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For the third time that night, Mycroft woke up to the sound of Greg coughing. He nudged him gently, but Greg was barely awake—coughing on autopilot, as it were. “Go and get some more cough syrup, love,” Mycroft said, but Greg burrowed back down beneath the covers and mumbled something indistinct; seconds later, he was snoring again. Mycroft sighed and dragged himself to the toilet, coming back with a little plastic cup filled with the sickly sweet, red goo. He crouched down and touched Greg’s shoulder. “Here, drink this.”

Greg groaned, but with some more insistence propped himself on one arm, drinking the stuff in one go. “Gah,” he said, pulling a face and sinking back down onto the bed. “Stuff’s vile.”

Vile, perhaps, but sufficiently narcotic-laced that they were both able to get some sleep.

The next morning, Greg woke up with another coughing fit and sat on the edge of the bed, bent over double, trying to control it.

Mycroft reached out and slowly rubbed his back. “Try and breathe through it.” As trite as it sounded, the technique seemed to help. The cough—a remnant of long-gone bronchitis—wasn’t helping his body at all. The best they could do was try and suppress it.

“M’fine,” Greg managed to say after the fit had passed. When he turned around, he was breathing hard, his face red and his eyes watering.

“You’re not fine.”

“It’s getting better. It only happens at night now.”

“Mm, that’s what you said a week ago.”

“God, you look like hell,” Greg said. “Did you sleep all right?”

“You don’t even remember, do you?”

“Remember what?”

“You kept waking up last night.”

“Oh, fuck. Sorry.”

“It’s all right. Just promise me you’ll phone John today? The cough syrup isn’t doing much good.”

“Yeah, okay. Sorry I said you looked like hell. You don’t look that bad.”

Mycroft smiled. “I love you but don’t lie to me. I’m getting a shower.” Then on his way out, he added, “And phone John, or I’ll tell Sherlock to show up and be a prat until you do.”

“It’s really not that bad,” he muttered.

“I mean it,” Mycroft called from the toilet.

Greg put off calling John.

He had lunch, and put it off some more.

At about three, Sherlock strode into his office like he owned the place. John followed him in, wearing a vaguely exasperated expression.

“I,” Sherlock said, picking up a case folder and flipping through it, “was officially asked to be annoying until you let John have a look at you.”

“Oh, God,” Greg said with a sigh, “Mycroft phoned you.”

“Well of course he did—I’m not psychic. Although it’s statistically likely that I’d annoy you regardless of his permission.” He tossed the folder back onto Greg’s desk. “This one’s boring. What else is there?”

“Fine,” Greg said, shoving another folder in his direction, “at least shut the door. What do you want me to do, John? Open my mouth and say ‘ah’?”

“Something like that.” John closed the door and set a bag down on the desk, retrieving a stethoscope. “You’ll have to take your shirt off.”

“Oh, bloody hell. Really? Do we have to do this? It’s just a cough.”

“I need to listen to your lungs.”

“Christ. At least let me shut the blinds; I don’t want to give half the floor a show.”

“You can just unbutton your shirt if you want.”

“I’m still closing the blinds!”

Sherlock tossed the folder onto the desk and started nosing around the office in search of something more interesting. He picked up an evidence bag containing a battered-looking orchid. “Trying your hand at gardening, Lestrade? They do better with some air.”

“Oi, hands off—that’s evidence. Stick to the folders.” He sat down and proceeded to unbutton his shirt, grumbling that Mycroft wasn’t forced into medical exams at his office.

John pressed the cold stethoscope against his back, and Greg jumped.

“Okay, deep breath.”

He complied, but it was more a heavy sigh of irritation than anything.

John moved the stethoscope. “Again.”

Sherlock gave Greg a positively gleeful smile. He just glared.

“Once more,” John said, in his ‘doctor voice’.

He exhaled a little too much, triggering a coughing fit that left him gasping for breath.

“Well,” John said, “I can see why he’s concerned. How long have you had it?”

“I don’t know. Since I had the bronchitis… I suppose about a month. It usually only happens at night.”

“Well, your lungs are clear, but your bronchi are still irritated. They’ll heal, but only if you give them a chance.”

“So what you’re saying,” Greg said, rather sarcastically, “is that in order to get rid of my cough, I have to not cough.”

John gave him a closed-mouth smile. “Er, yes. Exactly. I’ll write you a prescription for an inhaler and some cough suppressant pills, which you can use before bed. Other than that, I’d suggest some steam therapy: fill a bowl with boiling water and—”

“—stick a tea towel over my head and inhale it. I know.”

Sherlock snickered.

“You’ve done it before, then?” John asked.

“I was tortured as a child.”

“Right. Well, get a humidifier, too. That’ll help as well.”

“With the torture?”

“What?” John looked up from writing out the prescription, confused. “No, with the cough.”

Sherlock stood there looking amused by the whole thing.

“There you go,” he said, handing it to Greg. “Use them both at bedtime. If you start coughing during the day, let me know.”

“Thanks. Sorry to drag you out here,” he said to John.

“You didn’t—Mycroft did. It’s the story of my life.”

Sherlock picked up a couple of folders as they were about to leave.

“Put them down, Sherlock. You were only allowed to be annoying until I got checked out.”

Sherlock pouted, but dropped them back onto the desk.

He finished buttoning his shirt and put on his jacket. “Anything else? I appreciate the consult, John, but if you’re done, I have work to do. Sorry to drag you away from your afternoon.”

“That’s fine. Sherlock owes me a dinner for this.”

“Good,” Greg said, giving Sherlock a satisfied smirk.

It wasn’t until after they’d left that Greg noticed both folders were empty, but the joke was on Sherlock: he’d put old, solved cases in both of them before he’d showed up. He’d been around Sherlock for far too long to expect anything else.

He phoned Mycroft at work. “You didn’t have to send him over here. I was going to call him, you know.”

“Forgive me if I don’t believe you.”

“Yeah, well, I was. Just maybe not today. It’s really not that bad.”

“My lack of sleep would indicate otherwise—I just want you to get better. What did he say?”

“That if I stopped coughing, it would help my cough.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“My bronchi are irritated and I have to let them heal. He told me to do the tea-towel thing, and gave me an inhaler and some pills. They’re supposed to help me stop coughing, which… well, like I said.”

“Brilliant advances in medical science we’ve had lately,” Mycroft muttered. “I was subjected to the steam nightmare as a boy. Did your mother use the mentholated oils?”

“Yeah, it was bloody awful. It made everything burn, and God help you if you opened your eyes while you did it.”

“Quite right. Well, perhaps you could pick up a humidifier when you get the things at the chemist’s. We don’t have one at home, and it’d be a good compromise.”

“All right, I’ll see you tonight. Want me to pick up food?”

“No, I’ll cook. Anything you want.”

“Poached eggs on toast.”

“I meant something real.”

“That is real.”

“All right, poached eggs it is.”

“On toast. With no weird sauces.”

“Completely mundane poached eggs on toast,” Mycroft said.

“Thanks, love. Everything going well in the quest for world domination?”


“I’m glad you’re on our side. I’m going to try and leave by five—I should be home by half past.”

“Mm, I’ll try and leave on time. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Poached eggs were one of his favourites, but usually Mycroft wanted to cook something more elaborate. He settled back into his work, looking forward to dinner.

Only Mycroft could make poached eggs on toast look elegant. It bore no resemblance to his own version of the dish—the one with soggy toast and overcooked yolks. It looked like something you’d order in a restaurant but managed to be just as delicious and comforting as the version he’d had when he was a boy. More delicious, in fact—Mycroft always managed to get the eggs just right, never overcooking them.

As he mopped up the remnants of yolk with the last of the bread, he tried to decide if Mycroft would be up for the evening he had in mind.

“Where are we going, anyway?” Mycroft said.

“It’s a surprise.”

“I’m not sure you should be going out. You’re ill.”

“I have a dry cough, not the plague. C’mon. It’ll be fun. Besides, it’ll be good for me.”

“You still haven’t told me what it is.”


Mycroft sat back in the taxi, mentally resigning himself to whatever his partner had planned. When Greg got something into his head, it was usually easier to let him have his way.

“Waterloo. Cromwell Road and Alaska Street,” Greg said to the driver.

The cabbie raised his eyebrows a little, but nodded and took off so quickly that they were both pushed back against their seats. On the rare occasions they weren’t stuck in traffic, they drove their taxis like they were on the Autobahn. Mycroft caught Greg checking his watch.

“Close early, does it?” Mycroft said.

“Don’t worry—we’ll get there in time.”

The driver dropped them at the corner, next to the arched bridge. “Have fun,” he said, as he made change.

“Thanks,” Greg replied with a smile.

“What was that about?”

“You’ll see,” said Greg, as he led them to a tiny shop on the corner, painted bright purple: ‘Konditor & Cook’.

It was a bakery. An amazing bakery. Cakes, tarts, brownies, truffles—everything looked delicious.

After a few minutes, they managed to settle on a small selection of truffles and biscuits.

Greg pointed at some of the extravagant-looking cakes. “Next year, you won’t have to suffer through my cake-mix monstrosity for your birthday. I’ll get you a proper one.”

“Actually, I loved that you made it for me. These do look amazing though—perhaps we should get one now. Make you feel better.”

“Well,” Greg said, drawing out the word, “I’ll come back and get one tomorrow, but we aren’t going directly home. We should stick to things that don’t need a fridge.”


“We’d like to get these, please,” he said to the salesgirl. “Do you have a small box?”

They walked out into the night with their culinary treasures and Greg led them under the brick archway of the bridge.

“What now?” Mycroft asked. “Get a taxi at Waterloo?”

“Not quite.” Greg headed for a door embedded in the archway.

When he saw the sign, Mycroft stopped short. ‘Gay Sauna.’ A bathhouse.

“No. Definitely not.”

“I thought we could try this for my ‘steam therapy’. Have you ever been to one?”

“God, no. Why, have you?”

“Not for about 20 years, but I thought it might be fun. We don’t have to stay if it’s awful.”

Mycroft looked around before whispering, “Anonymous sex? Are you out of your mind? Besides, I don’t want to sleep with anyone else.”

“Don’t worry, neither do I. It’d be more of a voyeuristic thing. And they do have steam rooms—I checked out their website earlier.”

“Oh, God,” Mycroft muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. “All right. But I don’t even know why I’m agreeing to this.”

“Just say the word, and we’re gone.”

They went in and paid—the entry fee included two towels and some condoms, but Greg bought them each a pair of flip-flops as well. “Honestly, you’d think they’d include these,” he said, fighting to be heard over the thump of club music, “but I suppose some people bring their own.”

Upstairs, there were a few young studs milling around the locker area wearing towels. They glanced over for a second and then returned to their conversation.

“I don’t think we’re in their target demographic,” Mycroft said.

“It doesn’t matter. We’re not here to pick them up.”

Mycroft wrapped the towel around his waist and took a fortifying breath. “I’m dragging you to the opera for this.”

“Fair enough.”

Greg had been to a bathhouse—almost twenty years before—at the request of a boyfriend. It had been fun—in a seedy, anonymous sort of way—having sex with guys you’d never see again. In some cases, you didn’t even see them while you were having sex—just hard cocks jutting through glory holes. His boyfriend had wanted a third person, someone who could spit-roast Greg with him, and they’d found an enthusiastic boy, barely out of university, more than happy to ‘help’. Greg’s boyfriend liked to show him off, and there was a rush in that, too, but when their relationship ended, he’d never gone back. Anonymous sex filled a physical need but not an emotional one, and he found the prospect depressing.

As they locked up their clothes, he leaned over to Mycroft, making sure he could be heard. “I should warn you—if it can be done with a human body, you’ll probably see it here. At least, that’s the way it used to be.”

Mycroft nodded.

They headed towards the steam rooms, extra towels in hand. It was like navigating a maze. The place was a warren of dim corridors, branching off into small rooms and cubbyholes barely big enough for two people to have sex. They passed men on their knees, sucking one another off. Others had found rooms large enough to allow more creative positions. Sometimes the doors were closed, but for the most part, everything was on display. Mycroft said nothing, but he had a ‘deer in the headlights’ look about him.

When they walked past the glory holes, Mycroft’s eyes got even bigger. A line of men knelt on the floor, their mouths stuffed full of anonymous cock shoved through the holes of the wall in front of them. The men on the other side pressed against the wall with ecstatic expressions, some of them thrusting against it desperately.

“That can’t be hygienic,” Mycroft said over the din of the music.

“Um… I’m sure they disinfect it,” Greg said, hoping it was true and wondering how he’d overlooked that sort of thing when he was younger. There’d been condoms, but still…

They passed a large, bubbling spa with two older men in it—probably closer to their age—the first they’d seen who weren’t muscle-bound twinks. The pair stopped making out long enough to look and nod acknowledgement as they walked by. Greg nodded back. It was nice to know they weren’t the only ones here out of their twenties. A train rumbled across the bridge overhead, adding to the din. The steam room, once they found it, was marginally quieter, lined with tile and smelling faintly of antiseptic chemicals. Billows of steam obscured almost everything, and he could only make out shadows of figures. Every now and then, grunts rose above the background bass line.

He’d thought it would be sexy, the two of them fucking with other people around to watch, but everyone seemed paired off and absorbed in their own activities, and the whole air of the place—the seediness and the desperation of it all—was a complete mood-killer. He looked over at Mycroft, who was making a valiant effort not to appear horrified.

“I’m really sorry, love—I don’t know what I was thinking. Want to get out of here?”

“You have no idea.”

“I really think I do,” Greg said, as they hurried back towards the changing rooms. They didn’t even bother with the showers, they just scrubbed their hands and dressed as quickly as they could.

They burst out of the place into the cool, dark night. It was blissfully quiet.

“Oh, thank God,” Greg said. “What a nightmare.”

Mycroft smiled. “It was a bit of a disaster.”

“I don’t know what I was thinking. I swear it wasn’t that bad when I was in my twenties… or maybe I just didn’t notice back then.”

“Time changes your perspective.”

“Yeah, you can say that again. Hey, the bakery’s still open—we could get one of those almond fruit tarts to take home if you want.”

“That sounds far more appealing.”

As they took a taxi back to the flat, Mycroft said, “You remember when I had the toilet remodelled last year?”

“Before I moved in, yeah?”

“Mm. Well, I also upgraded the water heater and replaced it with a tank-less one that doesn’t run out of hot water. We can fill the entire flat with steam if you want.”

“Really? And all this time I’ve been taking quick showers,” Greg joked.

“And so you should, but we can certainly abuse it every now and again.”

Later, after a very steamy shower and a bit of fooling around, they relaxed in a contemplative haze with a drink and some of the fruit tart.

“I think I’m too old for this stuff, you know,” Greg said.

“What stuff?” Mycroft asked, frowning.

“You know, the whole ‘gay lifestyle’ thing. I don’t know—it used to be a social statement, as well as who I was—but now I just want to be with you and spend time together.”

“Do you miss it?”

“No, not at all. Do you?”

“I was never in it—I spent those years with my head in a book. Coming out to my family and friends was about as radical as I got.”

“Do you ever wish you were?” Greg said.

“No. You know me—not really the clubbing type.”

“No, I suppose not. I’m really sorry about tonight. It was an awful idea.”

“Don’t apologise. Look at it this way—now that I know what I was missing, I’m even happier I missed it.”

“Skip straight to the good stuff, yeah?”

Mycroft smiled contentedly at him. “Indeed. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”