, each one ending in an amber shade the shape of a budding flower. The brass statuettes on the bookshelves were shaped like horses. Yes, the bookshelves. Antiques kept in prime condition, as a matter of fact, and not only were there horse-statue bookends, but five kinds of miniature globes, and a replica of the philosopher's stone.
Mycroft could truly only stare.
"What?" she asked over one shoulder, as she set her purse beside a very familiar overnight bag. She knew what, he could hear it in her voice, but she was teasing, which wasn't at all fair.
"You do have a personality," he accused. He hadn't meant to say it quite like that, but he figured she would understand.
"Am I to be offended or impressed?" Her tone clearly suggested she was neither, but rather, amused. He felt a little bit like a planet knocked off its axis.
"You have preferences. You collect antiques and read Joyce and Poe. You have a phonograph."
"It stopped working ages ago and I haven't had time to get it fixed."
Were they having a conversation? He wasn't actually sure this was happened. No, he wasn't just off his axis, he was out of orbit.
"What else do you like? Don't tell me." He walked through every room of her flat, the barely-used kitchen (but with a very fine selection of wines, he approved), the hi-tech cleanline bathroom (vanilla-scented bath salts and pink towels), the obessively organized study (this, at least, was everything he expected) and the bedroom.
He could deduce so much from this bedroom.
Most of it he'd already gathered from the rest of the flat - a focus on comfort, then value, with a predilection for the classical. Here, however, he discovered that Anthea specifically liked foreign film noir, historical dramas, and jazz. She slept on her right side. She had never outgrown her little girl's fascination with horses. Last night she had eaten a bowl of sugared strawberries in bed while reading The Mists of Avalon.
He felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him.
She touched his elbow gently, to let him know she was there, and when he turned, she held out a glass of his favorite wine, which she'd no doubt known for months. She preferred the sweeter vintages but had been saving this bottle for a special occasion.
She pushed him toward the bed and he went, because what else was he supposed to do? He was completely overwhelmed.
"You kept this from me," he said, when they were leaning back against the pillows, arms brushing. "Deliberately. All of it."
"Yes, I did." She was murmuring into her glass.
"An alias, then?"
"Several." She took a rather long sip of wine. "I've always been a private person, but when you were so perceptive, I began to wonder if I could. And it worked."
Mycroft shook his head. "I do feel a little like I've been stabbed. And why are you showing me now? Don't tell me." He couldn't let her, he had to gain some control over this situation. He stared at her, at her impassive, lovely face, and tried to think about anything other than having quite a lot of sex in this bed that was so obviously made for it.
The problem was, he had been operating thus far on a faulty piece of evidence, and now, attempting to rewire one of the most reliable circuits in his head was like trying to retrain an old soldier.
"Because it doesn't matter," Anthea said quietly, into the stillness that had taken over. "This is just a place, filled with things. It holds parts of me but not all, and not nearly the parts that matter."
And then it all came together. It wasn't such a faulty conclusion after all, though in the future, he would know better. It wasn't that her likes and wants had subsumed to his, over time - they had simply aligned, and what she most selfishly wanted (for she did want, she wasn't an automaton, how could he ever had believed that of her?) was what was best for him. It wasn't always what he wanted, but it was what he needed, and her job - not the job he paid her for, but the job she dedicated her life to nonetheless - was to see that he was the best he could be.
She was the smartest woman in the world, and somewhere along the line, she'd realized he needed her.
How very, very right she was.
"What do you need to take me along for, anyway? I won't be any help."
Mycroft followed his brother at a sedate pace, knowing that if he tried to catch up to him, Sherlock would walk even faster, and so on and so forth, and Mycroft really detested putting out any sort of extra effort to begin with. "Your presence is an immense help, as a matter of fact, for both our sakes."
Sherlock glared over one shoulder. "My skull and I were having a particularly enlightening evening."
"At ten o'clock in the morning."
"See, it was so enlightening it didn't want to leave."
Sherlock had a gift, a very special one, for making Mycroft smile at the most inappropriately telling of times. "I am sure Roderick will wait."
"Roderick? Now who's the rampant sentimentalist?"
"It's not an epithet, that was the man's name. Do your research."
He stepped into a fairly exclusive jeweler's, the kind that sounded as thought everything had been padded in a thick layer of cotton, the kind that people only went to because they were in the know.
"Oh, I see," came Sherlock's acid voice behind him. "You're here to buy something for that secretary of yours, and the only way to go about it is by using me as a convenient smokescreen." The place muffled his words, taking off what would surely have been quite a cutting edge. "How very asinine."
"Quite." Mycroft checked his watch; right on time, a saleswoman glided out to meet them. "Contrary to popular belief, not everything I do is for your benefit. Good day, ma'am."
"You must be Sherlock Holmes." Her smile was like glass. "Right this way, sir."
"And you used my name as well! Stunning. So, what is it? Another necklace? No, you wouldn't repeat yourself. A bracelet? Matching earrings? Don't tell me you're..."
For the most part, Mycroft believed, Sherlock talked because he liked the sound of his voice, and when it came to his brother, he couldn't impress with his usual long-winded deductions, and thus resorted to stating the obvious.
Mycroft refused to indulge him. He followed the saleswoman and assumed Sherlock would as well, and when she held out the custom double-bedded ring box, he bent close to inspect his purchase.
"You are," Sherlock breathed at his shoulder, disbelief and disgust lacing his voice. "You're getting rings. You aren't going to marry her, are you?"
"Don't be absurd, of course not." He drew the smaller one out of the box, inspecting it for any sign of imperfection. "The legal mess involved would be catastrophic."
"Not to mention you don't love her." Sherlock didn't even flinch when Mycroft reached into his brother's pocket and drew out his wallet. "...You don't. Tell me you don't love her."
He handed over Sherlock's credit card, ostensibly in his name but paid for on Mycroft's salary. He said nothing.
Sherlock stared at him like he'd suddenly grown six heads.
He didn't speak until they were back out on the road, strolling down the sidewalk. "But you can't. You can't love her."
"I'll have you know, I am every bit as capable as the next man of experiencing love. You, of all people, should be aware of this."
Sherlock colored visibly and his jaw snapped close. "You loathe sentiment."
"You just bought - at an exorbitant and uncalled-for price, might I add - a pair of wedding rings."
"For a woman I love and am decidedly not marrying because, as you say, I loathe sentiment." He gave Sherlock a wry look, critical and amused. "Your avowed wit is failing you, brother mine."
Sherlock didn't need to say that he'd assumed better of Mycroft, and Mycroft didn't need to say that they had far different ideas of the definition of 'better'. It was a discussion they'd had before, and would certainly have again.
"I feel used," Sherlock sighed, and Mycroft could not help cracking a grin.
They were having dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, a quiet, plushly elegant sort of place that served excellent food at reasonable portion sizes. Anthea hadn't complained when he ordered dessert with their wine, and he suspected it was because she enjoyed it as much as he. Oh, ostensibly she would blame her consumption of half his share as a way to help with his diet, but if she'd truly wanted to help, she wouldn't've let him order it in the first place.
She chased the last traces of raspberry sauce with the pad of her finger and looked up to meet his eyes when she tucked it into her mouth, innocently. He smiled.
"I have something for you," he said.
Her eyebrows shot up.
It was worth anything - anything - to see the look on her face in that moment, as he brought out the ring box and placed it gently in the center of their small table. It wasn't what he was doing, or what was inside, or what it all meant (and he knew her well enough to believe she wouldn't jump to conclusions) - it was the fact that she hadn't known.
He'd gone behind her back last January, to be sure, but he hadn't actually been trying to cover his tracks. Not specifically.
All the world at her fingertips, and she still hadn't known.
Of course, she figured it out in an instant. "Sherlock. You used Sherlock's name."
"Knowing it was the only purchase I would accept blindly. You're the devil itself, Mycroft Holmes."
He waited, watching, as she picked up the box and examined the rings within. Plain gold bands, very simple, very traditional. Obvious.
He watched the thoughts flick behind her eyes, considering and dropping theories. He watched as she came up against a statistical impossibility, the same one that had the younger Holmes stop in his tracks and categorically refuse.
"I'm not marrying you," she said, because she had to start somewhere.
"Of course not. That would be, at the least, legally unwise."
Something in his tone - some repressed emotion, no doubt, vibrating through his words - caused her to look up and into his eyes.
He raised an eyebrow. "But if it weren't for that, and if it weren't for the fact that I abhor ceremonies and churches and unnecessary social interaction..."
Everything else about a wedding, her eyes said, and she was starting to smile.
"...Aside from all that, then, I would like to marry you. That is, I don't, but I would like to be married." Her smile really did unspeakable and extraordinary things to the workings of his brain. It would be alarming, if it hadn't inadventently become so necessary.
Anthea gently worked the smaller of the two free and twirled it around in her fingertips, considering. Then, without much ado, she slipped it onto the ring finger of her right hand - the finger it had been fitted for. "Funny," she murmured. "I thought we already were."
"Well, forgive me for wanting to make it official." He reached across and picked up the other, placing it on his own right hand.
She seemed to be waiting for something.
They stared each other down for a long moment, Mycroft questioning, Anthea calculating. Finally, he gave in.
"...They each have an embedded GPS tracking device," he said.
Anthea's smile turned brilliant.
"That's what I thought."
next: How to Love a Goldfish