So my first time modding something was lots of fun - go see the art and fic up at sherlock_remix if you want to see just how much - and one of the best parts is that I got to write a story I'd been wanting to write. I do love (as anyone who read my Ben/Dean OTP verse can attest) writing original characters in fanfic, the peculiar work of creating a new addition to an established setting. Only, in this case, I hadn't come up with the main original character, Evander; he's a creation of the delightful kate_lear, made for her awesome story "Winter's Delights". I did get to make up Mateo, though, almost entirely on my own. As I explained to Kate, whose sofa I am now sitting on (!!!), I do like making my original characters differ from the canonical characters in some way, especially since the canonical characters in my source fandoms tend to be white Christian men - hence Ben's brown skin and Mateo's Jewishness.
Deep thanks have to go to Kate, for writing such an inspiring story in the first place, and to pendrecarc and ginbitch, who were so thorough and kind in their betaing and Britpicking.
Since I wrote this story, though, I can no longer say that I always write the love story of asexual Sherlock and straight John. Damn.
(D'oh! I meant to leave a note explaining that the title comes from an inversion of one of the lines of Edna St. Vincent Millay's lovely poem "Passer Mortuus Est.")
"No Bed Is Narrow"
"Dear boy," Mycroft said, affecting surprise, and Evander raised his cup to his lips to hide his smile. Every twenty-three days, Mycroft managed to procure confirmation that he was alive and well; sometimes the contact was as simple as a quick phone call during a lunch hour, and sometimes the CCTV cameras were particularly attuned to him. He knew quite well that Mycroft had a schedule worked out to allow him to keep tabs on all of the cousins, their partners, their parents, and their progeny. He was willing to bet that Sherlock got a daily dose.
It was a little stifling – he'd once had to cut short a gorgeous time with a charming bit of deliciousness called Victor in the south of France just to be in London on the correct day – but no doubt Mycroft meant well; Evander would never tell him that he'd worked out his precious calendar.
And, really, it was just far more efficient to simply have his morning mocha soy latte at a café Mycroft favoured (they still used real butter in their pastry crusts) than to kick up any kind of fuss.
"Mycroft!" he said, not bothering to widen his eyes in spurious surprise. "Do join me."
"I shouldn't," Mycroft demurred, even as he sat at the small table. He shivered a bit; it was rather late in the year for outdoor seating, but Evander hadn't wanted Mycroft to miss him.
"A nice double-shot espresso will warm you right up," he said, beckoning a waitress over.
But Mycroft evidently had news to impart, and a quick espresso would not suit. In a matter of moments, a pot of Earl Grey and a small plate of cakes were on the table. Evander lingered over his own drink, considering. Mycroft would never have allowed his pleasure to be so evident if it were a matter having to do with his work; Evander didn't know exactly what Mycroft did, only that it was terribly important and brought him a satisfaction that rendered personal relationships outside the familial structure completely moot, so his private life was likewise out of the question. Ah, so that meant it had to be about a family member, but Mycroft usually surveilled the triplets the day before Evander's turn rolled around, and when he'd spoken with Bedivere just last night, no news had been forthcoming.
Mycroft fussed briefly with the tea service, doling out lumps of sugar with great precision. "Sherlock," he said, between dropping lump one and lump two into his cup, "has found a partner."
"That flatmate of his?" Evander asked. Bedivere had mentioned that the man kept a blog and that Sherlock popped off the screen like a superhero. "Sherlock's allowing someone else to share his work?" He never thought he'd live to see the day that Stringbean admitted that he wanted or needed an ally.
"Not just his work," Mycroft said significantly, demolishing a chocolate éclair with quick bites.
"No!" he said, but the satisfaction gleaming in Mycroft's eyes was hard to doubt. He leaned forward, avid for news. "Tell me everything."
He thought, from the silence that followed, that Mycroft was going to be coy, but that made no sense given that he'd started the conversation in the first place. Evander helped himself to half of the millefeuille and waited. "He's a good man," Mycroft finally said, and that was his last word on the subject.
As if that was going to be enough. It was as if Mycroft didn't know him at all.
Evander got back to his office, slipped on his noise-cancelling headphones, and clicked on the link Bedivere had sent. The man hadn't bothered to disguise any of the names, and his own was there in full at the top of the screen; surely Sherlock's work demanded a bit more secrecy than that?
Still, it made for entertaining reading, and tracking the progress Dr. Watson – John, for he stood on no ceremony in his writing - made from bored and alone to awed and exasperated by his new flatmate was better than reading any romance novel; the emotions that peeked through John's descriptions of their adventures were clearly real. Already that put him well up on that nasty twat Sebastian, and the doctor earned bonus points for calling Sherlock "spectacularly ignorant" - Evander would have given up his periwinkle basket-weave silk tie to see Sherlock's reaction to that.
He was plotting ways to "accidentally" bump into Sherlock and his new man - frustrating, since Sherlock was ever so much more mercurial than Mycroft - when his phone lit up. Slipping the headphones off, he picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Good morning, dearest," drawled a voice tinged with the slightest bit of an American accent.
"Auntie O!" he cried. "Are you back already?"
"Scarcely had time to miss me, did you?" she asked, laughing. "Travel's so much quicker these days, you don't feel like you need to endure a Grand Tour just to make the journey worth your while."
"And how was New York?"
"Much as I left it," she said.
"Painted red," they chorused.
"It's my turn to host Christmas this year, and you're going to come down, tell me all about the beauties you're shagging, and help me decorate," she said.
"Tit for tat? You'll tell me about all the pretty things you've been keeping company with?"
"My, but that sounds sedate. Heaven forbid you've turned boring, Evander."
"I suppose you don't want to hear the latest about Sherlock?" he asked artfully, knowing very well that any mention of their odd little duckling would pique her interest.
"You devious boy, you're as wicked as ever, and I take it back. What's the news about Sherlock?"
"He'll need a plus-one for Christmas, darling," Evander said, satisfaction rolling through him at her gasp. He found himself nodding even though she couldn't see him. "I know. Hallelujah."
"There you are," Parker said, materialising next to him like magic as he walked through the gate at the village train station.
"I didn't even call you!" Evander protested, unable to keep Parker from seizing his luggage or playing the faithful old family retainer to the hilt. "How many spies do you have hiding in this idyllic hamlet, anyway?"
"Yes, my life's all non-stop Hot Fuzz action," Parker agreed amiably, swinging the leather hold-all and the garment bag into the boot of his scrupulously clean car. "Pity they dropped you on your head so many times as a baby, Mr. E."
"'Mr. E,'" Evander scoffed. "As if you've just stepped from the pages of Emma." It was both invigorating and relaxing to have the same conversation with Parker that he'd had since he first started running down from London on his own, just after his uni days. "How would you know how many times they dropped me?"
Parker grinned at him in the rearview mirror. "It's possible I might've done the dropping once or twice."
Evander laughed and settled back comfortably in the seat.
"Two days early! How did you make your escape?" Auntie O asked, handing him a glass of sherry.
He closed his eyes, trying not to recall the state of the runway when he'd left - littered with the detritus of the last show, accessories in need of mending in messy clumps everywhere, and music, as always, pounding out of the giant speakers. "I just said I had family obligations." He opened his eyes to smile at her. Really, the old girl had no business flitting around the globe like she was still twenty; he could see a few new lines on her face.
"Don't eye me like you think I need to be fitted for a walker, darling, not when you're shedding weight like it's water," Auntie O said. "Now, I was thinking of putting Sherlock and his young man in the Arabian room, seeing as he's quite the Scheherezade. Father will have the French room, of course, and Mother the Indonesian. What about you - where would you like to sleep?"
It wasn't that he hadn't realised he was losing weight, but it was a surprise to be called on the carpet for it. "It's not deliberate, Auntie, just a little too much stress at work. I'm rather peckish now, if that helps?"
"Then I'll put you in the Austrian room, and you can snack on Mozartkugeln. Shall we?"
They climbed the stairs and headed for the room, red and cream with gilt accents everywhere. Evander sank down on the luxurious four-poster bed and unwrapped one of the sweets piled high in a glass dish. "Delicious," he said around the mouthful of chocolate and marzipan, and Auntie O smiled.
"Yes," he said, "this will suit me nicely." He'd just remembered that Auntie O had done up the rooms alphabetically, never mind the merry hell that played with geography; his Austrian room was next door to Sherlock's Arabian quarters. "One more for the road," he said, slipping another sweet into his pocket; "now come on, we've got a house to decorate."
Evander was quite sure that Auntie O had waited until he was trapped by the skeins of fairy lights he was trying to untangle before she asked, carefully, "The weight loss isn't because of Richard, is it?"
He didn't have to feign shock. "Richard was ages ago. It's just work - with all the new lines coming out, and all the models in and out of rehab like the clinics have revolving doors - things have been hectic. The closest I've come to being chatted up in months is the barista asking if I wanted soy or almond milk in my latte."
She cupped his cheek fondly as he worked the last knots out of the strings of lights. "There. White lights, I think, in the conservatory, so as not to clash with the flowers. None at all in the hall, but we can put mistletoe up, even if Sherlock will only scowl at it."
"I do hope his young man is good-looking," Auntie O mused aloud. "I could hardly keep my dinner down last time, thinking of what that Sebastian tosser's teeth must look like close up." She shuddered delicately. "I'll have to get the Arabian room ready for the boys."
"Auntie O," he said, dropping the strings of coloured lights back in the box, "you just leave that to me."
"For luck, darling," she said as she handed him two large boxes, "you should take some as well."
He opened the box of condoms in the Arabian room, dumping the contents on the bed. He sorted through the brightly-coloured foil packets, tossing those that were orange, rose, turquoise, and amethyst into the drawer of the nightstand. Those that didn't match the pillows and cushions went back into the box; he did love it when all the details were properly coordinated.
The tubes of lubricant were more plainly packaged, but he selected a good variety of flavours, hoping the doctor wasn't going to be shy.
He brought the leftovers from both boxes back to his room, where Mrs. Waring was busily employed in turning down the bed. She looked at the boxes in his hands and raised an eyebrow at him as if to say you're incorrigible. If only.
"Am I actually living vicariously through Sherlock?" he asked, struck by a pang of envy.
"Lord, Evander," she said, plumping his pillows for maximum fluffiness, "that's no good. You need to find yourself a nice young man."
He threw himself on the bed and groaned into one of the pillows. "Too right I do."
Aunt Bella nearly came to grief on the black-and-white marble floor of the foyer, slick with water as everyone tracked in the snow that had suddenly started coming down in massive clumps. Uncle Gideon saved her, though, and even managed to turn that near-disaster into an impromptu dance, waltzing his wife to safety and then kissing her thoroughly under the mistletoe.
"Ev!" she said when she'd got her breath back, though she was still smiling rather dazedly at her husband. "Have you met him? What's he like?"
"Haven't you?" he asked, disappointed, as he kissed them both hello. "I thought you must've met John by now. Mycroft has."
"Ah, is Mycroft here already?" Uncle Gideon asked, his face lighting up.
"Yes, and he's being most inconveniently close-mouthed," Evander grumbled.
"The boy does like his secrets," Grandfather boomed behind him, and Evander would never fathom how Grandfather moved his bulk so stealthily. He forbore from asking, or from mentioning that this was the clearest case in recorded history of a pot calling a kettle black; even the original kitchen goods could not have competed with that pronouncement. "Nothing to do but wait and meet this Dr. Watson for ourselves," Grandfather said, clapping Evander heartily on the back.
"And in the meantime," Auntie O chimed in, having drifted down the stairs, "let's all get sloshed."
Dr. John H. Watson was gorgeous.
He was trim and neat-handed, his face was expressive and honest, and he was wearing a smile that seemed to bubble up without his express permission.
And he dressed like - well, perhaps Sherlock had managed to destroy all of the poor man's decent clothes in some mad experiment, and it was down to either the outfit he had on or ancient pyjamas with holes in them. Yes, that had to be it.
He watched as Mycroft shepherded the doctor toward various relations every time Sherlock was called away. Evander found his reluctant suspicions growing; John moved as if he were actually accustomed to wearing those hideous garments. Surely, surely that was simply proof of a much more elaborate scheme on Sherlock's part, to keep his lover in unflattering garb so that no one else would snatch him up?
It was the best Evander could hope for. It wouldn't have been the maddest thing Sherlock had ever done, either. The great Milk Teeth Experiment, for one, leapt to mind.
Mycroft finally deigned to remember Evander's extremely reasonable request that he meet Sherlock's lover sooner rather than later, and presented the man to him. Up close, Evander could make out all the gorgeous details he'd been missing from his covert glances, the things Mycroft would never have dreamt of spelling out. John had lines on his face, marks of character that were unusually appealing. His delighted smile was actually a little crooked, tinged with ruefulness, shining out of a face that glittered with the beginnings of a golden stubble. And, given that they were the same height, it was easy to discover that John had the loveliest eyes Evander had seen in ages, dark blue with shadings of hazel in their depths.
John had wrapped Mel's scarf of great hideousness around one forearm, the better to negotiate its excessive length, and perhaps it was simply catching glimpses of it out of the corners of his eyes that made John look so suddenly apprehensive. Poor dear boy - meeting the family en masse must be rather trying - so Evander did his best to chatter about things of little consequence.
John appeared to have a hard time following the conversation; GQ was clearly not subject to his regular perusal, so Evander trusted to that genuine smile and steered the discussion to more personal considerations, namely that dull beige shirt John was sporting. One hand on John's pleasantly muscled arm and he was leaning closer, smelling soap and clean skin, a delicious scent in this crowded room. That shirt had to go, even if John associated the colour with his service in the RAMC. Evander shivered delightedly at the reminder that this was a soldier in front of him, soft eyes notwithstanding, and wondered if Sherlock ever counted his blessings.
Perhaps the best way to get through to John was the same frankness he was used to getting from Sherlock. "You're just not doing yourself justice. Turn, please." As John began to turn obediently, Evander quickly flipped up the tails of John's jacket and murmured, "Oh, yes." The man had an arse that should never have been allowed anywhere near the line of fire, inspiring though the sight must have been to his fellow soldiers.
Even when indignant, John didn't lose that gentle demeanour, and Evander was charmed beyond belief. "Oh, John, you have to let me take you shopping. It's a crime to hide yourself under what you're wearing now."
He forestalled John's modest protests with a shake of his head and the unvarnished truth. "Nothing too extreme, just working with what you've already got. Think casual elegance, think . . . James Bond." It wasn't that much of a stretch; he knew from reading John's blog, even more from the history that John had modestly left unspoken, that the man was brave and capable and thrived on danger.
And he was capable of flushing pink like a schoolboy. The slow dawning of colour in his cheeks lent a charm even to his distressingly unbecoming clothes, suggesting that he'd be quite a bit more fetching out of them. Lucky Sherlock. Evander sought to cool himself off a bit and snagged a few tall glasses from a passing waiter.
It didn't work, if only because the waiter was enough to heat his immediate vicinity and demanded more than one quick look. Clear olive skin, a thick shock of hair, and eyes like dark velvet - Evander took his time appreciating the view and felt the slow drag of an answering gaze on his own skin. The waiter smiled and headed back to the kitchen, and Evander sipped his drink and watched him go. He turned back to John only to discover the doctor virtually cheering him on; the sense of how much he liked this man hit him hard, and he leaned in closer to John.
John abandoned his near-military superb posture to mirror him, both of them hunched together conspiratorially, listening thoughtfully to the well-versed litany of complaints the family had compiled against Sebastian. There was no defensiveness or jealousy in John's steady gaze, and Evander mentally awarded him all the bonus points in the universe for not only guessing Mycroft's solution and its repercussions but also sounding steadfastly attached to Sherlock anyway.
He looked at the tip of John's adorable nose, took in his composed face and the easy movements of his deft hands, and allowed himself to wonder, just for a moment, what would have happened if he'd met John first.
Ah, but Sherlock would still have been coming over, his entire body taut with tension, and wanting to pull John away. Evander was not about to stand in the way of either one of them, though he did wait to see John look apologetically at him over his shoulder.
He drained his glass and set off for the kitchen, where a devilishly handsome man would be waiting, if any of Sherlock's luck had rubbed off on him.
Of course, he wasn't. Waiting, that was. He was working quickly and calmly, clearly checking things off a mental checklist; Evander sagged helplessly against the wall of the kitchen and watched as if the man were deliberately undoing him by catering to his kink for competence.
No one was paying any attention to them, and Evander wondered briefly what it might be like to have the swift, certain movements of those strong-fingered hands be an everyday sight. He edged a bit closer to the worktop. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Mateo," the man said, setting down his flashing knife and starting to count out tiny forks and napkins for his next pass through the Great Room. His eyelashes were unbelievable, actually casting shadows on the pretty planes of his face.
Evander grinned, having got his bearings back, and leaned in closer to whisper knowingly, "Christened Matthew?" The number of models he'd seen with their plain English names "exoticised" couldn't be counted on the hands of everyone in attendance.
But Mateo smirked in turn and pinned him with clear brown eyes that snapped from limpid to incisive in a moment. "Jewish, darling," he breathed, lips close enough to brush Evander's cheek in the most tantalising way; "not christened at all."
Evander was still reeling from the man's teasing tone and the sensation of those spectacular eyelashes trailing against his cheek when Mateo spun on his heel and bellowed, "Jas! The kale-and-leek tarts are going fast!" Evander looked up to see a grin splitting Uncle Jasper's lean face.
True to form, Uncle Jas said nothing, but the way he pointed at Mateo and frowned Evander out of the kitchen meant that there was work to be done and Evander had no business distracting his protégé.
So Mateo had talent too. That was all to the good. He backed away slowly, watching Mateo chop a bunch of green herbs and scatter them into a pan of sauce bubbling on the cooktop, then taste it, the rich redness of it clinging to his lips.
Uncle Nicolai and Aunt Lucretia were skulking near the kitchen door, but since they'd given him up as a lost cause decades ago, they affected not to see him. He was more than fine with that, brushing by them with nothing more than a polite nod, and found himself facing Minerva and Melliflua.
Min was as far into the party spirit as she ever got, meaning she allowed herself a vulgarity every other sentence, but Mel was as casual as ever; he'd know the hand giving his arse a friendly pat hello anywhere just by the distinctive shape of the ring she wore on her thumb. "Hallo, Ev," Mel said, sipping at her tonic water with lemon and black pepper. She shook her dreadlocks back and got a good look at him. "Bloody hell, you've dropped at least a stone since I last saw you! What's the matter?"
"That's his own damn business," Min said, her nose slightly pink from the wine.
"Darlings," he said, slipping an arm around each of them, "nothing's the matter. Everything's fine, work's just been busy." He waited until Min guzzled the last of her wine before asking, "Now tell me what you thought of John."
"Adorable!" Mel said. "And so polite -"
"Yes, when did you learn to knit?"
"Oh, I had to - just to get Sherlock back for the summer he stole all my frogs. I wonder what he thinks of the scarf I made John?"
"That wasn't fair of you, Mel," Min chided, though her tone was fond. "Putting that nice man in the middle of your bloody childhood feud - likely Sherlock doesn't even remember it." She frowned at the depths of her empty glass. "No, that's not true. Likely he doesn't think he did any damn thing wrong, so he wouldn't be expecting your counterattack." She pitched forward, her nose in her sister's hair, giggling. "Bloody brilliant of you, Mel."
Mel laughed too, and she poked at Evander's belly. "Admit it! It was a stroke of genius on my part!"
Evander danced a little to evade her finger. "The two of you need a lie-down," he said, mock-sternly, which only set them off more. Auntie O came up behind him and pulled him back into a hug. He rested a hand on top of her arm, looped around his shoulders. "All's well," he promised, and she dropped a kiss on his cheek before flitting off. When he turned to watch her go, wondering if she'd needed something, he saw Mateo, offering another round of hors d'oeuvres and looking back at him.
He started when Mel poked him again, drawing his attention back to her. She opened her mouth, doubtless to ask about Mateo, but before she could get a word out, Mycroft wandered over as if he had no ulterior motive whatsoever for seeking out their company. Mycroft's first words put paid to that, though. "I do believe that Mrs. Waring will be pounding away enthusiastically at the dinner gong shortly," he said, frowning as if he himself hadn't banged gleefully at the gong every time his turn came round during summer hols. "I wouldn't like Sherlock to skip another meal, but since the sight of him attempting to swallow Dr. Watson's tongue holds little appeal for me, I was hoping I might ask you to fetch them for dinner."
"Ooh! Me too!" Mel said, still giggling, and with that she transferred Min to Mycroft's sure grip, seized Evander by the hand, and dragged him off.
"Bugger me," Mel said under her breath when they reached the conservatory. John was perched on the edge of one of the benches, legs spread to accommodate Sherlock's skinny body, which was wedged firmly in place. They were kissing so fiercely, bound so tightly together that Evander suspected that what Mycroft had described - Sherlock attempting to claim John's tongue for his own - had already happened and they were on round two, in which John launched an attack to wrest it back.
John's hair looked divinely soft, curling gently around Sherlock's long, pale fingers, and one of them was making the most desperate, ragged-sounding moans Evander had heard since his frolic with Victor on the French shore. God, they were lovely together.
John's hands dropped to Sherlock's arse, attempting to pull him closer still, an outcome that would violate all known laws of physics. Mel's elbow hit him in the ribs, and he cleared his throat softly, not wanting to break up the scene. He was quite content to wait until oxygen became a pressing issue for them, but Mel, going pinker by the millisecond, stepped decidedly on his hand-stitched brogue with one of her industrial-strength Doc Martens. Evander cleared his throat again, and Sherlock and John sprang apart. At least their heads did; John's legs were wound firmly round Sherlock's waist, and Sherlock's hands continued mapping out John's precious posterior.
Evander nearly laughed when he saw what Sherlock was close to tangling his fingers in. Mel's garish scarf was cushioning John's bottom, and the sight steadied his voice enough for him to speak. "Sorry to interrupt, but Mycroft asked us to come and find you to tell you that dinner is served. He didn't want to come himself; he said there were some things that he really didn't need to see."
Sherlock wasn't fooling anyone with his attempt at nonchalance. "We'll be there in a minute."
It was clearly meant as a dismissal, but the atmosphere was practically humming with emotion. "You know," Evander said, "you're very sweet, the two of you. Together all these months, and you still kiss like it's the first time."
John, still moony-eyed, smiled at that, but Sherlock snapped, "Bugger off, Ev. Aren't there some waiters you need to sexually harass?"
Before Mel could join in and gang up on him, Evander winked and spun a fantastic story. "Already done, darling – I've got a little rendezvous for after dinner. If I get half so lucky as that scarf, I'll be doing well."
Mel snorted at that, then tried to conceal her giggles behind her hands, while Evander wished that he had a camera to capture the faces Sherlock and John were making, the most fascinating blends of sheepish, aroused, and amused.
Mrs. W was really going to town on the dinner gong, and Evander smiled, knowing that if she had her way, Auntie O's house would be packed to the rafters with family every weekend.
Aunt Bella grabbed him to sit by her at dinner, and of course Uncle Gideon wasn't going to sit anywhere but with his wife. "So?" she asked, settling back and tearing into Uncle Jas's rosemary bread once she saw Mycroft, Sherlock, and John near the other end of the table Grandfather had bought Auntie O when she got her First. "He's shy, can you believe it! He went pink when I mentioned that he might call me 'Mum'! How a boy that sweet-hearted has put up with Sherlock's moods for this long I'll never know."
"He's a soldier, Bella," Uncle Gideon reminded her. "And Sherlock seemed easier around him; maybe there aren't as many moods to put up with." Grandmother, sitting across the table, snorted in disbelief, and Aunt Bella and Uncle Gideon broke into laughter at the sound.
Evander hadn't noticed that Sherlock was any more easy-going, though being interrupted in the middle of a kiss that spectacular was bound to rile even the most mild-mannered. He looked over and saw Sherlock attempting to eat one-handed, his other hand no doubt cutting off John's circulation with a crushing grip on his thigh. Sherlock had always been territorial and possessive, but there was no precedent for the softness on his face as he murmured into John's ear, clearly not even seeing anyone else at the table.
That was one of the best parts of being in love, that sense of the two of you against the world. John had to be tremendously special to have kept Sherlock, who had the attention span of a toddler, fascinated and marvelling for so long. Evander owned to himself that he missed that feeling.
Galahad, sitting just to his left, passed him a dish. It was that red sauce - tomatoes and herbs and who knew what else - he'd last seen clinging to Mateo's lips. Suddenly, he was ravenous.
He ate his way steadily through all of the courses that had been translated from Uncle Jas's mind through Mateo's skilful hands, putting away nearly as much as the triplets combined. It was just all so good, so very much what he needed, and he was only egged along by Aunt Bella's exclamations over the vibrant colours of the meal.
One last mouthful of creamy potatoes and he pushed his plate away, stuffed so thoroughly that he felt incapable of movement. It looked like he was the only one, though; he watched Auntie O take advantage of the general shuffle to engage Sherlock and John in conversation. He couldn't make out a word of what she was saying, but he saw John go still in the way embarrassed children did, believing their stillness rendered them invisible, and then, to his utter amazement, she managed to say something that got Sherlock to blush furiously. Evander's jaw dropped, even as Auntie O turned unerringly to drop him a conspiratorial wink. He felt a gentle finger on his jaw, guiding it shut. "My sister's always had a mouth like a sailor," Uncle Gideon reminded him. "No doubt Sherlock's just been reacquainted with that fact." His voice turned thoughtful. "Or perhaps she was just giving him tips on sexual technique."
Evander made a small noise of protest; Uncle Gideon had always been one of the reliably sane ones in the family, and to have that taken away was dizzying. "Not you -"
"Oh, there's no one here who really fits the bill of well-adjusted and normal, Ev. Not even that nice boy Sherlock brought home, or the one who's been eating you up with his eyes."
Evander had to clear his throat three times before his voice would emerge properly. "Mateo? Do you know him?"
Uncle Gideon took a long swallow of his spiced wine, looking thoughtful. "Only what Jasper's told me. Apparently he runs a restaurant of his own, but insisted that he'd never have got his start without Jas, so he closed up shop for the night and came here to cook for us." He laughed his quiet laugh, pale kind eyes sweeping over the extended family. "And he'd heard enough about all of us that he asked to work as a waiter, too, just to catch glimpses of us in our natural habitat. But we're more . . . varied than any nature special, don't you think?"
Evander took the offered glass and finished off the wine. "Absolutely, Uncle Gideon. You've said a mouthful."
Sherlock and John were nowhere to be found - randy as goats, the pair of them, lucky bastards - when charades got underway. Evander, still stuffed to the gills, declined every drink the fair-haired waitress offered and determinedly did not wonder what Mateo could be up to. In the silence that fell before Grandfather began acting out his clue, though, he could hear running water in the kitchen and imagined Mateo up to his slim wrists in soapy water, washing the mountains of dishes they'd used.
He leaned against Auntie O, each of them supporting the other, and tried to focus on the charades. Grandfather was making some extraordinarily opaque gestures with his fingers, frowning in concentration. "Bean!" Mel shouted, somehow managing to be heard above the din, and Grandfather tapped his nose solemnly.
Evander poked Mel in the side. "How does this -" he mimicked Grandfather's movements "- mean 'bean' to you?"
"I was just shouting things randomly, honestly," she admitted, grinning up at him. "Oh, Lord, what on earth is he doing now?"
The triplets were giggling helplessly as Grandfather made his face a perfect blank and threw himself about with the vigour of an interpretive dance enthusiast. Grandmother's eyes were dancing in her carefully composed face, and Auntie O was shaking with laughter. Evander couldn't even begin to guess what these exertions were meant to convey, only catching on after Grandfather ceased his acrobatics and gestured with finality. "Nothing," Evander guessed, and Grandfather stopped moving altogether to beam fondly down at him.
"'Bean' and 'nothing'?" Aunt Bella asked, sounding confused. And tipsy.
"Being and Nothingness," Grandmother said, and Grandfather boomed out his laugh. "Sartre," she added, as if that explained everything. "Evander, it's your turn, darling."
He scrambled up off the floor and stood at the front of the room, fingers fishing in the silk tophat that Auntie O had cherished in her Marlene phase. Looking at the dozens of pairs of bright eyes looking back at him, he couldn't help smiling; odd as his family could be, he'd needed this time with them, had thought longingly of it while he was overworked and run ragged. He pulled a slip of paper from the hat and raised an eyebrow - Auntie O must have been feeling awfully meta as she made up the clues. He shook his head disapprovingly at her and she grinned back, completely unencumbered by shame.
He danced a few steps, trying to remember which of his cousins had had dance lessons. The triplets had charmed their way out of any such activity, and Min and Mel were notoriously unable to walk in straight lines even while sober. Ah! Mycroft and Sherlock had had lessons, though Sherlock had managed to persuade his parents that he'd rather be making music than dancing to it. And Sherlock was currently occupied by an entirely different sort of dance, so Evander focused on Mycroft, who was sitting with his arm around his mother, and willed him to recognise the basic step.
1-2-1-2-3 he counted off in his head, watching understanding slowly dawning on Mycroft's face. "I believe that's the cha-cha," Mycroft finally said, smiling as Aunt Bella squeezed him affectionately, and Evander threw in a little hip shimmy to indicate that that was correct. He tapped fingers against his arm. "That was just the first syllable," Mycroft noted. "Very well. Second and final syllable?"
"It's 'charades'!" Min said, her head in her sister's lap. "Auntie O, really?"
"She just wanted a reason for me to dance," Evander said as he made his way back to his spot on the floor, giving an encore performance of his hip shimmy, this time with bonus arse-waggle.
"My eyes, my eyes!" protested Lancelot, only to be tackled by his brothers. There was an unfamiliar note in the laughter that followed, and Evander looked up to see Mateo leaning against the far wall, arms crossed against his chest, looking purely happy.
"I could tell you that the snowfall means that I'm not going anywhere without digging out my car," Mateo said, one corner of his mouth curving tentatively upwards, "but that's not the whole truth."
Still shivering from not being under the covers of his bed anymore, Evander tried to process that this - a beautiful man standing outside his bedroom door, stripped down to his undershirt and trousers - was reality; it had been entirely too long. "What's the rest, then?" he asked, looking at Mateo's exhausted face.
"You're here, so that's where I want to be," Mateo said, still looking a bit fidgety.
Evander was feeling more than a little skittish himself, blindsided by this unexpected gift. God bless Auntie O and Uncle Jas, really. He hauled Mateo in by his plain white t-shirt and got his arms round him. He smelled like oranges and dill and almonds, and his neck was warm against Evander's cheek. Mateo relaxed slowly against him, and Evander let himself smile, wondering if Mateo could feel it against his throat.
Of course, for Mateo to feel it, he'd have to be awake.
Evander sighed and started hauling Mateo, heavy and more than halfway lost to sleep, toward the bed. Mateo's t-shirt rode up a little, exposing a strip about a hand-span wide of the small of his back, and his skin, Evander discovered, was like velvet, absolutely an indulgence to touch.
Evander got them both under the covers and turned out the lights. He tucked himself up against Mateo and felt Mateo shift closer in his sleep, seeking warmth.
An alarm going off right next to his ear woke him what seemed like minutes later. Mateo shifted restlessly against him, fumbling with the buttons on his watch and then freezing when he saw Evander. "Ah, sorry, sorry," Mateo said. "I'd be getting ready to hit the markets if I were back in London." He rubbed wearily at his eyes. "D'you have a phone I could use? And a toothbrush?"
Evander passed him his phone and headed to the ensuite. While he was brushing his teeth, he wandered out of the room and down the hall to the little Renaissance-style bathroom in search of an extra toothbrush. It was early enough that the house was entirely still and silent except for him.
And Mateo, who was finishing up his conversation with a "thanks, mate," in a sleep-roughened tone that made Evander consider the advantages to being an early riser. He tossed the toothbrush at Mateo and pointed to the bathroom. "Won't be a minute," Mateo mumbled, scratching idly at his flat belly as he went.
"Are those Mozartkugeln?" Mateo asked when he emerged from the bathroom.
Evander nodded warily, waiting to see if Mateo would resist making the inevitable balls joke. Apparently he was made of sterner stuff, because Mateo simply tossed one to him and unwrapped one for himself. "Oh, damn," Mateo said, settling back on the bed, looking anything but put out. "I'd meant to kiss you first, but these are just irresistible."
"And I'm . . .?" Evander asked, deceptively mild.
"Even better," Mateo said promptly, then laughed. His dark head and white teeth fairly glowed against the red wall, and Evander only had a finite amount of self-control. Mateo's mouth was slick from water and sweet from chocolate, and hot, so very hot and delicious against his. It was a chaste kiss for all that, just two mouths slightly open to each other, and as he pulled back he saw Mateo's lips curve into a decided smile.
"I didn't mean to wake you so early," Mateo said. "But since I'm up I should start breakfast."
"We never do proper breakfast on Christmas morning," Evander said, from somewhere in the vicinity of Mateo's collarbone.
"But nobody went home because of the snow, so you might very well this year. Let me up, Evander, so I can help Jas."
"Besides, I can see that I'm going to need to feed you up," Mateo said, drawing one strong hand down Evander's spine in the most delightful way. "You've no meat on your bones at all."
"Go then," Evander said. "I'll just lie here in my big soft bed, lazing around -"
He was interrupted first by Mateo's laughter and then by a pleased moan from the next bedroom. "Definitely my cue to leave," Mateo said. "I've not yet been introduced to these people while they're wearing clothes, so I certainly shouldn't know what they sound like when they aren't." He slipped on the pale-green pullover at the top of Evander's hold-all and disappeared.
Evander lay back, feeling his eyes growing heavy again. He was just drifting off when he heard a rising tide of moans coming from Sherlock's room, clearly from Sherlock's throat. Ah, he knew John had serious skills, if he could render his obnoxiously articulate cousin wordless for long minutes at a time. The moans lost voice, descending into breathy gasps, and then, suddenly, Sherlock screamed like a banshee and Evander's already high estimation of John went through the roof.
He had no idea Sherlock could hit notes like that without his violin. No doubt Mateo would prove similarly inspiring, Evander thought, and he started to warm up his voice. He was singing easy arpeggios when a naughty thought popped into mind, a small and minor revenge for the pair of them driving Mateo out of his bed. He picked up his phone, which Mateo had left on the bedside table, and texted John. Merry Christmas, John. If you ever get tired of my high-maintenance cousin, then this is my number. Do give me a call! EH. He considered for a moment, then deemed it too subtle and decided to throw caution to the wind. PS – tell Dave I said Merry Christmas too. EH. He grinned, satisfied with a job well done, and headed downstairs for breakfast and an eyeful of the chef.
Mateo had just left after delivering a pot of Earl Grey, a basket of pastries, and a couple of shy kisses when John walked into the dining room. He went pink the moment their eyes met, and Evander thought smugly that he hadn't lost his touch.
"Good morning, John. Been up long?"
"Oh, God," John said, burying his face in his hands even as his quivering shoulders gave away his silent laughter. "What will it take to make you forget what you heard?"
"No, no. I won't speak of it again. Maybe. To you, anyway. But maybe to Sherlock." It was rather hilarious to watch hope bloom and die on John's face with each sentence. "Honestly," he said, raising his cup, "well played, darling."
John pulled a wry face and hoisted his own cup. "To similar success in all our future endeavours." He took a small sip and sighed with pleasure. "Hang on to that one, Evander. He makes a mean cuppa."
Evander started. Yes, John had seen him eyeing Mateo-the-waiter up, but he'd been glued to Sherlock's side and couldn't have seen Mateo-the-chef or Mateo-the-bed-partner. "How did you even -"
John shrugged, as if omniscience were nothing remarkable.
Evander wondered if Sherlock had any sense of the hidden depths to this man, who was blissfully sipping tea in a hideous jumper that added ten pounds to his compact frame.
A second pot of tea was on the table next to a fresh basket of pastries when one of the triplets ambled in, looking vaguely surprised to be up so early. "Morning, Galahad," John said cheerfully, raising his cup in greeting.
Galahad stopped dead in his tracks, wide eyes silently asking Evander how John had known which one he was. Evander shrugged, accustomed by now to the special skills John Watson had to hand, but Galahad was too spooked to stay in the room with them. He snatched a scone from the basket and darted back upstairs.
Evander heard the rumble of a low voice and guessed that Galahad had met someone coming down the stairs. A moment later, Sherlock entered, covered in glory and embarrassment; John smiled radiantly at him and Sherlock moved to press a clumsy kiss to the top of his head.
John nodded at Sherlock, who took a deep breath and spoke. "I am sorry that I might have woke you up rather early this mor - no, wait," he interrupted himself, his eyes narrowed, "you were already awake and sent those damn texts just to incite me!"
"Sherlock," John said, stroking Sherlock's arm soothingly even though his voice betrayed his desire to laugh, "think of the texts as a standing ovation. Nothing more. Evander has no intention of seducing me."
Sherlock turned to Evander, clearly waiting for affirmation of that last statement. Evander took a long, leisurely sip of tea instead, and Sherlock leveled a malevolent gaze at him.
"And," John continued, grasping Sherlock's chin and turning his head back toward him by force, "I have no intention of sleeping with Evander. Or anybody other than you."
Sherlock's eyes fairly blazed with triumph as he bent his head to give John a thorough kiss. He raised his head and licked his lips. "Mmmm." The taste of John's mouth seemed to have offered a reminder of another pressing need. "Tea," he said. "John, I need tea."
"What a pity that only Evander and I have some, then," John said imperturbably.
Evander laughed outright at the disbelieving expression on Sherlock's face. "John, darling," he said, clinking mugs with the man, "welcome to the family."
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.