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Louis sips his tea silently as he hears Sebastian fussing about in the bedroom. Sebastian has agreed to dress up a little because Louis has decided that they are going to visit family. By which he means Albert, because regardless of the nonsense over the last few weeks, he has every intention of having everything settled neatly. So, sensibly speaking, it is only correct form that he should take his… his… Sebastian, to officially present to Albert. Falling back into line with protocol and familial expectations has always been a refuge for Louis, but this time he can also make the argument that this is formalising a new beginning; it’s even a plausible excuse this time.

Sebastian emerges from the bedroom wearing a suit and carrying a top hat and cane. Louis casts his eye over the ensemble critically. Sebastian raises a hand to nervously rake it through his hair but then stops himself; his hair has been styled and swept back, and he looks all together rather respectable as far as Louis is concerned.

 

“So, do I pass muster?”

 

Louis moves over to stand in front of Sebastian, allegedly to brush some unseen dust from the front of his jacket, and lets his hands rest there.

 

“Of course we could always….”

 

Sebastian’s wicked grin is almost enough to convince Louis. He could put this visit off, it’s not as if he’s announced that they’d be visiting today, and really- Sebastian presses a quick kiss to Louis’ forehead.

 

“We should….”

“I know, I know. Let’s go and visit your brother.”

 

When they arrive in Berkley Square they are greeted at the door and ushered into the entrance hall. Louis sees a servant hurry up the stairs and then hears, faintly, the Director’s voice.

 

“Dear, are we at home to guests?”

 

He doesn’t hear Albert’s response.

 

“Your youngest brother and his intended.”

 

Whatever signal is passed between the servants it seems that they are indeed welcome to visit and Louis hands over his own top hat while Sebastian divests himself of similar things.

 

They are ushered up the stairs and into a different bedroom to the one Louis is certain he confronted the Director in some time ago. Mycroft stands up from an armchair by the bed to greet them, offering a firm handshake to both. On the bed, Albert makes to push himself up from where he’s lying on his stomach, but then clearly winces in pain, and flops back down. Louis moves around this newly acquired, at least so Louis supposes, four poster bedframe and sees the huge bruises down the side of Albert’s leg, where his dressing-gown is pulled up.

 

“It was an accident.”

 

Mycroft Holmes, usually calm and unperturbed by the world in its entirety, is quick to explain. For long moments no one seems to know what to say next, and then they’re saved from saying much of anything by the servants rearranging chairs and a table beside the bed, and setting out tea things. Once seated Mycroft pours the tea and they all make suitably appreciative noises about it.

 

“Albert? Did….”

 

Louis isn’t sure what he’s asking.

 

“He fell off a shelf in the pantry.”

“What?”

“We do have servants.”

 

Mycroft directs that last statement at Albert.

 

“You don’t even know what’s been stored in there. Anyway, I was cleaning.”

 

Louis glances between the two of them. Mycroft pointedly sips his tea.

 

“Does look rather painful. Did you see a doctor?”

 

Sebastian addresses Albert directly and Albert waves the concern away with a familiar fluttering of fingers.

 

“Still, I can see a patch, from here at least, that looks like a… what’s the term? Blood under the skin at any rate.”

“Hematoma. They do heal by themselves.”

“Sure. But, you know, keep an eye on it.”

“I will.”

 

Louis isn’t sure if he’s at the point where he can breathe a sigh of relief at the interaction but it’s as good a place as any to make a start.

 

“Those are very fetching cufflinks.”

“Oh, these. Yeah, they’re, yeah.”

 

Albert laughs but there is, for a change, no malicious undercurrent to it.

 

“Look, I haven’t done this kind of thing since boarding school. I don’t know how to make this sort of polite conversation!”

“And which school might that have been?”

 

Mycroft asks it mildly but Louis immediately senses danger.

 

“The other place, dear. Anyway, Louis, I had been meaning to speak to you but then… well, as you see.”

“Oh?”

“I rather think that, once I’ve healed of course, we ought to have some sort of family outing.”

“That sounds lovely, big brother.”

 

Mycroft is looking down into his teacup still.

 

“What did you have in mind, dear?”

 

There’s a glint in Albert’s eye that Louis is certain nobody in this room can miss.

 

“Why, a trip to the opera!”

“I do believe that Tannhäuser is-“

“La bohème.”

“Albert.”

“No? Then if you really must watch something German how about Tristan and Isolde?”

“Absolutely not!”

“Oh.”

 

Albert pouts for a moment.

 

“Well, if I can’t come up with any good suggestions then perhaps we should put the question to our guests?”

 

Louis isn’t sure what game is being played here, but he finds that he doesn’t have to worry about answering at all, because Sebastian is quick to reply with a grin.

 

“How about La traviata?”

 

Albert’s sudden laughter makes Louis wonder if the game afoot around him actually involves Sebastian as well now.

 

“Colonel-“

“I think it’s a lovely idea!

“My dear-“

“I like Italian opera.”

 

Mycroft sighs.

 

“That’s decided then. Wonderful choice, Sebastian. I’m sure we’ll all enjoy it.”

“Well, it was only a suggestion-“

“Nonsense. You’ll sort out the arrangements, won’t you, dear?”

 

Louis watches Mycroft nod silently, looking like a man who has accepted his defeat, and is trying his best to keep what little dignity he has left.

 

They make their excuses to leave not long after and in the carriage home Louis again ponders the strange interplay that he’s seen.

 

“I don’t think I understood most of that.”

“Huh?”

“I know Albert enjoys the opera but I don’t think I’ve ever really paid too much attention to the stories. And… there was a whole other conversation going on in that room, wasn’t there?”

“Something like that, I suppose. Let’s see… The Director mentioned Tannhäuser first. That’s the one about the bard? Poet? Who falls in love with the goddess Venus and then… I’m not sure what else but that’s the main theme.”

“Curious.”

“La bohème is the one about poverty in Paris. And someone dies of consumption in the end.”

“Hmm. That doesn’t sound like something Albert would be interested in watching.”

“Yeah. That sort of story tends to play up the whole ‘joyful poor’ thing every now and again. Doesn’t really seem like Albert’s sort of thing.”

“And then there was… another German one?”

“Tristan and Isolde. Ugh, I remember reading that or at least something it was based on at school. There’s a love potion, the wrong people drink it, then they run off together and he ends up marrying someone else who has the exact same name. It’s a bit odd.”

“I can see why the Director wouldn’t like that.”

“There’s something, in a written version I’m sure, about them living off the love they have for each other in the woods and not needing food at all. Like I said; it’s really odd.”

“Then that wasn’t a serious suggestion by my brother really. What about-”

“La traviata?”

 

Sebastian rubs his neck sheepishly.

 

“Sebastian?”

“Yeah, that was….”

 

Louis waits quietly.

 

“It’s about a courtesan who falls in love with a nobleman.”

 

Louis covers his mouth with both hands.

 

“Louis, I-“

 

But even with both hands over his mouth Louis can’t hold back his laughter.

 

“Were you trying to mock Albert with that suggestion?”

“I don’t know! Talking to him is like staring down a viper; and you know that the viper is always going to win.”

“Oh, Sebastian, you are silly.”

“Well.”

“You should know that when you try to stare down Medusa you’ll always blink first.”

 

Louis reaches out and entwines their fingers in consolation. Poor Sebastian; he really should know better than to try to match veiled insults with Albert of all people.

 

“I almost forgot!”

“Oh?”

“Did you really go to Harrow?”