Actions

Work Header

Sinking the Land

Work Text:

cover

Three weeks ago, Mycroft Holmes picked Lestrade up outside New Scotland Yard and made him an offer he'd been unable to refuse, despite his best judgement. Mycroft had sucked his cock, dropped him off at home, and Lestrade hadn't heard a word from him since.

Now, the door of the black car swung open as Lestrade drew level with it. He could just see Mycroft's profile, hawkish nose and shallow chin limned by the orange glow of the streetlight.

Lestrade rested his arm along the top of the open door and bent down. "Thought you changed your mind," he said.

"I've been away. Have you had adequate time to consider my proposal?"

"I think it's fair to say I've given it some consideration, yeah."

"If you're concerned about becoming emotionally attached, I assure you, it won't be an issue. I estimate six to nine months before the novelty wears off and you wish to move on."

"I should get home," Lestrade said. What he meant was: You have a nice smile and you're pretty funny when you forget to be serious, and I like you too much to have casual sex with you. Again. "It's late."

"It's later in Baghdad," Mycroft said.

"Is that where you've been?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

"Why unfortunately?"

"It was, as I predicted, a wasted trip. Get in the car, Lestrade."

"All right. Holmes."

The look of mild outrage on Mycroft's face was amusing, but only momentarily. As it faded, the dark circles under his eyes became more obvious.

"Why wasted?" Lestrade asked. If they were going to do this, he'd push it as far as he could.

"You must know I can't tell you. Why ask?"

Lestrade shrugged. "To see what you'll say."

Mycroft slid a hand between his legs, rubbing slowly, watching him. Lestrade fought to keep his eyes open and his jaw tight. He didn't want to give in, didn't want to show how much this got to him, just this small touch and intent, assessing look.

"An associate convinced certain people that I would find relevant information there," Mycroft said. "I was obligated to go. The information, as I expected, did not materialise."

"Relevant to what?" Lestrade managed.

"Our current operation. Which is no concern of yours." He squeezed lightly. "No free lunch this time," he said. "You'll have to work for it."

Lestrade's eyes slid closed, and he could almost feel Mycroft's hand in his hair, pushing his head down. He nodded, and swallowed. "Yeah," he said. "All right."

He brought a hand up to cup Mycroft's jaw and leaned in for a kiss. He almost expected Mycroft to refuse something so dangerously close to intimacy, but he kissed back with enthusiasm, with uncharacteristic abandon. Like he'd been waiting for this, too.

Lestrade pulled at the knot of Mycroft's silk tie, popped open the buttons of his waistcoat and shirt. The fabric was smooth under his fingers but nothing like as luxurious as the feel of Mycroft's skin. He hadn't thought he'd be allowed this much license, had pictured five minute blowjobs at awkward angles, but now his mouth was on Mycroft's chest, tongue pushed against the hard peak of his nipple, and anything seemed possible.

Mycroft's hands clenched in his hair. The beat of his heart was palpable, echoing through muscle and bone, and enough heat came off him to banish the last of the damp chill that had settled in Lestrade's soul. He sucked hard and pushed a hand between Mycroft's legs. His cock was gratifyingly hard and stiffened further as Lestrade rubbed it through the fine wool of his trousers.

"What do you want?" Lestrade asked, words muffled against warm skin.

"Your mouth on my cock," Mycroft said. His tone carried the usual flat note of disinterest, but it didn't harmonise well with the slight hitch in his breath as Lestrade caught one nipple between his teeth.

"Say please."

"Please," Mycroft said.

It lacked the note of desperation that occasionally featured in Lestrade's fantasies, but the physical reality of Mycroft's mouth saying it, the hard, guarded quality of his eyes, the jerky motion as he unzipped his trousers more than made up for it.

Lestrade bent over his cock and licked it once, the whole length, and then around and around the tip until the taste of pre-come first faded as he cleaned it away and then grew stronger again as another spurt of it coated his tongue. He slid his lips over the head and down the shaft. Mycroft's breathing grew a shade more ragged.

Lestrade expected something more forceful now that he'd got down to it, a tightening of hands in his hair, a grip on the back of his neck. But Mycroft's hands abandoned him to smooth compulsively over the leather seats, and Lestrade was left to do as he liked. He wondered if it were politeness, self-control, or simply some odd quirk of Mycroft's personality.

It didn't matter. What mattered was the heat and salt and the fullness of his mouth. Mycroft's undemanding reception spurred Lestrade to take him deeper. Maybe that was the point. Maybe Mycroft regularly got deep-throated with this hands-off method.

Lestrade did his best, but he was out of practice. Still, with every brush of Mycroft's cock against the back of his throat, he felt himself get harder. He made a tight, wet circle with his lips and bobbed his head up and down until Mycroft's hands went white-knuckled with the pressure of his fingertips digging into the leather upholstery.

"I am going to come," Mycroft told him in a strained voice, and Lestrade took him in hand and finished him off with a few tight strokes.

A streak of white caught the side of his neck, but, apart from that, most of it ended up on his hands and not on their clothes. It left Lestrade with a somewhat awkward handful, and Mycroft gave him a handkerchief that looked too expensive to be used as a wet wipe. Lestrade cleaned his hands on it anyway.

He reached up to clean his neck, but Mycroft caught his wrist in a strong grip and licked him there. Lestrade's toes curled in his shoes, and he almost gasped when Mycroft's teeth dragged down his neck.

"Shall I mark you?" Mycroft murmured. "I think you'd like that. Enough to endure the amusement of your colleagues?"

"Yes," Lestrade said instantly. He had no thought of consequences, only of Mycroft's lips on his skin and of proof that this had really happened.

Mycroft released an amused breath and then he was sucking hard on Lestrade's neck. He unfastened Lestrade's trousers and had his hand inside and wrapped around his cock in seconds. Lestrade had been turned on nearly since the car pulled up beside him. All he could do was hold onto Mycroft's upper arm and pant. When he came, Mycroft used the already-ruined handkerchief to clean him up.

Lestrade got himself tucked back into his trousers despite his nerveless hands, but that was all. He spent the rest of the journey to his flat in a fugue of exhaustion and lingering pleasure. He got out when they arrived and turned to shut the door.

Mycroft stopped him with a raised hand.

"What?" Lestrade said.

He handed Lestrade a card with a phone number printed on it. There was no other information. "Text me if you wish. Don't call. It might be...inconvenient."

"Couldn't have that."

"Good night, Gregory."

"Good night, Mycroft."

Mycroft's lips pressed together more tightly, but he made no verbal objection. Lestrade closed the door, and the car rolled off, inaudible in the rush of traffic and voices.

*

The black car stopped at the periphery of Lestrade's crime scene. Sergeant Cantor approached to send it on its way, but she returned to Lestrade a minute later with an expression that said the trouble in the car outranked her.

Technically, it outranked Lestrade, too. Mycroft couldn't seriously mean to pull him from a crime scene for sex, could he?

"Gentleman to see you, sir," Cantor said.

Lestrade nodded and walked over. He wore the hardest face he could muster and rapped sharply on Mycroft's window. It rolled down.

"What are you doing here?" Lestrade demanded.

"You're almost finished. I thought you might like a lift home."

"Almost finished? We haven't even started talking to the neighbours, and the son--"

Irritation spread over Mycroft's bland expression. "Surely it's obvious that the woman was killed by her brother-in-law. Why is it necessary to interview the neighbours? Just arrest the man."

Lestrade drummed his fingers on the roof of the car. "Obvious, is it? Suppose you explain how it's so obvious."

"I don't have time for this."

The window started to roll up. Lestrade stuck his hand through the narrowing gap and caught Mycroft's wrist. "Make time," he suggested. "The dead woman had two little boys. I was about to send them home with their nearest relatives. That'd be the brother-in-law and his wife."

Mycroft looked at him and then at Lestrade's hand on his wrist. Lestrade didn't release him.

"Get Sherlock to solve your puzzles for you," Mycroft said. "I have no interest in these people's quotidian lives."

"Then you should've steered clear entirely. If you can offer proof of the killer's identity and refuse to assist us--"

"You should know that any charge you bring will evaporate before it can prove more than a mild inconvenience to me."

"I was going to say you can forget about our 'arrangement' and find someone else to be your bit of rough. I have a fucking job to do here, Holmes."

Mycroft regarded him steadily, perhaps assessing how serious he was. Dead serious, Lestrade could've told him. He was never anything less about his job.

"The bread bin," Mycroft said.

"What?"

"It's been set out with the rubbish to be collected in the morning. It's old, tin, of the correct age to have been her mother's. The house is modern down to the light fittings. The breadbox is a keepsake, not a purchase to compliment her decor. Why, then, has she discarded it?"

"All right, why?" Lestrade said. He was used to this bit from Sherlock, though Mycroft's tone lacked Sherlock's suppressed excitement and delight at his own brilliance.

"She hasn't. He did. There are traces of blood on the red flower painted on the side. He's tried to wipe the thing clean so it would be disregarded and taken away. Why? Given the manner of her death--"

"How do you know--"

Mycroft held up a hand. "It was on the news. Multiple stab wounds. That means a fair amount of blood and the splatter pattern must cover most of the kitchen, yet he has removed only the bread bin. Conclusion: the bread bin, beloved if peculiar keepsake, is the only item he felt likely to be rescued from the murder scene and installed by the victim's sister, his wife, in their own kitchen."

"A reminder of what he'd done," Lestrade said. He glanced at the bread bin and then at the brother-in-law. "So why'd he do it?"

"Quite honestly, Lestrade, I could not care less. Will you release me now?"

Lestrade let go of his wrist, and Mycroft rubbed at it with his other hand. "Even assuming you're right, I'll be a while," Lestrade said. "If he confesses--"

"He will. A man unwilling to wait two weeks to dispose of a bread bin in a more subtle fashion is a man with a temperament unsuited to murder."

Lestrade agreed privately, but continued, "Even if he does, it's going to be midnight before I can get away. If you're still interested."

"I must be on a plane in two hours. I shall see you when I return."

The window rolled up, and the car pulled away.

There was blood on the bread bin. The brother-in-law confessed after only minutes of questioning. Lestrade got home just after one in the morning with takeaway Chinese and the small, disloyal thought that even Sherlock might not have spotted that at night, from a parked car ten yards away.

*

More than a month passed. Mycroft might've fallen off the edge of the world. Lestrade almost asked Sherlock about him two or three times, and then, thankfully, came to his senses. He stepped out of New Scotland Yard one evening to find the car waiting for him. The door opened. He got inside.

Mycroft said nothing as the car slid back into the stream of traffic. He looked pale and, contrary to Sherlock's jibes, too thin. There was a bruise on his wrist, just visible until he noticed Lestrade's gaze and adjusted his shirt cuff.

"You look terrible," Lestrade told him.

"So kind," Mycroft murmured.

"I suppose I shouldn't ask what happened to you."

"It would save me the trouble of lying to you."

"Right, let's avoid that at all costs. Have you seen a doctor?"

"Several."

"You should go home and sleep," Lestrade told him.

"Nevertheless, I am here."

Lestrade understood that. Sleep didn't always come easily after things got hairy at work. You don't run down a blind alley after a kid who may or may not have a gun and then get your head down for a full eight hours, not even if it all turns out well. In this case, it clearly hadn't turned out well.

"Any areas I should avoid?" Lestrade asked. "Broken ribs, major bruising?"

"My right shoulder was dislocated. There is still some pain."

"All right. I'll watch that," Lestrade said, and got up on his knees to straddle Mycroft's thighs. He settled himself in his lap and cupped his face with both hands, kissing him firmly. Mycroft touched his shoulders and slid his hands down the back of Lestrade's arms, down to his waist, and then to his arse.

Lestrade put a hand between them and stroked and rubbed until he could see the outline of Mycroft's cock. He pressed the fabric down all around it, traced the edges with his fingers until it was a hard, obvious shape, until it filled his palm with heat when he curved his hand over it.

"Are you done after this?" Lestrade asked. "Going home?"

"Yes."

"Then I'm going to make you come in your trousers. Any objections?"

Mycroft's tongue flicked out to wet his lower lip. He shook his head.

Lestrade slid his belt buckle free, and, when he unfastened button and zip, the weight of the belt spread his fly open. He wore, as before, white cotton boxers. Lestrade suspected they were all he owned and thought about buying him something more interesting. Something soft and clingy that he'd feel all day.

Mycroft leaned forward and pressed his lips briefly to Lestrade's. He leaned back against the seat. "Get on with it then," he said.

It was clearly an order, and it made Lestrade's cock stand up and devote its full attention to the proceedings. From the tiny smirk on Mycroft's mouth, that was the idea. It was irritating to be seen through so easily, to be manipulated, but Lestrade found it difficult to hold onto that irritation when weighed against the hot, hard length of Mycroft's cock in his hand.

He curled his fingers around it, through white cotton, and stroked once, roughly. Mycroft hissed, and his hand flexed open and closed where it lay along the back of the seat. Lestrade pulled at Mycroft's tie and then at the top button on his collar until it popped open and he could suck at the base of Mycroft's throat.

He thought about the mark he could leave there, its presence under Mycroft's shirt all day tomorrow, and he sucked harder. He moved his hand, stroking quickly, and he felt the white cotton start to go damp and cling. He closed his eyes.

All he heard was the rasp of his hand on fabric, fabric on skin, and the deeper breaths and shaky exhales that Mycroft couldn't keep back. The car smelled of the leather seats and now, just as strongly, of sex. When he slid his face along Mycroft's jaw, he could smell the ghost of aftershave, something like leather and smoke.

A siren wailed past them. The car hit a pothole. With his knee braced on the seat, Lestrade shifted lower and let Mycroft's thigh rub between his legs. He kept back the moan at first, but then gave in. It felt good. He wanted Mycroft to know it felt good.

In return, he felt Mycroft grip his upper arms tightly with both hands, heard his hissed breath. He thrust up into Lestrade's hand.

"Yeah," Lestrade said. "Fuck, yes. That."

They shifted, moved together. Mycroft pushed himself up and up and up into Lestrade's grip. Lestrade ground down and down against his thigh. The muscle there was tighter, harder than he might've expected. He wanted it bare, wanted to leave his mark there, too, with teeth and tongue.

They were both bent forward, hot breath on each other's necks. Mycroft went silent and dug his fingers into Lestrade's biceps when he came. Lestrade swore out loud and shoved blindly against his thigh until he tipped over the edge, seconds later.

They leaned together. Mycroft's hands came to rest at Lestrade's hips, and he turned his head to brush his lips down the line of Lestrade's jaw.

"All right?" Lestrade murmured.

"Better," Mycroft said.

*

It was Saturday night. Lestrade was at home. So far he'd had two bottles of London Pride to keep him company. He ate leftover pizza and watched a Chelsea match on Sky Sports. He thought, perhaps inevitably, of Mycroft and Mycroft's car, just the day before yesterday. He could almost smell the leather seats if he closed his eyes.

The card was in his wallet. He retrieved it. It had gone soft and faintly grey at the corners now, but the centre was still pure, the numbers still perfectly crisp. He punched them into his phone without letting himself think too much and sent a text.

tonight?

The answer came back within two minutes: I am in New York City.

Lestrade rubbed a hand over his face. He wasn't hard, but he could be, without much effort. He sent another text.

busy?

The pause was longer this time before he received a reply.

No.

His phone rang seconds later, and he was so surprised that he nearly managed to knock his beer over.

"Wasn't expecting you to call," he said.

"Then I can only assume you were suggesting we 'sext', in which case I'm afraid I shall need to have you killed immediately."

There wasn't, really, any humour in his voice. Lestrade could sense something though. An invitation, perhaps.

"Hold on, just need to check my wardrobe for ninjas," Lestrade said.

"I seldom employ ninja. Their insistence on traditional weapons puts them at a disadvantage in the modern assassination game."

"Your sense of humour is terrifying."

"I wasn't aware of any humour."

"So sexting isn't acceptable, but phone sex is?"

There was a pause. "In theory, yes," Mycroft said.

Lestrade grinned. "Meaning you haven't done it before, but you're not dismissing it out of hand because your only other option right now is rent boys."

"A significant security risk." The words were pragmatic, as usual, but his tone suggested distaste, at the least.

"Not your thing, eh?" Lestrade said.

"I dislike strangers touching me," Mycroft said, each word clipped off short at the end. "People who can enjoy the services of prostitutes, or masseuses or manicurists, for that matter, have devoted very little thought to the workings of the human mind."

Meaning he didn't trust them. Meaning, perhaps, that he did trust Lestrade? Not a good line of thought to follow right now.

"I've never had a manicure," he said instead. "I've had phone sex though."

"And was it a joyful and positive experience for you?" Mycroft said. His tone was back to bland, but his word choice was giving him away. He was still irritated, maybe even very slightly off balance. It made Lestrade grin.

"It wasn't bad. I feel like we could do better though. What are you wearing?"

There was another pause. "This is not an ideal time," Mycroft said. "When I said in theory... I wouldn't say I'm dismissing it out of hand, but the possibility of interruption is high at the moment."

You called me, Lestrade almost said. But he didn't, because Mycroft had called him, even knowing that phone sex wasn't going to happen. "How's New York?" he asked instead. "Going to see The Lion King on Broadway while you're there?"

Mycroft made a sound of deep disgust. "I am going to a series of tedious and unnecessary meetings and then I am going to leave, as soon as possible," he said.

"Come on, there must be something you want to see there."

"Apart from the international departures terminal?"

"Besides that, yeah," Lestrade said, more or less patiently. "When you get whiney, you sound a bit like Sherlock, you know."

"Perish the thought," Mycroft murmured. He was quiet for a moment. "There is a production of Antigone in ancient Greek being staged in Greenwich Village. I wouldn't be averse to seeing that."

"Sounds like a good time," Lestrade said.

"You cannot seriously mean that."

"A good time for you." Lestrade frowned. "Can you understand it, then? Just hearing it spoken like that?"

There was a brief silence. "It has been some years since school," Mycroft said. "But I understand the lines will be projected onto a screen over the stage as they sometimes do with opera."

"They do that? The operas I went to didn't have that. Wish they had."

"And have you attended many operas?"

Lestrade rolled his eyes. "You don't need to sound like that. I've seen a few."

"Really?" Mycroft sounded, if anything, even more disbelieving. "And did you enjoy them?"

"They're all right. I know you're supposed to love them or hate them, but...it's people prancing about the stage, waving their arms and singing. Kind of hard to get worked up about it. The singing's nice."

"Perhaps you need to see a better production."

"Are you asking me on a date, Holmes?" The words came out smoothly enough, but Lestrade was glad Mycroft wasn't there to see him strangling his beer bottle.

There was a heartbeat of silence. "Would you object if I were?" Mycroft asked.

If Mycroft really didn't know the answer to that question, then playing it cool was not the way to go. "Not even if you took me to a play in ancient Greek," Lestrade said.

Mycroft's soft laugh sounded, just maybe, a touch relieved. "I shall make inquiries when I get back. I'm sure London can produce something equally memorable."

Lestrade hummed a few bars of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and finished up with, "The dreams that you dare to dream--"

"Stop that," Mycroft told him, amused and startled. "Is that meant to be singing?"

"I have a damn good voice," Lestrade declared, and went back to his song, with increased volume.

"Twenty years and several thousand cigarettes ago, possibly," Mycroft said, projecting over the line about bluebirds with enough force that Lestrade suspected him of having some sort of voice training himself. "Now, you might want to consider different adjectives."

"Such as?" Lestrade asked, grinning to himself.

There was a long pause. "Adequate," Mycroft said.

Lestrade frowned. "What's this? You ask a guy to the opera and lose all ability to deal out a decent insult? Do other people know this?"

"Before you ask obvious questions, please at least try to extrapolate from previous data regarding my standards and the accuracy of my diction."

Lestrade stared at the opposite wall while he processed that. "It was a compliment," he said.

"An astounding deduction. Why, anyone would think you worked with Sherlock Holmes."

"Piss off," Lestrade said, mouth on autopilot while he tried to convince himself he wasn't blushing.

"And yet in some respects--" There was a pause, and Mycroft's voice went from warm and amused back to its usual utterly colourless tone. "Hold," he said, and there was a faint crackle of static as he took another call.

A moment later he was back, and Lestrade heard the rustle of fabric that was presumably him putting on his coat. "I have to go," Mycroft said. It sounded more urgent than a scheduled meeting could account for.

"All right." He wasn't going to ask why. There was no point.

"Have a pleasant evening," Mycroft said.

"Would've been more pleasant with-- If you could've stuck around."

There was a pause that might be hesitation, or just Mycroft looking for his umbrella. "Likewise," he said, and hung up.

Lestrade finished his dinner, jerked off in the shower, finally remembered to put his sheets in the dryer, put them back on his bed, and sensibly went to sleep. The next day, he waited until after breakfast to text and considered it a triumph.

are you all right?

Of course, Mycroft was all right. He wasn't James Bond, for god's sake. If anything, he was M, except that M didn't go away to parts unknown and come back with bruises and a dislocated shoulder. Lestrade pounded a fist lightly against his forehead. This was not a sane conversation to be having, especially with himself.

He thought about going into work just to give himself something else to think about, but it was Sunday, he was meant to have the day off, and the state of his flat was too dire to be ignored any longer. He was halfway through scraping an unidentifiable brown crust off his kitchen floor when Mycroft texted him back.

Situation under control. Don't concern yourself.

Lestrade frowned. That wasn't the same as saying yes. He did his best not to concern himself, but only because he had no other option available.

That afternoon when Mycroft called him, he couldn't stop himself from asking, "What the hell happened?"

"Unimportant," Mycroft said, and paused. "A project at work is causing some difficulties. It's really nothing to worry about."

"Do these difficulties include you getting beaten up a few weeks ago?"

A longer pause this time. "I was attacked outside a restaurant," Mycroft said carefully. "It was a poorly executed mugging."

That wasn't what he'd said before. He'd said he couldn't talk about it, which meant it was work. Now, on the phone, where someone might potentially be listening in, it was a mugging. Lestrade thought that probably meant yes, it was related to his mystery project.

"Did they get anything?" he asked. And, because it would sound strange if he didn't, "Did you report it?"

"No, and no. It was unnecessary."

Lestrade thought he heard some relief in Mycroft's voice. Pleased that Lestrade could take a hint, maybe. Lestrade bothered him about reporting it for the rest of the call, just for doubting him.

*

Do you get seasick?

Lestrade frowned at the glowing screen of his phone in the dark. It was after midnight. He'd just turned off the light ten minutes ago. He texted back a negative answer and half-hoped he wouldn't get a response. Mycroft couldn't want to do anything now. And Lestrade definitely wasn't desperate enough to say yes if he did. Even if it had been two weeks since Mycroft was even in the country.

Another text: There will be a car for you downstairs in ten minutes. If you don't wish to come, you need only ignore it.

Lestrade smiled at the screen. He found it endearing that Mycroft used commas in his texts. Not, obviously, endearing enough that he was about to drag himself out of bed for...extremely hot sex, possibly on a private yacht or something. Lestrade frowned to himself and reexamined his priorities.

Alone in the back of the car, the drive was long and slightly surreal. He dozed off more than once only to be jerked awake by sirens, or a sharp turn, or the gaudy flash of late night neon crawling across a shop front.

The car dropped him at St Katharine Docks. Mycroft was waiting for him in two thirds of a three piece suit, jacket gone, sleeves rolled up. He put a hand on Lestrade's back and led him through a locked gate and out to a sleek, white yacht. The name on the bow was Eurydice.

The pale curves of the hull reflected London's multicoloured lights. The Thames slapped methodically against her side, and the sound of it mixed with the rumble of traffic that seemed ever more distant. Lestrade wondered if he were dreaming.

It was still more unreal to be pulled down into the boat and into an actual bedroom. The bed had mustard coloured sheets on it, and Mycroft pushed him down on top of them. Mycroft unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans and pulled them down, pulled his underwear down, and then Mycroft's mouth was on his cock, hot and slick. Mycroft took his wrists in both hands and held them to the bed as he took him in, deep and hard and fast.

Lestrade twisted and groaned. His hands flexed open and closed. He could hear the water against the side of the yacht, and so could Mycroft, because he was sucking in time with its rhythm. Lestrade had a crazy moment of wondering if that meant something, because everything meant something with Mycroft, and then, a few endless minutes later, he was coming.

The ceiling was painted a very pale blue. He blinked slowly at it. Mycroft was already up, wiping his mouth and brushing his trousers down, before Lestrade managed to form words.

"What... You going?" Lestrade said. "Don't you want..."

"That was what I wanted," Mycroft said. "Objection?"

"No...but..."

Mycroft sat next to him. He curved his hand over Lestrade's cheek and then smoothed his hair back. "Stay," he said. "Sleep."

"Toothbrush," Lestrade objected.

Mycroft smiled. "Everything you need has been provided. I keep her well stocked."

"Is this your getaway boat?"

"In a manner of speaking. Depending what I need to get away from. Sleep," he said again, and stood. "I'm sorry. I have to work."

"It's late."

"Even so," Mycroft said, and left.

Lestrade woke the next morning twisted in blankets and strange dreams. The loo contained everything he needed, in his usual brands, and the kitchen had a flask of coffee, fresh croissants, and butter and jam, which was better than most breakfasts he had at home.

He took the flask with him, partially because it was excellent coffee, and partially because he needed physical evidence of the night's reality.

*

A fifteen year old murder suspect pelted down the alley. The uniforms would get her. Lestrade could hear them as he sank slowly to his knees. What kind of person carried three knives? He'd taken two off her. She'd slashed the third hard across his side, just under his ribs.

Breathing hurt. Blood was soaking his shirt and suit jacket, dripping over his thigh and down to the pavement. He was going to stay very still until the ambulance arrived.

His new sergeant was calling to him from the mouth of the alley, and he found himself wishing he had Donovan back, despite everything. Donovan would know he wasn't kneeling here for his own entertainment.

The new one was young, new to homicide and new to London, and had only recently passed her sergeant's exam. She was shaping up nicely and was certainly quicker than Lestrade had been at her age, but right now he needed her to stop talking and just be psychic.

Once she was close enough to see the blood, things happened quickly. There were paramedics. He was on a stretcher. Being horizontal made it easier think, and he gave her a few final instructions about the case before they loaded him into the ambulance.

"Is there anyone we should notify, sir?" someone asked him.

He squeezed his eyes shut against encroaching blackness and tried to think. If he didn't come up with someone, they'd call his sister, and it would be another round of why must he do such dangerous work, why hadn't he been promoted to a nice, safe desk job yet, and really, did he have to wear his hair like that?

Not Sherlock. Not John, because John came with Sherlock. Not his last boyfriend, who he hadn't seen since December. Definitely not his ex-wife. His few friends outside the force were people he called to have a pint and watch the match, not for this.

"Card," he said. "In my wallet. Mycroft Holmes."

Probably Mycroft wouldn't be too annoyed. He didn't have to come himself. He had people he could send.

*

Lestrade woke up. His eyelids felt like they'd been sealed shut, his throat ached, and he was immensely high on some very effective pain killers. The room smelled inevitably of stale air and antiseptics, and someone was talking.

Mycroft was there, in Lestrade's room, talking on his mobile.

It was such a shock that Lestrade peeled his eyelids up to get visual confirmation. Mycroft was standing by the window, mobile to his ear, speaking in a low, tense voice.

"I don't care. If he spots the tail, we will deal with the consequences, but Carruthers goes nowhere without eyes on him until Deception is concluded. Understood?"

He got the answer he wanted apparently, because he disconnected the call and turned to Lestrade.

"If one has taken a single knife from an opponent, one might, perhaps, be justified in not expecting another, but surely when one has relieved the person in question of two knives, the possibility of a third must be at least suspected," Mycroft said.

"She didn't get away."

"There is no possible way I could care less about the arrest of one adolescent ruffian. I cannot believe you were so irresponsible. Your lack of judgement--"

"Nice of you to worry," Lestrade said, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.

Mycroft's jaw muscles flexed visibly. "This was extraordinarily inconvenient. Please take more care in future," he said. He scooped up his coat from a chair, relieved his umbrella of its vigil by the door, and stalked out.

Lestrade smiled after him for a moment and then reached for the call button. Doctors liked to know when you'd regained consciousness, and the sooner he got the poking and prodding over with, the sooner he could get out of here.

To his surprise, a doctor came almost immediately. In Lestrade's experience, the call button got you a nurse at best, and that only when one could be bothered. Presumably the theory was that if you were capable of pressing the button, you couldn't be too badly off.

"Margaret Killick," she said, and shook his hand. Not Dr Killick, though she clearly was a doctor. Even apart from the ID clipped to her coat, Lestrade knew that air of supreme self confidence. She was tall and thin, grey curls pinned up but escaping here and there to fall around her face. She had a nice smile."How are you feeling, Detective Inspector?"

"Pretty good," he said, honestly. "How much morphine am I on right now?"

"On a scale of one to a lot?" she said. "A lot. We'll be cutting it back now. You needed to rest."

"What day is it?"

"Tomorrow."

"And what hospital is this?"

She tilted her head slightly. "Mr Holmes didn't explain?"

"Mr Holmes told me off for getting stabbed and then vacated the premises like someone set him on fire."

She nodded like this was perfectly normal behaviour for Mycroft, which Lestrade would be willing to bet his sister's firstborn it wasn't.

"This is a private facility," she said. "Mr Holmes had you transferred here and asked me to look after you."

Lestrade looked at her and frowned. Everything about her, from her age and manner to her introduction said she was much too important to be dealing with him and his little knife wound. Unless she was a surgeon and he was now missing part of an internal organ, but that seemed like the sort of thing she'd mention right off.

He searched briefly for a tactful way to ask, but it eluded him. He ended up watching the light catch on her wire-rimmed glasses instead.

She chuckled and tapped the back of his hand. "Still with me?" she asked.

"Yeah, sorry. Just. Why you?"

She raised her eyebrows. "Why not me?"

"I didn't mean... Hell. I'm not missing half my stomach, am I?"

"Your internal organs are one hundred percent intact."

"So why--"

"Are you not sharing a room in Charing Cross Hospital with a man in to have a kidney stone removed who wants to watch The Only Way Is Essex all day?"

He pointed at her and immediately regretted it. "That, yes. Ow," he said, letting his arm rest by his side again.

She studied him, and her face was as revealing as Mycroft's usual blank facade. "When Mr Holmes has made up his mind to do a thing, he does it thoroughly."

Lestrade drifted for a happy moment on the thought of Mycroft doing him thoroughly, and then shook his head in a futile attempt to clear it. "So...either he would've ignored the call from the hospital altogether, or...or this," he said, looking around. There was a leather sofa, a potted plant, an abstract painting with visible lumps of paint that meant it wasn't just a print. It was still clearly a hospital room, but easily the nicest he'd ever seen. "That's what you're saying."

"That's what I'm saying. Any further questions? That are not related to Mr Holmes?" she added quickly.

He shut his mouth and thought about non-Mycroft related questions. Only one presented itself. "When can I go home?"

"Do you have someone to look after you?"

"Yes," he said, immediately. It was an old and familiar lie.

"That's what he said you'd say." She eyed him. "You'll go home when I'm convinced you won't overdo it and end up unconscious on the floor. The guards at the exit are armed and authorised to stop anyone attempting to leave the building without clearance, so don't try it."

He blinked at her. A private medical facility with armed guards. That was...something he was too tired to think about right now. He agreed that he wouldn't try to bust himself out, she looked at his dressing and said someone would be by to change it soon, and then he was left in peace.

It took a minute or two for him to lever himself upright and finally onto his feet. He used the drip stand for balance and crossed the room to the chair formerly occupied by Mycroft's coat. It was currently occupied by the folder he'd left behind.

It was stamped EYES ONLY, which only made Lestrade more sure that Mycroft had left it on purpose. Surely they didn't do that in real life, and certainly Mycroft Holmes didn't forget top secret files in hospital rooms.

He sat in the chair and flipped it open. Almost immediately, his confidence began to drain away. This was not a joke, and it was not a murder case. It was not entertainment for a forcibly confined DI. It was, as far as he could tell, the details of a highly complex and confidential operation to take out an anarchist terrorist cell operating in London, and it was set to reach its final stage next week. The notes at the end concerned clean up and featured phrases like 'roll up all previous contacts' that were just vague enough for him to imagine the worst.

He shut it and held it in his hands. Was this the operation that was causing Mycroft problems? So far it'd cost him sleep, got him jumped outside a restaurant, and sent to Baghdad and New York, apparently against his will, as bizarre a concept as that was in relation to Mycroft Holmes.

He hesitated, and then took the file back over to the bed. It was too chancy to leave it sitting out, no matter how much he wished he could pretend he hadn't seen it. Mycroft would probably know anyway.

Apparently the walk across the room and back had been enough exercise to put him down for the count. He closed his eyes.

*

Someone's hand was on his chest. A voice was saying his name. Lestrade struggled out of a fog of exhaustion and morphine and looked up at Mycroft.

"Where is it?" Mycroft said.

"Under my pillow."

Mycroft shoved his hand underneath the pillow, extracted the file, and flipped through it. His shoulders descended a few millimetres, and his jaw relaxed.

"Didn't seem like a good idea to leave it lying around," Lestrade said.

"You looked through it."

"Yeah. Sorry. I thought you'd left it on purpose."

Mycroft sat in the chair next to the bed and laced his fingers together in his lap. "This leaves me with something of a dilemma. This operation was nearly two years in the making. Nothing must stand in the way of its successful conclusion."

"What do you think I'm going to do? Take out an ad with the date and location? I won't say anything."

"I'm sure you wouldn't. Willingly. With something of this magnitude, however, I cannot afford to take chances."

Lestrade looked up at Mycroft's set face. A sense of inevitability crept up on him. "What does that mean?" he said.

"It means that you may have your choice of accommodations. You may remain here, or you may stay with me, but you cannot go home, and I'm afraid work is out of the question."

"What are you talking about? I have to go to work. I'm behind as it is!"

"You're in no condition to be running after criminals, and you can do paperwork just as well out of the office as in it. I'm sure Sergeant Cantor would be happy to send over anything you require."

"Forget it."

"Please do not make the mistake of thinking that I am offering you a choice. You are not returning to work until this operation is concluded."

Lestrade shoved the covers back and got to his feet. The hospital gown didn't help his position, but he still felt it was a step above arguing propped up with pillows. "There's no reason for this," he said. He tried to keep his voice level, if not calm. "The odds against anyone ever realising I saw that file, let alone--"

"I do not play the odds," Mycroft said. "Not when it isn't necessary, and in this case it is not. I can be absolutely certain this situation has no impact on the operation, and the only sacrifice--"

"You can't just stick me in prison because--"

"--is a few days of your time that you should spend recuperating anyway. You must stop being so foolish about this!" There was colour in Mycroft's cheeks, and his fingers were tight on the edge of the folder.

Lestrade moved toward him. Mycroft held his ground.

"You're going to have difficulty intimidating anyone until they take you off the IV," Mycroft said. "Though I can see you're trying."

"You can't do this."

"I can. I think what you mean to say is that I don't want to do this, possibly followed by some ineffectual emotional manipulation."

"I was hoping for effective emotional manipulation."

"Perhaps you can get Sherlock to write you up a study guide, but until then I'm afraid you're out of luck." Mycroft sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. This close, Lestrade could see the dark shadows under his eyes. "Would you find it easier to bear if I asked? Please. It would make my life a great deal simpler if I didn't have to worry about this."

Lestrade wavered. He wasn't sure he'd ever heard Mycroft say please before and sound even remotely like he meant it. "But your house? Really?" he said.

"You will see little of me, if that's the issue. I have a great deal to accomplish this week."

"That's not the issue. All right," he said, on a sigh. "Okay. I'll have to go home and get some things first."

"Make a list. I shall send someone round to your flat."

"Best not to ask how they'll get in, I suppose."

"Best not," Mycroft agreed. "Would like a hand getting back to your bed, or would you prefer to continue swaying where you stand?"

"I'm fine," Lestrade snapped. He made himself stop leaning so heavily on his IV stand and started the return journey, aware of Mycroft just behind him. Mycroft watched while Lestrade inched slowly back under the covers, but didn't attempt to help.

"I'm not going to be a joy to have around, you know," Lestrade said. "I fucking hate this, not being able to get about properly."

"As I said, you will see more of my house than you will of me. And even taking into account your posited ill temper, I suspect you will be the most pleasant person I speak to this week."

"Your week is going to be balls, then."

Mycroft considered for a moment, and then nodded. "Very likely, yes. I'll speak to Dr Killick. Make that list."

He set a small, leather-bound notebook and a sleek, black pen on the table, frowned at Lestrade once more, and walked out. Lestrade picked up the pen. It was smooth and heavy in his hand. Taking off the cap revealed the gold nib of a fountain pen. He let himself roll his eyes, since there was no one to see.

*

By afternoon of the next day, he was installed in one of Mycroft's guest rooms. The house was in Hertfordshire, hidden behind stone walls and set in a garden the size of a small park. The interior involved a lot of wood and leather and matched Lestrade's expectations of stereotypical posh decor so closely as to be startling.

The bed in Lestrade's room was probably older than some countries. Two bags sat in the middle of it. One was a duffle bag that presumably held his clothes, and the other was his bag from work, a battered leather thing bought for him by his sister nearly twenty years ago.

A delicate wooden table next to the bed held a crystal carafe of water and a glass. The attached bathroom had a clawfoot bath, a massive gilt-framed mirror, and underfloor heating. It was the nicest room Lestrade had ever stayed in. He stood in the middle of it, exhausted just from walking upstairs, side throbbing sharply, and ached to be home with his sagging sofa and cheap beech-effect laminate. He let himself be miserable for a count of sixty. If he counted slowly, there was no one here to give a damn.

Someone proved him wrong by knocking on the door. It turned out to be Mycroft's butler, or possibly housekeeper, and, Lestrade suspected, home security system. She was a short, stocky woman in a severe suit that did nothing to hide the amount of muscle she was carrying.

"What can I do for you, Mrs Simmons?" Lestrade asked. She was wearing a wedding ring, but the look she gave him made him wish he hadn't assumed anything. He still wore his, after all.

"Just Simmons. You can come and have tea in the library," she said. "Down the stairs, second door on the right."

"And straight on till morning?"

She gave him a look as severe as her suit and turned away. "Five minutes," she said.

He texted Mycroft, because the bastard shouldn't be allowed to forget that he'd locked Lestrade up here. your butler/housekeeper/ninja doesn't like me

The reply came back almost immediately: Don't call her Mrs Danvers. I know you're tempted.

Lestrade snorted. i was thinking more grace poole

Does that make you Jane Eyre or my mad wife in the attic?

Lestrade typed out a reply as he started downstairs.

probably still sane, at least for a couple more days.

The library was even more full of leather and wood than the rest of the house. Lestrade sank into a massive green leather wing chair. The fireplace was lit. It wasn't that cold outside, but the house seemed to exude a certain damp chill. Lestrade was glad of it, and of the tea set that sat on the table by his chair.

It was what he would've expected: bone china, subdued gold details. In addition to the tea, there was some sort of cake, and two kinds of tiny sandwiches. One was cucumber, and the other, he found when he bit into it, was ham and brie. Both were lacking their crusts.

They tasted better than fussy little sandwiches had any right to taste. He hadn't had much appetite in the hospital, but he polished off the whole plate of them now and had another cup of tea with the cake. He closed his eyes when he bit into it. It was moist and tender, and it tasted of oranges. There was only one piece. He was at the point of picking up the crumbs by sticking them to his forefinger when Simmons returned.

He froze and then gave her what he hoped was a charming grin. "Is there any more?" he asked.

Her eyes went to his empty sandwich plate, and she nodded. "One more," she said. "I'll fetch it." She started picking up his dirty crockery.

He reached out for a plate. "I can help," he said. "Carry things?"

"You will sit," she said. She snatched the cake plate out of his loose grip and strode off.

When she returned, she poured his tea for him, as if to make the point.

He sat. He drank tea. He ate the most delicious cake in the known universe. The hiss and pop of the fire, familiar sounds from a long ago childhood, sent him off to sleep.

*

The arm of the chair was pushing into his back. He'd managed to slide down and turn sideways in his sleep. His head was hanging over the arm and was now held carefully in Mycroft's hands. Mycroft was frowning at him.

"Uh. Hi," Lestrade said. It only came out a little croaky.

"You were upset," Mycroft said.

"Nightmare." Mycroft looked at him expectantly. "You really want to know?"

"I do."

"It wasn't anything-- I have it a lot. It's not a big deal." Lestrade closed his eyes and let his head rest in Mycroft's hands. "There's someone I'm supposed to help and I can hear them calling, but there's a door between us, with this huge column of bolts and chains. I keep locking more and more locks, even though I want to get to them, and the voice gets fainter, and I know they're dying. And then I wake up."

Mycroft's face did something weird and inscrutable, and then he leaned over and kissed Lestrade upside down, nose bumping his chin. Mycroft pulled back from the kiss and slid an arm behind Lestrade's shoulders, repositioning him until he was more or less upright in the chair again.

Lestrade wouldn't have minded more upside-down kissing, but there was only a second for regret before Mycroft knelt between his legs. Lestrade raised his eyebrows. Mycroft looked calmly back at him.

"Take off your trousers," Mycroft said.

Lestrade blinked at him once and then got to his feet. He would've liked to lift his hips and yank them down, but the stitches already ached from his contortions while sleeping. He pushed them down carefully and sent his boxers with them. Mycroft helped him step out of them. Lestrade looked dubiously at the very nice leather chair that was about to come in contact with his bare arse.

"Sit," Mycroft said. He sounded amused.

Lestrade sat. The leather squeaked as he settled himself.

"How is the pain?" Mycroft asked.

"Not that bad. I've been taking the pills. Probably why I fell asleep. That and cake. Are you really going to..."

One corner of Mycroft's mouth twitched upward. "Really," he said, and leaned in to take Lestrade's cock in his mouth.

Lestrade was tired, in a fair amount of pain, and approaching fifty more rapidly than he'd like. It took his body a while to get with the plan. Mycroft didn't seem to mind. He rested his hands on Lestrade's thighs and sucked with no particular urgency.

Lestrade's pulse quickened, and his breaths grew deeper. He could feel heat prickle all over his body and concentrate itself in his cock, chest, and face, more or less in that order. He watched his cock grow until Mycroft's lips were stretched around it.

Mycroft leaned in and pressed the ring of his lips further down the shaft. He wasn't taking more than half of it, but he was trying, eyes closed, faint frown, keeping his grip tight on Lestrade's thighs as if that leverage would help him get it down his throat.

Lestrade wanted to tell him that it wasn't necessary, that this was fine, great, actually amazing, but Mycroft had an aura of determination that made Lestrade think his opinion was irrelevant.

His cock hit the back of Mycroft's throat, and Mycroft let out soft little choking noises with every bob of his head. Lestrade clutched the arms of the chair and panted. Every muscle in his body was strung tight, and his stitches throbbed. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered except five more seconds in Mycroft's mouth.

His balls were tight. His nails dug into green leather. Mycroft's head bobbed more and more quickly. His shoulder flexed, and Lestrade realised his arm was moving, he was stroking himself frantically fast while he nearly choked himself on Lestrade's cock.

"Christ," Lestrade gasped, and then he was coming without even a chance to get out a warning. Mycroft took it, swallowed, licked and sucked at him until Lestrade was aching with almost feverish sensitivity, until he had to put his hands into Mycroft's smooth hair and pull him back.

Mycroft tipped his head back, pulled against Lestrade's grip, shook his head when Lestrade let him go. "Don't," he said, eyes closed, hand still moving fast and rough inside his trousers. "Hold me."

Lestrade slid both hands around the back of his skull and leaned forward in the chair. He watched Mycroft lick his lips, watched his open, reddened mouth and the flick of his eyes under the thin skin of his eyelids. He nudged Mycroft's knees further apart with his foot. Mycroft screwed his eyes tighter shut. His mouth opened silently wider, and his hand clenched hard on Lestrade's thigh as he came.

Lestrade could hear them both breathing in the quiet room. The grandfather clock in the corner contributed a soft chime on top of its steady tick. Mycroft's hair was a mess now, and he smoothed it back into place. Mycroft leaned into his touch for a bare second before he was zipping up and getting to his feet.

"I believe Simmons has left us a cold collation," he said. "Shall we eat in here?" He was gone before Lestrade could answer.

Lestrade wobbled slightly as he got up. He put his underwear and trousers back on and went to wash his hands. The face he saw in the mirror was both flushed and too pale. The muscles all along the right side of his back hurt, and the slash in his side throbbed.

"Bad idea," he told himself, but he didn't know if he meant allowing the blow job, agreeing to stay here, or sex with Mycroft in general.

*

Lestrade awoke the next morning to the sight of Sherlock's sharp eyes and sharper cheekbones two inches from his face. His hair was falling forward, but of course his skin was tight to the bone. There was no sign of the jowls Lestrade himself would gain in that position.

"Is this where you murder me?" Lestrade asked, the words cracked and rumbling in his dry throat. He filled his glass from the crystal carafe and drained it.

"I had to break in," Sherlock said. "That Simmons person wouldn't let me see you."

"Did she say I was asleep?"

"That's never stopped me before! That's never stopped you before."

It was true. They had often woken each other at inhospitable times of night, Lestrade because he'd learned Sherlock didn't care and Sherlock because...Sherlock didn't care. If there was crime to be had, Lestrade's sleep cycle, time off, and sanity all tied for last place.

"Where's John?" he asked, meaning, what does John think about you sneaking in like this and stooping over the bed like a very quiet banshee.

"He's gone to see his parents. His father's had a stroke."

Lestrade sat up and rubbed his face hard with both hands on the theory that friction might increase the blood flow to his brain. "You're an arsehole," he said. "You should've gone with him."

"He doesn't want me with him."

"Of course he doesn't. It would be a complete disaster. You'd be horrible to his parents and the hospital staff, blow up the hotel room, and probably give his poor father another stroke. You still should've gone."

Sherlock stared at him. "Sleeping with my brother has stripped you of what little sense you had."

"You're a good distraction. Reckon he could do with one about now. What are you doing here anyway?"

"There's been a murder."

Lestrade pressed a hand to his heart and put on a shocked expression. "What, in London?"

"When Molly did the autopsy, she found a violet inside his lung."

That was pretty good. Interesting. Not good. "See your point. Not my case though."

"It could be if you weren't lazing about, playing at being Mycroft's kept man!"

"No, it couldn't. I'd be on desk duty. Who got it?"

"Dimmock."

"Oh, come on! You like Dimmock. What are you bothering me for?"

Sherlock drew himself up like an affronted meerkat. "I do not like Dimmock!"

"He'll work with you."

Sherlock turned away in a sweep of expensive wool and irritation. "He doesn't work with me. I have to tell him what to do constantly. At least you have some initiative, even when you've got everything wrong."

"He's young. He wants your approval. He hasn't worked out yet that he's never going to get it. Give him time."

"You were never like this." Sherlock leaned against the window frame on the opposite side of the room and studied the garden below.

"Dimmock met you as a successful 'consulting detective' with me to vouch for you. When I met you, you were a skinny little junkie living in a squat. And I was still like that, a bit. You just didn't notice because you were off your tits half the time."

Sherlock sniffed and turned his back on the gardens to glare at Lestrade. "And now you're old and bitter and looking for Mycroft's approval instead. You're not going to get it. Or whatever else you're hoping to gain from this situation. If you give up your flat--"

"I'm only here for a week!"

Sherlock blinked once, slowly. "A week. The conclusion of Deception. You're involved in that? You're not, I would've known."

Lestrade frowned. "Are you?"

"Certainly not. Utterly pedestrian. Mycroft consulted me on a few details. If you're not involved..." Sherlock studied him, eyes focused and fierce. "You didn't choose to stay here. It wasn't your idea, despite your involvement with him, of course it wasn't, you always want to get back to work. He's convinced you to stay until the end of a project you have no connection to. How? Out of pity for his no doubt astronomical blood pressure? No, Mycroft wouldn't depend on an emotional appeal, so he ensured you saw or heard something you shouldn't have. What was it?"

Lestrade was too accustomed to answering Sherlock. "He left the file behind in my hospital room. I thought he'd meant for me to see it, so I read it, but then he said--"

"He used it as leverage."

"Yeah. But. He just forgot it."

"If it were me, if I considered that file important, vital to a case, would I have forgotten it?"

"No." Lestrade smoothed his hands over the sheets, aware it was a gesture born of nerves, but unable to stop it. "Course not."

"He'd sooner forget his own heart. It is of less value to him."

"That's nicely melodramatic."

Sherlock turned to him, arms crossed over his chest. "It's also accurate. If you mean to pursue this disastrous and frankly horrifying course of action, you need to stop underestimating him."

"Are you seriously giving me relationship advice?"

Sherlock shifted his weight, rocked to his toes and back, and his long legs swung to pace the room. "He's much worse than I am. I don't think you understand how much worse. He merely hides it better."

"Worse how?" Lestrade said, and caught his arm.

Sherlock shook him off. "Deception will be wrapped up by the end of the week, and you'll be free to go."

"I'm free to go now. The doors aren't locked."

Sherlock banged his palm against the doorjamb. "Try to walk out of this house and see how free you are. And when you've done that, consider the real reason he wanted you here."

Sherlock slipped noiselessly out into the hall and down the stairs.

Lestrade sat down on the bed to think.

*

When Mycroft got home, Lestrade was still thinking. It was late, nearly midnight. He was in the library again, in front of the fire, with the remains of dinner spread out around him. Glass of wine, wholemeal baguette, cheese, ham, grapes, olives. There was more in the fridge, rows and rows of bowls filled with things to snack on or put in sandwiches.

"Simmons is a genius," Lestrade said, as Mycroft entered the room.

"Is she?"

"Your dinner system. Little things in bowls."

"Ah. We owe that more to Spain than to her intellect or mine. Tapas."

"Is it the same every night?"

"There's a rota."

Lestrade grinned up at him. "Of course there is."

"You seem pleased tonight," Mycroft said. He set his briefcase by the chair and folded himself down carefully onto the floor.

"I worked something out before Sherlock did."

Mycroft raised his eyebrows. "Did you?"

"I wouldn't have got it without a hint from him, but he still hasn't got it, so I think I win."

Mycroft's face went still. "What hint?"

"You didn't forget that file. I should've known that."

Mycroft picked up Lestrade's glass and finished off his wine. "People often prefer to let themselves be deceived."

"Some people. I should've known."

"And what is it you think you've discovered that he has missed?"

Lestrade considered how to phrase it, but not for long. "That you're not a monster," he said.

Mycroft looked at him, almost shocked for a heartbeat before the mask descended.

"He told me to try to leave the house," Lestrade said. "Implied you had me under lock and key here, even if I didn't know it."

Mycroft's hand reached out toward him for a bare second before Mycroft pulled it back. "You shouldn't be out," he said. "You should be resting."

"Maybe. And I'd guess I had a Simmons-shaped shadow when I went to the shops in the village. But I didn't get jumped by secret agents and locked up."

"You can do as you like."

"You'd just rather I did as you like."

"It's how I feel about most people," Mycroft admitted.

Lestrade chuckled. "So does Sherlock. But I don't believe you're going to lock me up somewhere any more than I think he's going to snap and drown Anderson in a vat of mucous."

Mycroft raised his eyebrows.

"Dimmock's idea, not mine," Lestrade said. "Dimmock and Sherlock should start an I Hate Anderson club." He popped a grape in his mouth and then tossed one at Mycroft, who caught it without looking. "It was risky leaving that file out for me to find," he added.

Mycroft rolled the grape between his fingers. "Is that what I did?" he said.

"So you'd have an excuse to keep me here. Because you thought I'd never agree otherwise."

"Stubborn," Mycroft murmured. "Most people would be grateful for a chance to skip work and lie about all day. Meals provided. Luxury accommodations. Servants to do your bidding."

"One 'servant'," Lestrade said. "And I'm not sure she does anyone's bidding."

"That's a disgusting habit. Please don't indulge in it under my roof."

"What, air quotes?"

"Yes. Boorish and obvious. A proper turn of phrase will do the job far more thoroughly and with more wit."

"I'll try to cut down. No promises." He pushed the little plate of cheddar and olives closer to Mycroft's knee. "How was your day?"

Mycroft looked at him, finally, and let out a startled breath of laughter. "My day," he said. "Is this something we do now? Dinner and stultifying small talk?"

"Can't blow you while I'm eating," Lestrade pointed out. "And I get the feeling your day wasn't particularly small."

"No," Mycroft said, with a very small sigh. "It was not. Nor was it anything I may tell you about." He paused and rubbed his index finger between his eyes. "The logistical coordination for this operation has been...intense."

Lestrade could only imagine what that meant, coming from Mycroft. "Will it be worth it?" he asked. "Getting rid of these people?"

"Worth it," Mycroft repeated, musing. "In itself, no. It will remove this particular organisation from the game board, for a time. Probably not forever."

"That's all you can do."

"That may be all you can do, but it is certainly not all I can do. My victory in this instance will prove politically fatal to several people who opposed it. Their absence will give me a freer hand in future."

Lestrade fiddled with the olive bowl. He wasn't sure what a 'freer hand' would mean in Mycroft's case, but the possibilities were worrying.

Mycroft took the bowl from him. "Only moments ago, you said I wasn't a monster," he said, mildly. "How inconstant people are."

"Lots of people say they want a free hand to combat...whatever. Drugs, terrorism, gang violence. What they really mean is that they want the power to do what they like without any consequences, no matter who they hurt in the process."

"An interesting stance from a police officer. Do you not believe the city would be safer if you could imprison those whom you know to be criminals, even if you can't prove it?"

"No I fucking don't," Lestrade said. "With those sorts of rules you'd turn the whole force into the gestapo in a year or less. People are bastards, and coppers are no exception. You can't trust them."

"And yet power concentrated in a few individuals if far more effective than power given to a committee."

"But what are those individuals going to use the power for?" Lestrade pointed a carrot stick at him. "Imagine if politicians could do what they liked. Disaster. We'd've declared war on half of Europe by now."

"Fortunately, I trust myself far more than I trust the de jure leaders of our country."

"You're better than Boris Johnson," Lestrade offered.

It startled a genuine laugh out of Mycroft. "I have been compared to many people, both favourably and unfavourably, but never before to him," he said.

"I try to be original."

"No, you don't," Mycroft said. He'd drawn one knee up and rested his chin on it. "Most of the time, you don't try at all. You do your job and appear perfectly content to be one of the minute clockwork parts that make up modern society."

"It's an important job. And most of the time it doesn't call for much in the way of originality."

"And when it does, you have Sherlock."

"I have solved a few cases without him," Lestrade said.

"I don't mean to be insulting," Mycroft said, no apology in his words or in his tone. "I merely find it curious. I've reviewed various of your past cases. Some were complex enough to have given Sherlock trouble, had he not been discovering the wonders of puberty at the time. You need his assistance far less often than you ask for it."

Lestrade didn't know where to start with that. He couldn't even decide if it was creepy that Mycroft had read his old cases, or just impressively thorough.

"He's faster than I am," Lestrade said. "Obviously, some of them I'd never get without him, but I'd use him on all of them if he had the patience for it. He does in two minutes what can take me two weeks and another two bodies."

"And in the cases where the killer is unlikely to strike again?"

"Then it's two fewer weeks the victim's family has to wait for an answer."

"Unusual," Mycroft murmured. "In what do you invest your ego if not in your work?"

"There's no room for that nonsense in this job."

"Most people make room for it. You didn't answer my question."

"Do you need me to? Do you ever ask questions you don't know the answers to?"

"Occasionally." Mycroft paused. "Not, perhaps, on this one, though. You invest your ego, if anywhere, in being the one with whom Sherlock prefers to work. You live and breathe your job because you have nothing else. You gave up hope of anything more when your divorce was finalised. You still wear your ring because you told no one and had no intention of seeking another relationship. You imagine yourself finished with the world and its wonders."

Lestrade ducked his head. It wasn't anything he didn't know, but hearing it out loud and all at once made his throat feel tight. He swallowed. "Never heard anyone talk about the world's wonders with that amount of sarcasm before," he said.

"Do you not wish for anything more?"

"Wishing and getting aren't the same."

"No," Mycroft said. "That is most certainly true."

When Lestrade risked a glance at him, he was staring into the shadows on the far side of the room.

"Where'd you get all that from, then?" Lestrade asked, because it usually cheered up Sherlock when he got to explain himself. "Scuff on my shoe?"

"Bits and pieces," Mycroft said. "Small brush strokes that create an exceedingly familiar picture."

Oh. "You too?" he ventured.

"With the exception that I never expected more of life than I was given, yes."

"So you expected all the power and money and nice suits and cars and people to obey your every whim?"

Mycroft gave him an amused glance. "I was born with money. I have spent most of my life acquiring power. The other items on your list are incidental."

"What did you want power for?"

"Because someone has to have it, and I can't think of anyone who is better qualified than I am," Mycroft said.

"That's it?"

"You're familiar with the level of rage a poorly treated crime scene can engender in Sherlock."

"God, am I."

Mycroft poured wine with one hand and spread the fingers of his other hand wide, a minute but expansive gesture. "You may regard the world as my crime scene. It pains me to see things improperly done."

"You hide your rage better than Sherlock does."

"I hide many things better than Sherlock does."

"That's what Sherlock said, too."

"In some ways, he knows me well. In others, not at all."

Mycroft drank his wine. Lestrade methodically consumed olives until only the fingernail slivers of lemon peel remained in the bowl.

*

The sun forced its way through a two inch opening between the heavy curtains and cut the rumpled bed clothes in half. Lestrade blinked sleepily at the line of lighter red on scarlet. He thought how it would look on Mycroft's skin, turning pale to white, bleaching the scattering of freckles.

He checked the clock. It was just after six. It gave him an absurd feeling of accomplishment to be up at his usual time and with no immediate rush of pain from his side. In a burst of optimism, he disregarded the bottle of painkillers and pulled on his dressing gown. He'd see if Mycroft was still at home, maybe join him for breakfast.

Outside his door, he found leather slippers with a blue and green tartan lining. Attached to the left one was a note, which read: Wear me. Lestrade smiled, detached the note, and stepped into them. They were warm and soft and, of course, they fitted perfectly.

He headed for the kitchen, but Simmons shook her head when she saw him. "Conservatory," she said. "Down the hall past the library and turn left. He's got tea for two already. Do you require coffee?"

"Does anyone require coffee?"

"I've had at least two employers who descended to the subhuman without it."

"Is that what it takes to get you to hand it out for breakfast? Do I have to threaten to crawl back into the primordial ooze?"

"You can form sentences. You don't need it." She shooed him with a tea towel. "Go. He'll be leaving soon."

He went. The sun room was full of plants, a round wooden table, and two carved chairs with yellow cushions. Mycroft sat in one. He read the Financial Times with the morning sun falling across his back. Lestrade sat down opposite him and took a slice of toast from the toast rack. It was, of course, cold. He put marmalade on it anyway.

"You own a toast rack," he said.

"Good morning, Gregory," Mycroft said. "I do hope you slept well."

"You gave me slippers."

"I believe the common point of those two statements is an observation about my conformity to custom and etiquette. A bit obvious."

"It's polite to give your kept man slippers?"

"It's polite to see to the comfort of my guests."

Lestrade wiggled his toes. They were toasty. "They're nice. Thanks."

"You're welcome." Mycroft folded down the top half of the paper to look at Lestrade for the first time since he'd entered the room. "I presume your ability to rise before mid-morning points to a recovery that you will no doubt set back by doing something foolish whilst I'm at work."

Lestrade didn't even bother to protest. "Can't think of much to do around here that would fit that description," he said, instead. "If I were at home, I could try to hoover under the sofa."

Mycroft pressed two fingers against his forehead and closed his eyes for a moment. "Please do not try that here," he said. "Exercise your mind instead." He pushed two folders across the table.

"What's this?" Lestrade asked, even as he opened the top one. A thin, dark-eyed face looked back at him.

"I have been assured that the subjects in these files have no connection to each other. And yet, to my certain knowledge, they must have met, and more than once. I need to know where, and how, and, if at all possible, who might have seen them."

"And whichever super spy you got to check this out before me didn't come up with anything?"

"Correct."

"So what makes you think I will? I don't have the kind of clearance your people have."

"You won't need it. While one of them does move in intelligence circles, the other does not, and the occasion of their meeting would be mundane. A party, dog walking in the park, an encounter over the aubergines at Waitrose. Something that has been overlooked."

"These aren't just random blokes you've thrown together to keep me out of trouble?"

Mycroft smiled faintly. "I always have work that needs to be done. This will keep you out of trouble and be useful to me."

He stood and came around the table to look down at Lestrade, frowning faintly.

"What?" Lestrade said.

Mycroft stooped down, kissed him, and then turned sharply and left the room. Lestrade was still blinking after him when Simmons came in with coffee and two massive muffins on a silver tray.

"Orange and pistachio, and cinnamon and pecan. He won't eat them. Thought you might," she said.

"Toast racks suck all the heat out of toast," he said. He took a bite of the cinnamon one. "Mmf. Fuck. This is genius."

"Don't talk with your mouth full, and don't insult toast racks. If you wait two minutes, you've got cold toast anyway. This way you don't have cold, soggy toast."

"Are there more of these?"

"Two is enough. You can have another for tea."

She departed with the empty toast rack, and he texted Mycroft. am stealing your stealth butler and all her cakes.

Mycroft wrote back a moment later: You barely have enough security clearance to be in the same room with her. Don't even think about it.

wasn't aware i had any at all, he replied.

Enough, was Mycroft's answer.

Lestrade sucked the end of a stray pen in thought, and then ate more muffin instead. Enough for what? Since when? What was it good for? Maybe he'd needed it just to look at these files. Maybe Mycroft had cleared him for the file from the hospital before he'd left it there.

The sun slipped gradually behind a tall oak, and Lestrade took the files into the library. He read them through once, and then again to take notes, and then he started making calls. It was just like being back at work, except the furniture was more comfortable, the coffee was better, and Simmons brought him lunch.

"No muffin?" he said, looking up at her.

"Do those eyes get you everything you want?"

"Not nearly as often as I'd like. It doesn't work at all on murderers, or I'd get more confessions."

"That explains my resistance," she said.

"Sounds like a confession to me. Muffins, or I'll arrest you on suspicion of baking and entering."

She winced and tossed him his pain medication. "Take them. And I'll pretend you've taken them already and let you blame that pun on the drugs." She left.

He sighed and took the pills. Lunch was bacon, tomato, and cheddar between thick slices of buttered toast. On the side of the tray there was a small bowl of sliced apple and carrot sticks, and one of roasted, salted almonds. It made him think again of his own small kitchen with the peeling lino, but this time with considerably less homesickness.

Another hour passed in a combination of phone calls, emails, and notes. He wasn't sure why Mycroft thought he'd be able to pull this off when his own people hadn't, but it made him doubly determined to succeed. That was probably why Mycroft had told him, but knowing it might be manipulation didn't make it any less effective.

By four, he knew more about the people in question than he did about some of his relatives. The first man, Northgate, moved in high society circles, had a number of old citations for driving under the influence, and now had a chauffeur. He liked parties, he liked to drink, he liked to use his money to get out of trouble. The list of his known associates had more triple-barreled surnames than the Henley Regatta. Lestrade dropped an email to Cantor and asked her to check them out, but it was hard to picture them having any connection with the other man.

Subject number two was a middle-aged, middle class father of two. He lived in Richmond and taught at a school nearby. His girls were seven and twelve. His wife had been an Oxford professor, something to do with mathematics, but was now either retired or on extended sabbatical following a car crash that had left her in a wheelchair.

They'd moved to Richmond shortly after she got out of hospital. Lestrade tapped that date with his pen and frowned. She didn't appear to be drawing any sort of pay from Oxford. Both the girls were in private schools, and the elder was in braces. One of their two cars was a Mercedes.

They might be living off savings, or one of them might have family money, but Lestrade didn't think so. His suspicious mind looked at the wife's accident and the repeated incidents of drunk driving from Northgate, and came up with some kind of payoff.

It seemed too obvious. He couldn't believe Mycroft's people hadn't checked it, but there was nothing in the file about the details of the accident. And, of course, Northgate had a chauffeur who had been with him since before the accident. Maybe that was why they hadn't focused on it.

Lestrade stretched and stood. His brain needed a break, or a fresh angle. Or a muffin. He found Simmons in the kitchen. She was perched on a stool, reading glasses hanging off the end of her nose, a thick hardback open on her lap.

"What are you reading?" he asked.

"It's a history of the Soviet invasion of Finland, in World War II."

"Right." Lestrade paused. "Okay. You want to go for a walk? Since I assume you'd just have to follow me."

She set the book aside. "I should go to the butcher's anyway. Wear a jacket. It's chilly."

"Yes, Mum."

She rolled her eyes. "And make sure you have a pee before we go."

They walked into the village. It wasn't far. Lestrade had done it the day before, and it was easier today. Less complaint from his side. Grey skies above, storm clouds grumbling in the distance.

He wasn't going to quiz her about Mycroft. He wasn't. "Do you know Anthea?" he asked instead.

"Should hope so. We've been married two years."

He nearly stopped walking to gape at her.

"We met through Mr Holmes. It was...unexpected."

"Someone should tell John," he said.

She sighed. "Anthea likes to string him along. By completely ignoring him."

"Is she really Mycroft's secretary?"

"In the same way that I'm his butler, yes."

"Haven't seen you do much butling."

"I butle. I am a master of butling. I'm so good that I'm only rarely caught at it."

"Like other things you do for him?"

"Those I am never caught at."

"Or he'd be forced to deny all knowledge of your existence?"

"In theory. In practise, it'd be a lot of trouble for him to find a new butler."

Lestrade nodded. "Job security."

"So important in this day and age."

The wind grew sharper, and Lestrade began to tire. He put his feet down harder with each step, as if the ground were to blame. He knew he couldn't have shrugged off a wound like this twenty years ago, but he also knew that this sort of bone deep exhaustion was new, and it seemed to be sticking around.

He'd had it in the winter too, when he was recovering from the flu. Dragging around his flat for ages. Forcing himself to his normal energy levels at work and collapsing when he got home, sleeping for twelve hours and wanting more. He'd almost asked John to check him over and make sure he wasn't secretly dying of some wasting disease more usually seen in the heroines of 19th century novels.

This, he had to admit, was a nicer way to recover. Simmons was a bit odd, but he liked her. He liked Mycroft. He liked Mycroft a lot more than was good for either of them. But if this episode had demonstrated anything, it was that Mycroft, miraculously, liked him too.

Simmons glanced over and pointed at a bench. "Sit," she said. "I'll be in that shop. Don't talk to strangers."

He sat. It didn't seem worth arguing about, especially since he'd have the walk back to do when she got out of the butcher's. He closed his eyes. A car stopped in front of the bench. He could hear the quiet rumble of its engine. He was willing to bet it was black. After a moment, one of its doors opened, and the familiar scent of light aftershave sat down next to him.

"Hello," he said.

"Good afternoon," Mycroft replied.

"You're back early."

"I came to see if you'd made any progress."

"You could've phoned me."

"But then I could not now offer you a seat in a warm car instead of a cold bench."

"How bad will it freak Simmons out if I'm not here when she gets back?"

"She knows where you'll be. I texted her earlier. She wouldn't have left you alone otherwise." Mycroft put a hand under Lestrade's elbow and urged him up.

"You don't think all this is a slight overreaction? Nobody even knows I saw that file except you." Lestrade stood and let himself be helped into the car. It was warm and soft and the nicest thing he'd felt since he got out of bed.

Mycroft closed the door and sat in silence for a moment. He spread his hands out on his thighs and then clasped them together. "I have something to show you," he said. "The other reason I returned early."

Lestrade raised his eyebrows.

Mycroft produced three photos from a file in his briefcase. They were of three different knives. One was bloodied. The other two were clean.

Lestrade did his best to look at them dispassionately. It wasn't that hard. He'd seen a lot of knives before. "This is the one she used on me?" he asked.

"Yes. What can you tell me about it?"

"Can't you get the forensics report?"

"I could, but that's not the point of this exercise."

"Oh, Christ. This is the thing Sherlock does where he wants me to realise something on my own and can't just tell me because then I wouldn't appreciate how brilliant he is. I thought you didn't do that!"

Mycroft smiled thinly. "I don't. This is something I want you to realise on your own because I require a second opinion, and you are the only one I can ask."

Lestrade stared at him for a moment as if he could somehow suck the meaning of that statement out of Mycroft's brain. He looked at the photographs. He'd seen plenty like them before. They were standard police photos, documenting evidence from a crime scene, in this case the assault of a certain incautious Detective Inspector.

The first knife was a kitchen paring knife, nicked blade, dog-chewed wooden handle. Probably chucked out with someone's rubbish and repurposed. The second was a butterfly knife. She'd probably saved up for it. Or robbed someone. It was compact and heavy for its size, steel blade, brass handles. She'd had it in her boot.

He didn't remember the third knife, the one he'd never seen coming. It was something else again. New, but not shiny. It had a blackened blade with a serrated edge. To him, it looked like it belonged in a covert military operation, not in the hands of a panicky kid.

He rubbed a hand across his mouth. He thought he knew what Mycroft wanted his opinion on, and he even had a suspicion about why.

"You didn't think she had three knives," Mycroft prompted.

"I took the good one off her, and I found the rubbish back up. That should've been it."

"This is the best of the three."

"If she was gonna go for me, she should've led with this one. Yeah. It's the best."

"Perhaps it was unfamiliar to her. Or perhaps she chose to wait until your guard was down." Mycroft took the photos from him, tapped them until their edges lined up, and slid them back into his briefcase. "Tell me, what crime did this young woman commit?"

"She stabbed a girl at her school."

"You're sure it was her?"

"We've got security camera footage and witnesses."

"The perhaps you'll be surprised to learn that she was released yesterday, and there appears to be no trace of her in the Met's computer system."

Lestrade wished he had the pictures back so he'd have something to do with his hands. Without that, he ended up gripping the armrest too tightly and looking intently at Mycroft's tie pin while he tried to decide how to respond. It was a guess, and he had zero evidence to back it up, but he said it anyway.

"You think Carruthers told her to do it. That he'd make the murder charge go away if she did."

Mycroft tapped one finger against the leather handle of his briefcase. He raised an eyebrow very slightly.

"What?" Lestrade said.

"I am reasonably impressed. You heard his name once while semi-conscious at best, and my end of that telephone call offered you little context. What led you to connect that name to this matter?"

"Your voice," Lestrade said. "You were angry."

Mycroft blinked at him once and then looked away. "I was concerned," he said.

"You thought this guy had you roughed up and then when that didn't work sent someone after me."

"Your work would make it easy," Mycroft said softly. "That's what he was trying to communicate."

"Why does he want you out of the way so bad?"

"Badly," Mycroft murmured, almost under his breath. "I have come to believe he is involved with the targets of Deception."

Lestrade thought for a moment. "He's the one you meant when you said the success of the operation would politically fatal to some people."

"If evidence is acquired proving his involvement with them, it will prove more than merely politically fatal. Those as high in the intelligence community as he is can get away with a great deal, but supporting anarchists who plan chemical and biological attacks on their own country is a bridge too far, even for us."

"Should you be telling me this?"

"You are involved. Despite my best efforts. Please believe that when I offered you a lift home that night, I had no reason to think there was any immediate danger."

"I know. It's okay."

"It's not," Mycroft said quietly. "If it weren't him, it would be someone else, eventually. I am not a safe person to know."

"Can't be that bad. I don't see anyone lining up to kidnap Sherlock. Not because of you anyway."

"It was tried once when I was just out of university and again a year later. I dealt with the first attempt fairly quietly. The second time, I found it necessary to make an example of those involved."

And no one had tried it since. For more than two decades. Must've been one hell of an example. Lestrade rubbed the heel of his hand against his knee. He could see in Mycroft's eyes, in the too-hard line of his jaw that he didn't want Lestrade to ask what he'd done, but that he would answer.

"No one's ever threatened my family," Lestrade said, finally. "Don't know what I'd do. My sister's a pain in the arse sometimes, but...you know."

"I do," Mycroft said.

Lestrade smiled briefly. "I reckon you're the world expert on pain in the arse siblings."

"I plan to write a monograph on the subject."

Lestrade snorted and then, as he caught sight of the utter sincerity of Mycroft's expression, laughed outright. "Let me know if you want any contributors," he said.

"I had planned to ask your sister for her input."

Mycroft still looked so serious that it took Lestrade a second to get it. "Bastard," he said, grinning.

Mycroft sketched a small bow, and his face settled into more genuinely serious lines. "Well," he said.

"Right, now what?"

There was a sharp rap on the window, and then Simmons pulled the door open and poked Lestrade's shoulder until he slid over to make room for her. She dropped a carrier bag at her feet. "Steak for dinner," she said.

"Now we go home," Mycroft said. "And wait."

*

Lestrade woke before dawn the next morning. The sky was a dark grey-blue, just starting to lighten at the edge of the world. He stuffed his feet into his slippers and walked down the hall to what he believed was Mycroft's room.

There was light coming from under the door. He should knock. Or do something other than stand outside and fondle the doorknob.

"Come in," Mycroft said.

Mycroft was sitting up in bed with his laptop open, face washed blue by the screen, papers spread around him. The hair on the right side of his head was sticking out at a ninety degree angle. Lestrade stopped dead in the doorway, almost panicked by the sudden lurch of warmth in his chest. He didn't just like Mycroft. He could very easily fall in love with him.

Mycroft set his laptop aside. "Close the door," he said.

Lestrade did as he was told and crossed the room to kneel on the edge of the bed. Papers crinkled and shifted. Mycroft tapped them into neat stacks and piled them on the bedside table.

"All right?" Lestrade said. He didn't really know what he was asking, but Mycroft reached out a hand in answer, and that was enough. Lestrade lay down along the side of his body and put a hand on his chest. Mycroft wore a plain, gray t-shirt to sleep in. "I imagined you in silk pyjamas," Lestrade told him.

"I'm not that much of a sensualist," Mycroft said. He touched Lestrade's shoulder and skimmed his hand down Lestrade's arm to his waist. "Usually."

"Stay home today." Lestrade leaned in and pressed their lips together, pressed his stubbled cheek against Mycroft's and nuzzled behind his ear. He waited for Mycroft to say no.

"All right."

Lestrade jerked his head up to meet Mycroft's eyes. "What, really?"

Mycroft smiled. "I didn't get where I am by failing to take advantage of the opportunities presented to me."

"I'm an opportunity, am I?"

"A unique one. The sort not to be passed over. For any reason."

Lestrade couldn't hold his gaze any longer. There was too much being said without words, and he didn't know how much of it was real and how much was wishful thinking. He kissed Mycroft instead, hard, wanting to start something so he could stop thinking. So they both could.

Mycroft was on the same page, pulling Lestrade on top of him, both hands on his arse. Lestrade had been half hard when he woke up, and the friction as he ground down against Mycroft's thigh got him back there and then some.

There was some awkward shifting around, but he managed to get under the covers, and then there was only the thin fabric of his pyjama bottoms and the white cotton of Mycroft's boxers between them. It made him breathless with more than just the physical sensation. Nearly naked together in bed was a lot different from half dressed in the back of Mycroft's car. They could manage more than just hand jobs here, if either of them could wait that long.

Mycroft pushed both his hands down the back of Lestrade's pyjamas to cup his arse. His eyes were squeezed shut, and his hips rocked upward with an urgency that didn't speak well for any sort of waiting. Lestrade scooted up enough to brace his elbows on either side of Mycroft's face and leaned down to kiss him. He kept it slow and gentle, licked at Mycroft's lips and then between them.

"I would really like to see you naked," he said quietly.

Mycroft swallowed. "And will you be naked as well?"

"That's the plan."

"Very well."

Lestrade rolled off of him and pushed the covers back. Mycroft didn't look eager to start, so he toed off his slippers and skimmed out of his pyjama bottoms. He kicked them down to the end of the bed and looked back at Mycroft, who was watching him with wide eyes and parted lips. It made him look almost innocent.

"Your turn," Lestrade told him.

"Wait. I'm enjoying the view."

"I had no idea grey chest hair was so attractive."

"Hush. You're not allowed to spoil this for me. I've imagined it too many times."

"Seeing me naked? How can I spoil that? I'm a vital component of you seeing me naked."

"You are. Your mouth isn't," Mycroft said, but he was clearly trying not to smile.

"If you want my mouth to be a vital component of your orgasm, stop being such a smart arse and get your kit off."

Lestrade pressed close along his side and reached for the hem of his shirt. Mycroft caught his hand.

"What?" Lestrade asked.

"I am unused to so much intimacy." Mycroft's eyes slid off to one side. He appeared to be staring at Lestrade's ear. "My relationships have not often progressed to this stage."

"You're in for a shock the first time I fart in bed."

Mycroft's gaze snapped back to his face and, for a second, he wore a look of such outrage that Lestrade started laughing. He dropped his forehead to rest on Mycroft's shoulder.

"Ridiculous," Mycroft said. He pressed his cheek to Lestrade's.

"It's going to happen. Just warning you."

"Imminently?"

"No."

"Then can we get on with this, please?"

"This? You mean the mind blowing sex?"

"At this point, I would be happy with really quite ordinary sex."

"I think we can do better than that." Lestrade tugged at Mycroft's shirt. "Off. And I'll take care of the boxers."

Mycroft caught his elbow in the neck of his shirt, and the cotton tangled around one wrist until he shook it off. Lestrade caught his hand and kissed his palm. He slid down and tugged at Mycroft's boxers until they came free. He kissed Mycroft's bony knee and looked up in time to catch the look of surprise on his face.

"What?" Lestrade asked.

"Nothing," Mycroft said quickly. "Carry on."

It seemed like good advice, given he was stretched out in a comfortable bed, lying between Mycroft's naked thighs. It was a place he'd often dreamed of, but never before visited, and he didn't know when he'd get the chance again.

Lestrade kissed the smooth skin of one inner thigh and then the other. He sucked, and used his teeth a little, scraping over soft flesh. Mycroft drew in a breath and grabbed at Lestrade's hair. He let go almost immediately.

"I'm sorry, I--"

Lestrade caught his wrist and put his hand back where it'd been. "I like it. I'll let you know if you pull too hard."

Mycroft blushed, which was so precious Lestrade had to look away. He ducked his head back down and worked his way along Mycroft's inner thigh, all that pale skin to mark up however he liked. It was beautiful. Mycroft clutched his hair with one hand and the sheets with the other. His tiny gasps and involuntary sighs got Lestrade harder and harder until he was rubbing himself against the bed.

He got to Mycroft's cock at last, stiff and flushed, with a few beads of fluid sliding from the tip down to his stomach. Lestrade licked them away, and Mycroft's hand tightened in his hair.

"I-- I have--" Mycroft reached over to his bedside table and pulled a bottle of lube out of the drawer. "If you want to," he said.

Just from looking at his expression, Lestrade was ninety percent sure he'd never done it before and one hundred percent sure that he wouldn't admit it. He took the bottle without comment and set it on the bed. Distraction was called for, and nothing was more distracting than a blow job.

He licked over the head again and then took it in his mouth, sucking lightly, and then harder. Mycroft's grip on his hair got tighter the further he eased his lips up the shaft. A glance up told him Mycroft's eyes were closed and his head was turned sharply to the right, half buried in the pillow. His cheeks were flushed, and his mouth was open wide, as if for words he wouldn't let himself speak.

Lestrade got the lube open and slicked up one finger. He waited till it was warm, but Mycroft still jumped when he slide the finger down between his cheeks.

"All right?" Lestrade said.

"Yes. Of course." Mycroft's voice was decidedly breathy now, and Lestrade could see his throat work as he swallowed.

Lestrade rubbed over his hole and eased the tip of his finger barely inside as he licked up the length of Mycroft's cock. Mycroft made an unusual high pitched noise, and the hand grasping the sheets flew to his mouth, presumably to stifle it. Lestrade grinned up at him.

Mycroft glared for a moment and then sighed. "Yes, all right," he said. "I suppose it must be painfully obvious that this is new to me."

"Yeah, because I never would've guessed that, Mr Manicurists Make Me Nervous."

"They don't-- I'm sensibly cautious-- Oh, shut up," Mycroft said. He gave Lestrade's hair a good tug, but he was smiling.

"We're just gonna do this, okay? See if you like it. That's all."

"It feels very strange."

"You want me to stop? That's okay too."

Mycroft shook his head quickly, and his cheeks were faintly pink as he said, "No. It's not a bad sort of strange."

"Glad to hear it."

Lestrade meant to keep paying some attention to Mycroft's cock, but it was hard to watch Mycroft's face while he did that, and he couldn't look away. Mycroft's eyes were closed now, and fleeting shadows of pleasure and discomfort passed over his face like clouds; tiny frowns, teeth catching at his lip only to release and let his mouth open wide in a silent gasp. When he turned his face into the pillow again, Lestrade caught his wrist and squeezed it.

"Don't. Let me see," he said. "Please?"

Mycroft opened his eyes, and then opened them wider as Lestrade worked his finger in past the second knuckle. He nodded quickly.

"Tilt your hips a little," Lestrade said, pushed deeper, and got to see the moment on Mycroft's face as he found the right spot. It was unguarded and wondering, and one of the most beautiful things Lestrade had ever seen.

He wanted to keep looking, but it seemed almost too intimate. Just this much, certainly, was more intimate than sex had been for him in years, and his throat tightened at that realisation. He ducked his head again and licked up Mycroft's cock, took it in his mouth, and sucked. He tried to fill up all the spaces in his head with that, with touch and taste and smell to drive out old memories.

Mycroft hissed in a breath through his teeth, and, when Lestrade crooked his finger and rubbed the pad of his finger over his prostate, pulled at his hair so hard he winced.

"Sorry, oh, I'm sorry," Mycroft said, and then, quickly, "Please don't stop."

Lestrade didn't stop. He took Mycroft's cock further in, pressed his tongue against the underside, kept moving his finger in slow, deliberate slides. Mycroft's breath went unsteady. One heel ground into the mattress and then dug into the back of Lestrade's thigh, as if trying to pull him closer. The hand not in Lestrade's hair clutched at Lestrade's shoulder instead, and then he was coming hard, arched up, silent and taut.

Lestrade swallowed, licked him until he made a faint noise of protest, and put his head down Mycroft's hip. Mycroft's fingers slid through his hair. Neither of them spoke. Lestrade thought of all the times his wife had asked him to miss work, just one day, and of how important Mycroft's job was compared to his.

"Are you really staying here the whole day?" he asked. He hoped that question hadn't sounded as hesitant as it had felt.

"The whole day? No. I thought we might go out somewhere. Perhaps to a museum. Or Paris."

Lestrade blinked twice and then looked up at him warily. "Paris? The one in France?"

"It's not far by plane."

"Is this you being romantic?"

"I am incapable of romance, as you must surely realise by now." He paused and rubbed his thumb along the curve of Lestrade's ear. "Paris is very popular with people who have never been there. I thought you might like it."

"Do you like it?"

"No. I find it simultaneously frivolous and depressing. Like a chihuahua at a funeral."

Lestrade snorted. "Right. Let's not go there then."

"Where would you prefer to go?"

"What, anywhere?"

"Anywhere," Mycroft said.

Lestrade didn't think he meant 'anywhere within reason', or even 'anywhere we can fly to and back from in one day'. There were too many possibilities, and they were all too expensive. "How do you feel about pizza?" he asked.

*

Half an hour later, they stood under Mycroft's umbrella outside Lestrade's favourite pizza shop. It was closed.

"But they're never closed," Lestrade said. He stared at the sign and willed it to say open, as it always did.

"Have you ever been here for lunch on a Monday?"

Lestrade had to admit that he hadn't, although not out loud. "I'll cook for you," he said instead. "My flat's just round the corner."

Mycroft seemed pleased by the idea, and they headed for a local independent supermarket. It was overpriced, and Lestrade seldom shopped there, but he wasn't about to suggest they slog through the rain to Tesco. Mycroft held the basket and watched with apparent interest. Lestrade wondered when he'd last done his own shopping. It might easily have been years.

When they left, it was raining even harder. Lestrade looked down at their shoes as they squelched through unavoidable puddles. He'd known people with shoes that cost as much as Mycroft's undoubtedly did, but he'd never known anyone who was rich enough not to care what happened to them.

He stepped down hard into a puddle, and sent up a spray of water. Of course, most of it landed on Mycroft's trousers. Lestrade winced. "Sorry," he said.

Mycroft glanced at him, and then scuffed his foot sideways through the puddle to send a spray of water in his direction.

Lestrade gaped at him. "Did you really just do that?"

"I don't know what you mean," Mycroft said, and did it again.

"Liar," Lestrade said, grinning.

They walked on. Lestrade jumped in the next puddle with both feet. Mycroft tilted the umbrella away from him. His expression was still calm, but there was a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.

Lestrade made a grab for the umbrella. Mycroft was ready for him, and held it out of reach, which forced Lestrade to jump for it, into the biggest puddle yet. Water sprayed clear up to Mycroft's knees, and without the umbrella, the rain had already plastered Lestrade's hair flat to his skull.

They grinned at each other. Water dripped into Lestrade's eyes. He snatched at the umbrella, and this time, he got it.

"That's mine!" Mycroft said, all little boy outrage.

"Mine now!" Lestrade whooped, and took off down the street, umbrella waving in the air, shopping bag trailing behind him.

"Gregory!" Mycroft shouted after him. His footsteps were catching up fast.

Lestrade reached his door and unlocked it just in time for Mycroft to grab him and push him inside, up against the wall next to the front door with its pastel, iridescent wallpaper and beige shag carpet. Mycroft held his jaw as he kissed him, thumb against the hinge so he almost had no choice but to open his mouth and let Mycroft in.

Chilly fingers snaked past his own and stole the umbrella back, but Mycroft stayed pressed up against him, solid, breathing hard, smelling faintly of wet wool. Mycroft nipped his bottom lip. "Mine," he said, and Lestrade didn't know if he meant the umbrella or Lestrade himself.

It made him shiver either way, but they couldn't stand about necking like teenagers. "Upstairs," he said. "Unless you want to explain to Mrs Beagle what we're up to right outside her door."

Lestrade handed the bag to Mycroft as he fished for his keys. At the top of the stairs, he touched his front door briefly before he unlocked it. It was nice to be home. He pushed open the door, stepped inside, and stopped.

The coffee table was overturned. The sofa cushions were slit open and scattered across the floor. The sofa was tipped on end against the wall. The fridge was open, which probably explained the smell of rotting vegetable matter that permeated the flat.

Propped up near the door was the painting his sister had done when she was in art school. A long, jagged rip cut through their mum's face. The smear across her eyes looked like brown sauce.

Lestrade spent almost ten seconds staring at it, which was much too long. "Back up," he told Mycroft. "Someone might still be here."

"They've gone."

"I know it's unlikely, but--"

"Look at the floor. Dirty footprints, in and out, wet when made, but long dry. I doubt this was done today."

"Even so, we shouldn't be in here. I'll call--"

"No." Mycroft caught his wrist gently. "This is not a robbery. Your television is broken, not stolen. What robber would set up this portrait so as to ensure it would be the first thing you see when you enter? What robber would know or care who the subject was, or the artist?"

Lestrade let his phone slide back into his pocket. "Right," he said. He looked at his sister's painting again. "Yeah. Of course."

Mycroft had his own mobile out and was talking quietly to someone. Lestrade left him there and looked through the rest of the flat. His mattress was cut up, clothes everywhere, liberally doused with brown sauce and mustard, by the smell. There wasn't much in his bathroom to break, but the mirror was shattered, and the contents of his medicine cabinet were in the toilet. It was a thorough job.

No spray paint though, or worse things. The only foreign substances on his walls were the contents of his fridge. He wondered if that meant this had been done in a hurry, and, if so, why. He was about to point this out to Mycroft, who had undoubtedly already realised it on his own, when his mobile rang. He answered.

"Did you tell Sherlock to follow me to Scotland?" John said. It was more an ejaculation of pent-up irritation than a question.

"Er. He's there, is he?"

"He is here," John said grimly. "Harry's here. We're all staying with Mum. Sherlock and I are sleeping on my old bunk beds. Why the hell does my mum still have my bunk beds? I'm forty. Sherlock's feet hang off the end."

Lestrade tried not to laugh, but the mental image of Sherlock's long, pale feet hanging off the end of a top bunk (or course he'd get the top bunk) designed for a ten-year-old was too much. He smothered a snigger with his palm pressed over his lips.

John sighed. "I was going to send you a picture, but I'm not sure I should now that you've admitted to being the architect of this hell."

"I never said he should go after you! Exactly. I said he should've gone. And that he'd be distracting."

"He is definitely distracting." John paused. "My mum likes him," he said. "You know how he can be sort of weirdly charming when he tries?"

"Is he trying?"

"Yeah? In a way. Not like when he's trying to get information out of people."

"Like he genuinely wants her to like him."

"But he doesn't do that," John said.

"He does it with you sometimes."

There was a long pause.

"This is not a thing I can think about right now," John said, firmly.

"Right. How's your dad doing?"

"Better than expected. Mum got him to the hospital straight away. He can't walk yet, but he's talking as much as he ever has, and he's expected to make a pretty good recovery. We got lucky."

"I'm glad." Lestrade tried, but he couldn't resist. "Has he met Sherlock?"

"He's not supposed to be put under any undue stress. Does that answer your question?"

"Sherlock's the definition of undue stress."

"Except when he's buying my mum flowers. Oh, wait. Especially then." John paused. "Are you all right, mate? You sound...off."

Lestrade looked around at the wreck of his life and almost didn't tell him. Almost said he was fine, because he always said he was fine, because he was always fine. But John had called him up to whinge about Sherlock, and John was easy to talk to and a good man, in spite of being slightly mad. And, frankly, there was no one else to tell.

"Someone broke into my flat," he said. "Wrecked the place."

"Oh, god. I'm sorry. Did they take anything?"

"Nothing. It's... Mycroft thinks it's something to do with...his business." He leaned against the wall and pressed the phone closer to his ear. "My sister did this painting of my mother, and they... It's all cut up."

"Fuck," John said softly.

"Yeah."

"Look, do you want to stay at ours, at least until we get back? Mrs Hudson could let you in."

"No, it's fine. I was staying with Mycroft anyway."

There was a brief pause. "You were?" John said.

"Sherlock didn't tell you?"

"Not a word."

"He was so annoyed about it, I thought he'd have told anyone who'd listen by now."

"Staying with Mycroft as in..." John trailed off uncertainly.

"We're..." Lestrade did the same. He didn't know what they were, but apparently they were something.

"And...how's that going?"

"I'll let you know when I work it out." Mycroft caught his eye and nodded toward the door. "I think we're leaving," Lestrade said. "Talk to you later?"

"Yeah, all right. Good luck."

"Thanks. You too." He rang off, and it wasn't until he and Mycroft were out of the building and sliding into the black car that he thought to wonder if Sherlock and John were 'something' as well. He filed it away for further consideration when his mind wasn't so full of other things. And when he could imagine Sherlock in a romantic relationship without wanting to laugh like a lunatic. So, possibly never.

"I'm sorry," Mycroft said.

"You didn't do it."

"No. But if we were not involved, it would not have happened. I will, of course, have your flat cleaned and replace what can be replaced."

"What? No, you can't. That's what I've got insurance for."

"For an insurance claim, you would need to file a police report, and I'm afraid that cannot happen."

It was an effort not to argue, but there was nothing to argue about. Mycroft was just stating facts. Lestrade stared out the window. Almost nothing was visible beyond streaks of light distorted by the rain rolling down the glass.

"Yeah, okay," he said. It was a strained reply, forced out past unreasonable anger, and he knew it showed in his voice.

"I'll make arrangements," Mycroft said, and his own voice was once again the toneless verbal mask with which Lestrade was so familiar.

Lestrade turned to look at him and saw his face set like stone. Blue and orange shadows from outside slid across it. They painted his skin and white shirt in lurid stripes. He hadn't worn the waistcoat and suit jacket today. Lestrade suspected it was an attempt at casual dress, but he only looked...vulnerable.

Mycroft's hand rested on the seat next to him, curled into a loose fist. Lestrade touched the back of it, fingertips brushing over the ridges of his knuckles. "Thanks," he said.

Mycroft looked at him sharply, and then down at where Lestrade's hand now covered his. "Gratitude is unnecessary," he said.

"Thanks anyway."

"If you would prefer alternate accommodations--"

"I know you heard me on the phone with John. I said I was staying with you."

"Given the state of their flat--"

"I want to stay with you.

"Oh," Mycroft said, little more than a soft exhalation. "Well. All right."

They sat in silence for the length of a red light. Mycroft's thumb slid along Lestrade's ring finger. Lestrade had to resist the sudden urge to grip his hand like a line thrown to him across flood waters. He had the sense of disaster barely averted.

Having Mycroft buy him a sofa and a television would make him feel awkward, yeah, but he would fucking well get over it. He wasn't going to throw away what they had, or could have, for pride. Pride was a damned stupid reason to do anything, and he was old enough to know it.

His phone vibrated with an incoming email. He pulled it out and found it was from Cantor, getting back to him on Northgate's known associates. He frowned at the screen. Eight of them had been robbed in the last year, no convictions made, no suspicion until just now that they might be related.

"What of your investigation?" Mycroft asked, with unsurprisingly eerie timing.

"Does that really matter?"

"You seem fixed in your belief that I was merely trying to keep you out of trouble, but in truth you are better qualified for this than most of my people. You are a detective, and this is your job. It's not the sort of investigation to which they are accustomed."

"If you say so."

"I do. Tell me what you've found out."

Lestrade gave him a short summary, leaving out, for the moment, the email. He didn't know what to make of that yet. "So basically, I think there's something fishy about the accident and the amount of money that family got apparently from nowhere starting right after it, but I can't prove it, and it makes no sense that Northgate was driving drunk. He has a chauffeur."

"If this were a murder inquiry, what would you do next?"

"Talk to the wife. Professor Ashby."

"Then let us go and do that." Mycroft gave orders to the driver through an intercom, and then said, "It's a solid theory. Mr Ashby has been interviewed, discreetly, and has not given himself away either by word or reaction."

"From the file, I'd say he's the type to jump a mile if you say boo to him."

Mycroft smiled very slightly. "I concur. The professor seems more of a cipher."

Lestrade eyed him. He strongly suspected that Professor Ashby was no more of a cipher to Mycroft than anyone else was, but he said nothing.

The drive to Richmond passed mainly in silence, with Mycroft tapping out texts on his mobile. The house, when they pulled up in front of it, was neat and well cared for. It had window boxes with yellow and white chrysanthemums, and the curtains inside were a pale yellow as well.

"This is not a police matter," Mycroft said. "You must not identify yourself, preferably not even by name."

"That's absurd. What's going to make her talk to us then?"

"I am," Mycroft said. He got out of the car and strode up the walk.

Lestrade caught up with him at the door, just as it was opened by a middle-aged woman in a smart suit, metal-rimmed glasses, and the sort of wheelchair that looked as if it were designed for speed. Mycroft showed her some sort of identification.

She studied it and then looked up at him. "You're here about the crash, aren't you?"

Mycroft inclined his head, barely a nod. She looked them both over once and then rolled back to let them in.

"Come through to the study," she said.

They followed her down the hall to an airy room that looked out into a small back garden. Her desk was piled high with papers. A white board stood in one corner, covered with equations in four different colours. None of them meant anything to Lestrade, but Mycroft took them in with at least an appearance of understanding.

She cleared a pile of books off a worn, leather chair, which Mycroft immediately commandeered. "Well?" she asked.

Mycroft nodded to Lestrade, and Lestrade started with words familiar from long use. "I'm sorry to bring up painful memories, ma'am--"

"Please don't assume you know which memories are painful for me."

"I apologise. The night of the crash--"

"As I told the police at the time, I remember almost nothing. Headlights, pain, and then waking up in hospital."

"But there's more. Something you didn't tell them."

"What makes you say that?"

It was an accumulation of small things: the robberies, the family's unexplained wealth, even the ease with which she'd let them in the house. It was almost as if she'd been expecting them.

"Northgate came to you after the crash," Lestrade said. "He offered you money."

"Did he?" She folded her hands in her lap and looked at him, perfectly calm.

He was missing something. He looked at the whiteboard again, across the papers on her desk, out to the garden, over to the bookcase. There, on the third shelf, there was a statue of a falcon wearing what looked like the Pope's hat. He and his niece had been spending a lot of time in the Egyptian section of the British Museum recently, and it looked familiar. There'd been something Egyptian on that list of stolen goods, hadn't there? He took a leap.

"Northgate's been passing you stolen goods," he said. "He gets them from his friends, you hold them till they're not so hot and pass them on. You get a cut, he gets assurance that you won't say anything about the crash. How am I doing?"

She looked at the whiteboard and then out of the window. "Not as poorly as I expected," she said. "His chauffeur fell asleep in the car while he was at a party. He decided to drive himself home. To his credit, he did ring for an ambulance before he fled the scene."

"You saw him that night. You recognised him."

"I'd taught him at Oxford. Not my best pupil, but one of the most well liked. He made all the right connections."

"And a few of the wrong ones," Lestrade said.

"Quite." She picked up a dry erase marker and rolled it between her palms. "Northgate and a few of my other students were involved with an anarchist group for a time. Just a fad for most of them. They invited me to one of the meetings."

She stopped moving entirely and sat with her eyes fixed on the garden beyond the French doors.

"Professor?" Lestrade prompted.

"It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life," she said softly. "All those bright, vulnerable children. Ninety percent of them were there for a laugh, or because it was popular, or out of some sense of irony."

"And the other ten?"

"Deadly serious. Eating up every word that man said."

"What man?" Lestrade said, restraining himself from leaning forward in his chair.

"The leader. Handsome. Charming. Phenomenally charismatic. Entirely mad. And I seemed to be the only one in the room who could see it. Most of the students went for a few meetings, got t-shirts, and found better things to do. Northgate stayed, until he was sent down. When he proposed this arrangement to me, it seemed clear it was meant to finance something. And I was afraid I knew what."

"It's part of why you agreed to it," Lestrade said. "So you could help stop him."

She gave him a very slight smile. "It has been an admirable distraction."

Mycroft took a photo from his briefcase and held it up to her. The man in it was in his mid to late forties, thinner than Sherlock, a dusting of blond hair shaved close to his skull. He had a sharp ridge on his nose, a hard chin, a look in his eyes that reminded Lestrade of any number of killers he'd arrested.

"Yes," she said. "That's him."

"Pack," Mycroft said. "Call Mr Ashby and fetch your girls from school. I'll send a car for you. Would Spain suit as a holiday destination?"

For the first time, she looked shaken. "My work-- And the girls have exams--"

"Perhaps Italy," Mycroft said. "Yes, I think you'll like Florence. Normally I would offer you the option of protective custody, but I'm afraid that's simply not possible at the moment. Two hours. The code phrase will be 'she sells seashells'. Can you remember that?"

"Yes, of course," she snapped. "This is it? We're sent out of the country and-- what? What's going to happen?"

Mycroft stood and walked and walked to the bookcase. "This is a lovely thing," he said, brushing one finger over the curve of the falcon's wing. He left the room without another word.

"I'm sorry," Lestrade said, and hurried after him.

"Who was he?" Lestrade asked, when they were both in the car. "Her madman, the bloke in the photo?"

"Carruthers," Mycroft said, quietly. "It was Carruthers."

A long stretch of road passed in silence. "Will she be all right?" Lestrade said. His thoughts were an unfocused blur of questions. That was simply the first one that popped out.

"Perhaps," Mycroft said, still absent, still distant. "She has a better chance in Italy. Too many of his people have access to any safe house I might put her in."

Lestrade rubbed a hand over his mouth. "We should eat," he decided. Mycroft made a noise that expressed no opinion one way or the other, so Lestrade pushed the intercom and directed the driver to a small restaurant near NSY. Mycroft came out of his fugue just as they pulled up.

"This place is a health code violation," he said, after a single glance at the door.

"It's delicious," Lestrade said firmly.

It was dark inside and gave a general impression of slightly grubby age. The waitress was a sixty-ish, dyed-blonde grandmother named Helvi. She was from Finland and spoke French and German in addition to Finnish, but no English. Her conversations with Lestrade had therefore consisted entirely of menu items and displayed photos of her grandchildren up to this point.

Mycroft spoke Finnish. Of course he did.

He and Helvi discussed the menu at length while Lestrade tried not to sulk over how obviously charmed Helvi was. He felt absurdly proprietary about the place. He hadn't even shared it with anyone at the the Yard, despite it being practically just round the corner.

His sulk, though minor, lasted until Mycroft took his first bite of the #15 special, put the fork down, and said, gravely, "Thank you."

Lestrade grinned at him. "You're welcome. Maybe you can tell me what it's all meant to be. I asked Helvi once and she said Russian-Cuban-Chinese, so as near as I can work out, it's a communist themed restaurant."

Mycroft took another bite and closed his eyes briefly. "Some things we are not meant to know."

"I'm telling your brother you said that."

"He would never believe you," Mycroft said.

"Probably not. So."

"You want to know what will happen next."

"That'd be good, yeah."

Mycroft took a sip of wine and examined his plate. It contained pork, eggs, cabbage, and rice, in some sort of brown sauce. It looked like a cross between curry and goulash and tasted, Lestrade knew from previous experience, like heaven.

"We're going to a party," Mycroft said.

"A party."

"Yes."

"If I could raise one eyebrow, I'd be doing it right now."

Mycroft raised one eyebrow.

"Bastard," Lestrade said.

In answer Mycroft raised the other, let the first fall, and then wiggled it up and down as if he were doing eyebrow calisthenics.

Lestrade laughed and nearly inhaled a mouthful of wine. "Could you always do that? I bet it drove Sherlock mental."

Mycroft smiled a little and nodded. "He learned eventually, I believe, but not before we..." He lifted one hand and let it fall back to the grey, plastic table top.

Lestrade touched the back of his hand and wished there were something he could say, wished there were some way to get Sherlock and Mycroft to actually sit down and talk to each other without the endless sniping. It was obvious that the rift between them hurt Mycroft more deeply than he'd like anyone to know, and that it hurt Sherlock more deeply than he was willing to acknowledge even to himself.

When he withdrew his hand, Mycroft slid his own a few inches closer, until Lestrade's fingertips were just touching his wrist. They stayed there. It was a little awkward cutting his chicken with one hand, but Lestrade would've made much larger sacrifices to keep that contact.

"What sort of party is this?" he asked.

"It's a reception for the Japanese minister of defense. It will be exceedingly dull."

"Right. So, we're going...why?"

"Carruthers is attending. So is the foreign secretary. Their association has become unfortunately close of late."

"That's why you got sent all those places you didn't want to go," Lestrade said.

"Certain requests are impolitic to refuse."

"So you think he'll try to talk the foreign secretary into sending you somewhere else tonight?" Lestrade frowned. "I can't believe I know someone who the foreign secretary wants to send anywhere."

"Whom. And yes, it's possible. But there are other, better reasons for attending."

"Like what?"

Mycroft smiled. "Perhaps I merely want to see you in black tie."

Lestrade frowned even more. "I don't own a tuxedo. I haven't worn anything fancier than a suit and tie since I got married."

"How fortunate, then, that I sent your measurements to my tailor some weeks ago."

*

There was a tuxedo on Lestrade's bed. There was a bowtie that went with it, and not the clip-on sort. There were shoes and socks. There were underwear, which he found both vaguely insulting and stupidly hot.

"What's wrong with my underwear?" he asked, trying to sound at least slightly ill-done-by and not at all breathless at the thought of being dressed head to toe in things Mycroft had chosen for him, right down to the skin.

"Nothing." Mycroft stood behind him and put his hands on Lestrade's hips, his chin on Lestrade's shoulder. "Truthfully, I never expected you to wear this. It was...an indulgence on my part."

"I think you don't quite understand how this indulgence concept is supposed to work."

"Believe me, Gregory, I understand precisely how it's supposed to work," Mycroft said, voice low and practically purring in Lestrade's ear.

"I'll look like a waiter," he said, knees only slightly unsteady. "People will ask me for drinks."

"You will look edible," Mycroft said softly, and Lestrade had to close his eyes for a second. "If they have any sense at all, people will ask you to come home with them, and then I'll be forced to have them shot."

Lestrade laughed, a bit shaky, more than half hard just from the hunger in Mycroft's voice. "Sounds like a fun evening," he said.

"You'd better get dressed, then."

He rubbed his hands over his face. "Better shave first."

He started for the bathroom, but Mycroft caught his wrist. "Allow me?" he said.

Lestrade nodded slowly and let Mycroft tug him across the hall. Mycroft's bathroom was large. It had a shower with about five jets and a lot of rough-surfaced marble that must be hell to clean. It also had a cut-throat razor and a shaving brush that looked like it had been made out of the back end of a badger.

Lestrade couldn't help himself. "Seriously?" he said.

Mycroft ignored him. He whipped up foam in a little cup because if you shaved with a deadly weapon and a badger, shaving gel in a can was right out.

"Who uses a cut-throat razor? People from the nineteenth century, that's who. Are you a vampire? A Victorian vampire?"

"I don't think vampires shave," Mycroft said mildly. He wrung out a hot towel and dropped it over Lestrade's head, ignoring his howl of pain. "Perhaps one uses a straight razor if one has a certain respect for tradition. Or if one wants a daily reminder of the dangers inherent in his chosen life."

"Ow," Lestrade said, from under the towel, which was a few degrees shy of the temperature of the sun.

Mycroft removed the towel and ran his thumb along Lestrade's jawline with such an intent look that Lestrade's breath caught in his throat. "Better," Mycroft said, and shook a few drops of oil from a dark glass bottle onto his palm.

"What's that?"

"Pre-shave oil," Mycroft said, and slid his slicked-up hands over Lestrade's face.

Lestrade had meant to make fun of him, because honestly, pre-shave oil, but Mycroft's hands were large and warm, and one was cradling the side of his face while the other slid down his neck.

"You can't do this every morning," Lestrade said, but there was no bite to the words. Couldn't be, when he was leaning into Mycroft's touch like that.

"It does require a steady hand. I use a safety razor if I've had less than four hours of sleep."

Lestrade's eyes were slipping closed without his permission. Mycroft's hands were not only steady, but sure and deft as they rubbed the oil gently into his skin. One closed briefly around his throat. Lestrade blinked his eyes open slowly.

"Such trust," Mycroft said quietly.

"You never have this done out, do you? No barber shops or fancy salons for you."

"Never," Mycroft agreed. He picked up the brush and began to spread foam over Lestrade's face.

It was faintly warm and very smooth. Mycroft put it on in drifts, and it tickled the underside of his nose. When Mycroft flicked open the razor, Lestrade's hindbrain had a moment of someone is coming at you with a knife panic, but it was easy enough to stomp on. The blade touched his skin and slid along it with a feather touch, so light he could barely feel it. He closed his eyes.

"I'd learn how to do it for you," Lestrade said. "If you wanted." If Mycroft would trust him with it.

There was a pause in the blade's progress across his skin. "Perhaps," Mycroft said, softly. "I think... Yes, I think I might enjoy that."

He carried on without further comment, but his other hand came up to cup the back of Lestrade's neck. The touch was gentle, almost hesitant, and his thumb stroked over the dip and ridge of each vertebra.

Mycroft finished the shave, reapplied the foam, and did it all over again, this time against the grain. Lestrade leaned into his hands and let him do as he liked.

"Really every morning?" he said, the words sliding together as relaxation overtook him.

"Not always fore and aft, as it were. One pass is usually enough for me. I have yet to leave any partner's inner thighs as red as you left mine this morning."

Lestrade fought down a grin as the razor passed over his upper lip. "Sorry," he said, when it lifted from his skin.

"You're not. You want to do it again."

"I like leaving my mark on you."

"I don't precisely object to it myself," Mycroft said quietly.

"Good job I didn't have a go at your neck. That'd be fun to explain at your soiree." He didn't use air quotes. As far as he was concerned, the word soiree came with air quotes implied.

"Make up," Mycroft said.

"What, really?"

"Of course. There are situations in which one cannot afford the slightest flaw in one's appearance. Granted, I've never used it to conceal that. It's usually bruises."

Lestrade opened his eyes and frowned at him. "You get bruised often enough for it to be usual?"

"Now, hardly ever. Things were different earlier in my career. But I only meant that, on the rare occasions I've been forced to conceal some imperfection, it has usually been bruises. I didn't mean to imply it was at all common."

"Good." Lestrade watched Mycroft as he finished up and wiped the foam away with a warm, damp towel. "And tonight's one of those times you can't afford any flaws?"

"Only one, perhaps," Mycroft said, tone absent as he looked through his medicine cabinet. He seemed to catch himself, and his eyes flicked in Lestrade's direction for a tenth of a second before he was focused on his perfectly aligned rows of glass bottles again.

Lestrade wouldn't have got it without that slip, but he did get it. He was the flaw in Mycroft's perfection tonight. Or maybe the chink in his armour. He wanted to ask what that meant for them, but he was afraid he knew. Surely Mycroft hadn't got to where he was by indulging his vulnerabilities. And yet, he was taking Lestrade to this party tonight.

Mycroft removed the cork from a small bottle of bubbled, blue glass and shook some onto his palm. He rubbed his hands together and patted the stuff onto Lestrade's face. It smelled warm and very faintly of some spice Lestrade couldn't place.

"This isn't yours," Lestrade said. He frowned and smelled it again. It was nice. He'd wear it again, given the chance, but it was very much not Mycroft, who usually smelled of something altogether darker.

"No," Mycroft said. There might've been a faint touch of colour to his cheeks. "It's yours."

Lestrade blinked. "You bought it for me. When you got the tux?"

"A few days after that."

Lestrade grinned slowly. "Did you get me anything else I don't know about yet? Tiara? Ferrari?"

"Would you like a tiara or a Ferrari?" Mycroft asked, doing his eyebrow trick again. "No, don't answer that. Go and get dressed."

Lestrade slid off the counter. "How about a pony?" he said. "World peace?"

Mycroft pinched his arse as he walked out.

*

Ten minutes later, Lestrade was downstairs, waiting for Mycroft to appear. He fiddled with his cuffs. He fiddled with his cuff links, which were silver and onyx with a tiny diamond in the centre of each. He wouldn't be keeping those. He hoped Mycroft knew that.

Simmons appeared, wearing a plain, canvas apron, flour on her hands. She whistled. "Nice," she said. Lestrade made a face at her, and she gave him a small cheese tart in return. "Eat. I doubt you'll want to once you get there."

He ate, taking care to get the crumbs on the floor instead of on himself. "Thanks," he said.

"Anthea's going with you."

"What about you?"

"I'd stick out like a mongoose at a cobra party. Anthea's tried, but I never look like anything but hired security no matter what she dresses me up in."

"Better than what I look like," Lestrade said.

"You look extremely expensive. Distinguished, even. Keep your mouth shut, and you'll be fine." She winked at him.

He rolled his eyes a little, but couldn't help smiling. "Thanks for that," he said and was about to ask for another tart when he saw Mycroft coming down the stairs behind her.

He walked under the small, crystal chandelier that hung in the stairwell, and prisms of warm light moved across his face and shone on the lapels of his jacket. Everything about him made Lestrade want to drag him right back up the stairs and into bed, from his customary, arrogant expression to the smooth line of his trousers, to the twitch of his pale, bony fingers as he saw Lestrade waiting for him. One hand gripped a small, black box.

"Have fun," Simmons murmured. "Don't get shot." She disappeared back toward the kitchen.

Mycroft stopped just in front of Lestrade and held out the box. "It's not world peace, I'm afraid. I'm working on that one."

It was the right size to hold a watch, and not much else. He hoped it wasn't one of those gold-and-diamond affairs that always looked to him like an invitation to a mugging. He opened the box. The watch had a black, leather band, a subtly striped, grey face. It had three little dials; one for seconds, one for the date and phases of the moon, and another he couldn't identify.

"It's a self-winder," Mycroft said, and tapped the mystery dial. "This one tells you the charge level. It will last, unworn, for forty-eight hours. The hands are luminescent, it's water resistant up to sixty metres--"

At that point, Lestrade had to haul him close and kiss him until he stopped trying to talk, less because of the gift than because Mycroft was so clearly nervous about giving it to him. When he pulled back a few inches, Mycroft just stood there and blinked at him, lips still slightly parted.

"It's gorgeous," Lestrade said. "And practical. And I'm sure I shouldn't take it because it must've cost a mint, but I'm going to. Thank you." The pleased, almost shy look that Mycroft gave him forced Lestrade to kiss him once more before he took the watch out of its box and strapped it onto his wrist.

The leather of the band was incredibly soft and smooth and it warmed to his skin. The brand name, partially hidden behind the minute hand, was Patek Philippe, which Lestrade vaguely recognised as being upmarket, but not as frequently stolen as Rolex, and therefore hopefully less expensive. There were no diamonds anywhere on it.

"I couldn't take it back anyway," Mycroft said. "It's been engraved."

"Where? I didn't see." He started to take it off again to check, but Mycroft caught his wrist.

"Later. It's not important. A tactical move to increase the probability that you'd accept it. We should go."

They went. Lestrade caught a glimpse of their reflection in the hall mirror. For once, they looked like they belonged together.

Anthea was waiting by the car, stunning in a cream silk dress with little black beads. It went down almost to her ankles, but was slit on one side up to the thigh. The right side, Lestrade noticed, where she'd need to draw from if she had a thigh holster. He wondered if this were that sort of party.

She smiled at him with more genuine warmth than he'd ever seen from her. "How pleasant to see you again, Detective Inspector," she said.

She offered him her hand, and he kissed it. It seemed the thing to do, with all three of them dressed up like a Merchant Ivory film. Mycroft frowned very slightly and put a hand on his back. When they got into the car, Mycroft manoeuvered Lestrade between himself and the door. Lestrade didn't even try to hide his grin.

"So! Is there a plan?" he asked, looking between the two of them.

They looked at each other. Anthea pulled out her Blackberry and disengaged from the conversation and the physical plane.

Mycroft rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "We go to the reception. We make extremely dull small talk. We see what happens," he said.

"That's it?"

"Were you hoping for a tactical assault team? Perhaps a helicopter or two?"

"At least some ninjas," Lestrade said.

"I am sorry to disappoint. I'm afraid the intelligence world is often far closer to Yes, Prime Minister than to James Bond or even George Smiley."

"Will there be quail eggs?"

Mycroft blinked slowly at him. "I imagine there will, yes. Small, fussy food seems to be a must for these occasions," he said.

"Good. Always wanted to try them."

Mycroft gave him an odd look, which Lestrade ignored.

It started to rain again. When they arrived, the three of them stepped out under umbrellas held by gangly young men with water dripping down their faces. Lestrade had done that job, once upon a time, and known with certainty that he'd never be the arsehole keeping his suit dry.

The floor inside was parquet that looked to have been designed by M.C. Escher, and the chandelier overhead appeared to be made out of glass snakes. Apart from that, the house was as traditional as Mycroft's, or more so, since it seemed to possess what Lestrade could only assume was a ballroom. There were couches up against the walls and a few little tables with food and flower arrangements, but the vast majority of the space was bare floor, and the string quartet in the corner seemed to suggest the possibility of dancing later.

There were quail eggs. They'd been hard boiled, peeled, and sat in the bottom half of their little speckled shells, pushed into a tray of salt to keep them upright. Lestrade gathered from watching a few people that you were meant to take them out of their shell, dip them in the salt, and pop them in your mouth. He saw Anthea take a picture of the tray and text it to someone, presumably Simmons.

Lestrade tried them, along with the peapods stuffed with some sort of soft cheese, but Simmons had been right; it was hard to get anything down, no matter how tasty.

Mycroft made the rounds, smiling a thin smile, shaking hands, but always watching, eyes often on Lestrade, more often on the door. Carruthers hadn't arrived yet. He came over to pry Lestrade away from the wall and introduce him to the Japanese minister of defense. Apparently, he followed football, so they chatted about that for a bit while Mycroft looked on with a pleased expression. It was one of the most surreal experiences of Lestrade's life.

When Mycroft introduced him to the foreign secretary, Lestrade stopped trying to process anything and decided to think about it later, after a stiff drink. The foreign secretary was keen on photography and asked Lestrade a number of questions about the cameras they used to document crime scenes. Lestrade wondered if it would be a bad plan to find that drink while they were still at the party.

"He likes you," Mycroft said as he guided Lestrade away with one hand on his elbow.

"This place is like a shark tank."

"A bit," Mycroft agreed. "If sharks were interested in inducing paranoia by circling their prey and smiling too widely."

"So you spend the whole time wondering when they're going to close in and bite your leg off."

"Precisely. Would you care to dance?"

Lestrade stared at him. "Is that-- I mean-- Can we do that? Here?"

"Other people are." They were. The string quartet had started playing something slow and staid.

"Other people aren't gay," Lestrade said, unable to think of any less blunt phrasing and pushed well past the willingness to try.

"I'm making a statement," Mycroft said quietly. "I'd like you to help, if that's acceptable."

"What statement are we making?"

Mycroft merely smiled and offered Lestrade his hand. It was a very small smile and didn't reach his eyes. Lestrade let himself be led out onto the dance floor. There were a few glances, but on the whole, very little reaction, and certainly not the shocked staring he'd half feared.

Mycroft led him slowly around the floor in a careful waltz and somehow gave him no opportunity to put his feet wrong. It was the least romantic dance of Lestrade's life. Even so, there was something about having Mycroft's hands on him in public, something about the air of declaration and possessiveness that left him a little warm and just slightly short of breath.

For the first time since they left the house, Mycroft was focused entirely on him. Lestrade hadn't realised how much he'd missed it. He shook his head at himself and almost laughed.

"What is it?" Mycroft asked.

"Me," Lestrade said. "Overestimating my own importance."

"That's not possible."

Lestrade stared at him. He'd said so simply, as if it were such an obvious truth that it didn't require explanation. Lestrade was trying to think of something to say to that when Mycroft looked over his shoulder, stiffened minutely, and then relaxed back into the rhythm of the music.

"Carruthers has arrived," he said.

"Is that good?"

"It means the evening won't be wasted."

Lestrade looked up at the set, cordial expression he wore. "This really is entirely business, isn't it? I mean, these things aren't even supposed to be fun. No one here expected this to be a good time."

"They can be intellectually stimulating at times, but no, I would not say anyone came here tonight looking to cut loose and relax," Mycroft said, wry smile lifting one corner of his mouth briefly. "Perhaps it's different for those with nothing at stake." He nodded toward a small group by the window: beautiful, younger women and men set apart by their more open expressions and genuine laughter.

"Arm candy," Lestrade said.

"Accessories," Mycroft corrected, with no suggestion of judgement.

"Is that what I am?"

Mycroft gave him a sharp smile, nearly a baring of teeth. It reminded Lestrade forcefully of Sherlock on the hunt. "Perhaps in the same way a concealed weapon might be said to be an accessory," he replied.

The dance ended, and Mycroft guided him toward Carruthers with a light touch at the small of his back. Lestrade had never felt less dangerous or less concealed in his life.

Carruthers was almost as tall as Mycroft, but younger, with pale blue eyes that seemed sunken in his drawn face. Lestrade understood why Ashby had pegged him for a lunatic. Something about him was off, and, if Lestrade had just chased him into a dead-end alley, he would've called for back up. Some people gave in when cornered. Some people went for your throat.

"Detective Inspector Lestrade, James Carruthers," Mycroft said.

Lestrade vaguely recalled something about putting the most important person's name first when you were doing introductions. He wondered if Mycroft had just insulted Carruthers. He hoped so. They shook. Carruthers' hand was paper dry and cool.

"Pleased to meet you," Lestrade said.

"I am delighted to meet you as well, Inspector," Carruthers said. "I've heard so much about you."

"Oh, yeah? From who?"

"Whom, I think you'll find. Our dear Mycroft can be quite talkative when the mood strikes him."

Lestrade shoved his hands in his pockets. "That is such a load of cobblers," he said. If Mycroft had wanted him to be polite, he would've said so. Right? He risked a glance over and was reassured by the faint look of amusement on Mycroft's face.

Carruthers looked puzzled, but a chilly little smile forced its way to the forefront, and he said, "Well, I do like to keep up on the more important aspects of my colleagues' lives. I must say, I'm surprised to see you here."

"Why's that?"

The puzzled look returned and brought reinforcements. "My goodness, you are direct," Carruthers said. "You must be a breath of fresh air for our friend."

"More so now I don't smoke, probably. You were saying about being surprised to see me here?"

"I imagine it's not quite your sort of event, that's all."

"I like the quail eggs," Lestrade said. "Might be more fun with a few big screens to show the match. Mr Fukui agrees with me."

Carruthers blinked slowly at him. "I wasn't aware the minister was a football fan."

"You learn new things about people all the time," Lestrade said. He rocked back on his heels a bit. "Want to dance?" he asked.

Carruthers' eyes widened. "I'm sorry, you must excuse me," he said. "I have yet to make the rounds. Perhaps later in the evening." He nodded to Mycroft and turned, heading for the bar.

Mycroft was laughing almost silently, mouth shielded by one hand. "You surprised him," he said. "He doesn't expect pawns to become knights. Which is why chess is a terrible metaphor for almost everything that involves real people."

"I'm no knight," Lestrade said.

"Rook, then, perhaps. Unstoppable when moving in a straight line with a clear goal in sight."

"I thought chess was a terrible metaphor."

"It is. Do you want to go?"

Lestrade caught his hand. "I want to dance with you again," he said. "Not to make a point or a statement. Just to dance with you."

Mycroft's face went perfectly still and neutral for a moment, and then he nodded. "You realise we'll be making a statement no matter what your intentions are?"

"No, we won't." Lestrade led him back onto the dance floor. There were a very few couples moving with stately precision across the polished wood. All of them talked in low voices and kept a rigid distance from one another. Lestrade pulled Mycroft close. "And let me lead, you pushy bastard."

"You can't even dance properly," Mycroft said.

"I was paying attention before. I've got it."

He touched Mycroft's back and squeezed his hand. They lagged very slightly behind the music, which clearly drove Mycroft mad, but he didn't object. Lestrade leaned close and brushed his lips against Mycroft's jaw.

"What was your statement?" he asked. "Tell me."

"That you are mine. That you are off limits. That any strike against you is an act of war and will be met with, as they say, a disproportionate response."

Lestrade pressed closer. "A disproportionate response? Really? Who says that?"

"Someone bombs your capital. You bomb theirs. Proportionate response. Someone bombs your capital. You carpet bomb their entire country, raze every building, kill every citizen, salt the earth and remove them from every map and history book. Disproportionate response."

"That's...pretty disproportionate."

"But effective."

"Is that what you did to the people who kidnapped Sherlock?"

"In essence."

Lestrade concentrated on his feet and the music for a few seconds. "Look, but you don't have to--"

Mycroft pressed his fingers lightly to Lestrade's lips for a moment. "I do. This is only tangentially about you, Gregory. You have become too obviously a weak point for me. Either I sever relations with you, which I am unwilling to do, or I make it clear that you are not to be touched. It won't work with everyone, but short of a madman like Moriarty, there are very few people who will risk alienating me so thoroughly."

"What about Carruthers?"

Mycroft glanced over Lestrade's shoulder. "Carruthers is not Moriarty. He is an intelligent man with a lot of power, but he's not a genius with a worldwide criminal empire."

"I meant, is he mad? Ashby thought he was."

Mycroft looked back at him. "Perhaps. We'll see," he said.

They didn't stay for long after the dance ended. Mycroft led him around the room with a hand tucked into the crook of his elbow as they took their leave. The foreign secretary said how much he'd enjoyed meeting Lestrade and that he'd ring him soon about camera bodies. Lestrade did his best to keep his expression at cordial rather than sheer disbelief.

Outside, the rain had stopped. The night sky was a void of dark, thick clouds, with the faint orange haze of light pollution at the horizon.

"Did you get what you wanted out of all that?" Lestrade asked, as they waited for the car.

"I think it was a very fruitful evening, don't you?"

"I think I made pointless small talk with a guy who had me stabbed and gave camera advice to the man who's responsible for our relations with the rest of the world and who should probably know more than me about cameras and everything else."

Mycroft looked amused. "No one's an expert on everything," he said.

"Except you."

"Not even me, outside of my chosen field."

"Your chosen field of the entire world. Hey, where's Anthea? Isn't she coming back with us?"

"No, she's staying on. She'll keep an eye on Carruthers and monitor his contacts, perhaps follow him when he leaves if she believes it will prove worthwhile."

"And what are we doing?"

"Going home."

It was a quiet ride. Lestrade tried to sort everything out in his head and mainly failed. He gathered it had been his coming out party as the significant other of one of Britain's most significant men and, while it was nice that Mycroft was willing to acknowledge him publicly, he didn't think it'd do bugger all to keep either of them safe.

About halfway back to Mycroft's house, he was startled from his thoughts by a siren - but it was fire, not police, and he was almost drifting on an incoming wave of confusion once again when he saw the dull glow in the sky ahead of them.

Most of the house was still standing when they pulled up. There were three fire engines parked in front of its blackened bulk. The hoses lay deflated on the ground, pale stripes across the wet gravel drive.

Simmons pushed away a paramedic who was trying to get an oxygen mask on her and came over to them. Her face and shirt were darkened with smoke, but she also had a black eye and a split lip that was still oozing blood.

"I'm sorry," she said to Mycroft. "I should've been better prepared."

"How many were there?"

"Only six that I saw."

"The damage?"

"A lot of the inside is just about gutted, but they said it's not bad structurally."

Mycroft nodded. His eyes went to the house, still smoking to the sky like a volcano, and he smiled. "Excellent," he said. "Ring the Connaught. Tell them we want the Library Suite. They may expect us in just under an hour."

He strode off toward the house, but was intercepted by one of the firemen. Lestrade let him go in favour of taking Simmons' arm and returning her to the hovering paramedic. "I'll call them," he said. "Just sit there and breathe."

She waved her phone at him. "Speed dial nine," she said and then consented to wheeze into the oxygen mask.

Lestrade pressed nine and watched as Mycroft somehow talked the fireman into letting him inside - with a safety helmet and two smoke-smudged men for company. That was all right then. Probably.

The woman who answered at the Connaught was initially skeptical about Lestrade's request to reserve one of their most expensive suites for an unknown number of nights, starting in less than an hour, but as soon as he said it was for Mycroft Holmes, suddenly there was no problem, they would be delighted, and could they have anything in the way of refreshments sent to the room? Lestrade ordered tea, coffee, and sandwiches and was informed that of course they would send up the cake Mr Holmes liked as well. Of course they would, Lestrade agreed, and rang off.

"Are they going to play a fanfare when he gets out of the car?" he asked Simmons.

She grinned at him through the mask and mimed conducting an orchestra. He gave her back her phone, and she bent over it, presumably texting Anthea. Lestrade watched the open, blackened door of the house.

It was only a minute or two before Mycroft slipped out, carrying a briefcase in one hand and a few folders in the other. Lestrade took a quick picture of him in a fireman's helmet to show John later, or threaten to show Sherlock if Mycroft ever annoyed him to that extent.

"I couldn't get any of your things," Mycroft said. "I'm sorry. They say the stairs are too unstable."

"Don't worry about it. We've got the Library Suite, which sounds like it should come with a ghost and a secret passage and does come with cake, if you're Mycroft Holmes."

Mycroft blushed faintly. "It's good cake," he said.

"I got sandwiches too. Simmons and Anthea are coming with us?"

"Simmons, yes. Anthea will join us when she considers it proper to leave Carruthers."

The paramedics wanted to take Simmons to hospital, but, in the end, were forced to admit that someone who could argue that loudly with them probably hadn't done her lungs too much damage. They piled into Mycroft's car.

"This has been a very long day," Lestrade said.

Mycroft nodded. "And it's not over. You should try to sleep when we get to the hotel. Both of you."

"Sod off, sir," Simmons said. "Respectfully. Some lunatic's trying to kill you and I'm supposed to take a nap?"

"What she said," Lestrade said through a yawn.

"He's not trying to kill me. He knew I wouldn't be home. These are merely intimidation tactics."

"And you're so dead sure he won't try to intimidate you some more at the hotel?" Simmons asked.

"Yes."

Simmons rubbed a hand over her soot-streaked face. "You want to spell it out for me this time, boss? I'm not gonna be able to sleep if you don't."

"His actions so far have been planned. If he's to strike again tonight, it must be spontaneous and is thus likely to be clumsy. He is not a man who would choose to be clumsy. I weigh the odds of an event tonight against the necessity of having you well rested tomorrow when danger is far more likely, and logic tells me that you should stop arguing and do as I say," he finished sharply.

"That's always what logic tells you," Lestrade pointed out. He was already leaning against Mycroft's shoulder. Sleep might be inevitable.

"I am a very logical person," Mycroft said.

"Seldom wrong."

"As you say."

"Did you expect the house to get burned down tonight?"

Mycroft stiffened, almost imperceptibly. If Lestrade hadn't been half draped across him, he wouldn't have known.

"You expected something," Lestrade said.

"I did warn her to be alert."

"Hey, she's right here," Simmons said.

"You don't think warning her that that someone might come to burn the house down might've been a better idea?"

"Hey!" Simmons said. Both of them looked at her. "His warning was adequate. I expected trouble. There were six of them, and I'm not fucking James Bond. I'm satisfied with my performance. If Mr Holmes isn't, he can fire me. The end. If you two want to argue, leave me out of it."

"Sorry," Lestrade muttered. "Sorry," he repeated, more sincerely this time, and then turned to Mycroft and found he really couldn't help himself, for all he tried to keep his jaw clenched shut. "But you can't just keep us in the dark like that!"

"Simmons and Anthea are my employees. I can and do keep them in the dark when it suits my plans."

"Fine. Me, then. You can't keep me in the dark. I'm not working for you. Never have, even when you were sending me those ridiculous cheques for looking after Sherlock like I was some sort of hugely over-paid babysitter."

"You never cashed them."

"Of course I never cashed them! He was - is - an asset to the force! We should've been paying him all along, and thank god we are now."

"That wasn't how I saw it," Mycroft said quietly.

"How the fuck did you see it then? I never understood that."

"I saw a kind and patient man who treated my brother with respect he hadn't earned, accepted him into his work, his heart, and at least temporarily his home, who did for him all the things I was unable to do. How could I let something of that magnitude go unacknowledged?"

Lestrade stared at him for far too long. He felt like that little speech had knocked all the air out of him. "If you wanted to say thank you," he said, finally, "you could've just...said. A handshake would've be fine. More than enough."

"I didn't know that then. You've taught me a great deal, Gregory."

Lestrade didn't know exactly what he meant by that, but the argument he'd started suddenly seemed a lot less important. Had Mycroft planned it that way? Lestrade shook his head, which completely failed, both as denial and as an attempt to clear it. The rest of the journey to the hotel passed in silence.

Lestrade held the door for Mycroft and Simmons when they pulled up, and someone took their bags. Apparently, checking into hotels was something that happened to people who were not Mycroft Holmes. They were shown immediately upstairs. The Library Suite didn't have as many books as Mycroft's library did. Lestrade frowned at them and wondered how many of Mycroft's had survived the fire. Mycroft was looking at them as well. He touched the spine of one that Lestrade knew he'd seen in Mycroft's house.

Abruptly, Lestrade felt like an arse for shouting at him. He'd lost his home. His books. Photo albums, clothes, papers, god knew what else. Of course he would've prevented it if he could've. Wouldn't he? Lestrade went over and put a hand on his back. Mycroft leaned into his touch.

"Sorry," Lestrade said, unsure exactly which part of the evening he was apologising for, but feeling that it had to be said.

Mycroft shook his head and turned toward him. He leaned in and ducked his head until his cold nose was pressed against the side of Lestrade's neck, just above his collar. Lestrade put his arms around him. In the background, Simmons was pouring tea.

"We should eat," Lestrade said. "And you're sleeping too, not just us."

"Someone has to stay up. However low the odds, there is a chance he'll try something tonight. I need little sleep."

"That's what Sherlock says and then he collapses for fourteen hours after a case. Do you know I called an ambulance for him once? I was worried he'd slipped into a coma."

Mycroft laughed softly. "I try to be more reasonable about my body's demands than he is, but I do understand his point of view. The constant requirements for rest and nourishment can be incredibly tedious."

There was a knock on the door, and everyone tensed. It was not a polite knock. It was a loud and repeated banging. Simmons had a gun in her hand and was at the door before Lestrade could move. She looked through the peephole, looked again, frowned, and then turned to Mycroft.

"It's your brother, sir," she said. "And Dr Watson."

Mycroft stood to his full height and tugged at his cuffs, though they weren't noticeably in need of straightening. "Let them in," he said.

She opened the door, and Sherlock paused in the doorway, somehow dramatically backlit even by the relatively dim hotel corridor. He pulled his coat about him in a swirl of fabric as he strode into the room. Lestrade rolled his eyes.

John, following Sherlock in with far less drama, shrugged. "We came straight from the train station," he said. "Sorry to intrude. He seems to think it's important."

Sherlock glared at him, clearly miffed at having his dramatic opening line preempted. "Were you even going to tell me about the house?" he demanded, half sulky and half prickly outrage.

"Nothing of yours was affected. It's all in boxes in the cellar."

"That's hardly the point!"

Mycroft smiled thinly. "Do be careful, Sherlock. One might almost think you were concerned for me."

Lestrade could hear Sherlock gritting his teeth, which shouldn't have been possible from across the room, and which couldn't be good for his molars. John poured him a cup of tea and shoved it into a hand that was about to make a sweeping denial.

"Well," John said. "What a nice room. And these look like very nice sandwiches. Since I haven't eaten a thing since some madman decided we absolutely had to get back to London tonight, I think I'll have one. Thanks, Mycroft."

"You are quite welcome, Dr Watson."

"And perhaps in the meantime someone would like to explain just what the bloody fuck is going on," John continued pleasantly, and bit into a ham and cheese sandwich with something approaching malice.

"No one knows except Mycroft," Lestrade said.

"I do," Sherlock said immediately, and a year ago that would've had him off and running, explaining every last detail. He'd got cagier in his time away though, and now he only sipped his tea and looked smug.

John took another vindictive bite. No one spoke.

There was another knock on the door.

"For god's sake," Simmons muttered and looked through the peephole again before she flung the door wide.

Anthea walked in, still in her elegant dress, but now soaked from head to toe. It didn't look like she'd been out in the rain so much as if she'd been submerged in something. "I think I have something for you, sir," she said to Mycroft.

Mycroft gestured her through to the next room, because of course he couldn't let her explain anything; that would be far too easy. National security, Lestrade reminded himself. It didn't really help. Anthea followed him, pausing only to catch Simmons' hand briefly in hers. Lestrade watched John's expression go from poleaxed to resigned in the space of five seconds. The door to the other room shut with a decorous click.

"Shouldn't you be in there too?" Lestrade asked Simmons.

"She has a lot higher security clearance than me." Simmons shrugged and took a sandwich. "I'm used to it. Besides, someone has to stay out here and look after you bozos." She directed this remark primarily toward Sherlock, who glowered at her.

"That was one incident," Sherlock said.

"With an incident like that, one is all it takes."

"Do tell," John said, blandly vicious and clearly fed up with Sherlock. Lestrade tried to imagine being stuck in a train compartment with Sherlock all the way from Scotland after previously being stuck with Sherlock in bunk beds in his parents' house for days...and then he shuddered a bit and tried not to.

"He was trying to fit through a tight space," Simmons said. "A gap in the foundation that led into the cellar. There was butter involved. And not much else."

"It would've worked if you hadn't stopped me!" Sherlock said, unrepentant and clearly unashamed.

John and Lestrade looked at each other and burst out laughing at the mental image of Sherlock, naked and greased up, trying to infiltrate his brother's house unnoticed. Sherlock took his tea and went to sulk in a corner. After a moment, John went after him, because John was soft like that.

Lestrade went over to Simmons. "Can you sleep with them in there plotting and these two menaces to society roaming free?"

"I could," she said.

"Sherlock won't, and John will stay up with him. Take the bed. I'll crash here."

She eyed John and Sherlock. John was forcibly stuffing a biscuit into Sherlock's mouth. She sighed. "Yeah, all right. It's not ideal, but when is it ever." She headed off to the second bedroom.

Lestrade sat down in a chair and closed his eyes. He woke some indeterminate amount of time later with Sherlock bent over him and examining his watch. "Patek Philippe Nautilus in white gold. A gift from my odious brother, I presume."

"Yeah. S'nice. So's sleep. Piss off." He frowned. "White gold? It's just steel, isn't it? Or aluminium?"

Sherlock looked at him levelly, hands clasped behind him. "That is a twenty thousand pound watch you are wearing. You had no idea, did you."

Lestrade rubbed at his face. He felt creased and rumpled all over, even his skin. "Can't be, it hasn't even got diamonds."

"I assure you, it is. There's an inscription."

"God, what time is it?"

"Asks the man wearing the watch. Shortly after four. What does the inscription say?"

"Haven't had a chance to look." He didn't really want to with Sherlock stooping over him and watching every move and facial expression like a raptor fixed on a mouse.

"I'll bet you fifty quid it's not in English. If I'm wrong, you'll get fifty quid and if I'm right, I'll translate it for you so you don't have to ask him."

As far as offers from Sherlock went, that was win-win. Lestrade eyed him with a certain amount of suspicion, but he did take the watch off. Sherlock was right. "Fieri sentio et excrucior," he read. "Excrucior doesn't sound great."

"It's from a poem by Catullus. Latin. Odio et amo. 'I hate and I love. How do I do that perhaps you ask? I don't know. But I feel it done to me and I am tormented.' There's slightly more liberal translation that you may find clearer: 'I hate and I love. Ignorant fish who wants the fly even while writhing.'"

Lestrade stared at the words cut clearly into the back of the watch. He rubbed his thumb over them and could barely feel the grooves of the letters incised into metal. Into white gold. A watch worth a good percentage of his yearly salary, inscribed with Mycroft's apparent torment. What was he supposed to make of that?

"He's merely being honest," Sherlock said, almost sharply. "Every poet in human history has described the process as excruciating, damaging to the faculties of reason, and harrowing even when reciprocated."

"The process."

"Don't pretend to be more idiotic than you are."

"Love," Lestrade said, flatly.

"If you wanted to be compared to summer's day, you're with the wrong man."

"I didn't, especially." He looked at the inscription again. "Tormented," he said, quietly, thumb brushing over excrucior.

"He would've bought it some time ago," Sherlock said, in what was, for him, a conciliatory tone.

Lestrade thought back to Mycroft's proposition in the back of his car. He'd expected Lestrade to tire of him within six months. Lestrade cleared his throat. "How long ago, do you think?"

"Long enough," Sherlock said.

"You warned me off him. You all but said he'd lock me up and throw away the key."

"Which would not have been a danger if he considered you a casual liaison." Sherlock paused. "You must have noticed how he treats the things he cares about."

"I noticed you're living in a flat of your own, doing what you like, taking his cases only when you can get something for them. I noticed before that you were living in a shithole with water that came out the colour of mustard three days out of seven and sleeping on a mattress on the floor because that's what you wanted. I noticed he helped you fake your own death." Lestrade took a breath and let it out with control. "So yeah. I fucking noticed how he treats the things he cares about."

Sherlock blinked at him and tilted his head like some pale, alien bird. His eyes were so heavily shadowed by his ridiculous fringe that they looked almost black. "Doesn't it bother you how he keeps you in the dark?" he asked. "How he holds all the answers and forces you to run after him begging for scraps of information?"

Lestrade sighed. "Yeah. It does. But I'm more or less used to it because I've worked with you for nearly a decade now. Also, when he does it, it's in the interests of national security. When you do it, you're stopping me doing my actual job. What is this, Sherlock? Are you still warning me off him or is this where you threaten to dissolve me in acid if I break his heart?"

"That's unnecessarily dramatic." Sherlock sniffed and glanced over his shoulder, presumably to make sure John was still occupied in watching the door and methodically crumbling a bun into smaller and smaller pieces.

"Your middle name is Unnecessarily Dramatic."

"He didn't plan the house fire."

"He didn't look surprised by it," Lestrade said.

"I doubt he was. The smoke must've been visible some miles away. He had more than enough time to process the event and work it into his plans. But he didn't plan it. Do you know how unusual that is for him?"

"So what does that mean? Why did you drag John away from his father and come and crash in our hotel room? I hope it wasn't just to lecture me about my watch."

"We came to provide assistance." Sherlock paced quickly to the window and back. He perched on the edge of the coffee table and leaned forward. "You know he was attacked some time ago?"

"Yes."

"That was the point at which he should've put a stop to this. That he either chose not to or was unable to I can attribute only to your influence. There is no other new variable."

Lestrade frowned, rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair, and frowned again. His cheeks were still perfectly smooth from when Mycroft had shaved him. "You're saying I-- What? Cloud his judgement? He's Mycroft."

Sherlock just looked at him. Lestrade hated it when he was calm like this. His ranting and insults were usually at least informative. Like this, he was as helpful as a starfield screensaver.

He chose not to or was unable to, Sherlock had said. Unable to didn't seem likely. Chose not to. Why would he choose not to?

The bedroom door opened. Anthea emerged, followed more slowly by Mycroft.

"He's going to run," Sherlock said.

Mycroft nodded, and for a moment Lestrade thought they were both talking about him. "I wanted to wait until the planned roll-up of Deception, but that's no longer an option. We'll have to move now, but it shouldn't be a problem."

That was a reason Mycroft might reasonably choose not to act. He wanted to see the operation through. Something about it felt off, though. Moving a two year operation ahead by a week couldn't be such a big deal. Surely Mycroft could've wrapped this up before Lestrade was even out of hospital.

That would mean he'd never have gone to stay at Mycroft's house. Never worn the tux Mycroft bought for him. Never, maybe, talked to him on the floor for hours in front of the fire. But Mycroft wouldn't take a risk like that just to get Lestrade to stay with him. There must be something else, something he was missing.

Mycroft's mobile rang, and he answered it. Lestrade watched his face go from briefly grave to that neutral, expressionless mask he was starting to hate. Whatever it was, it couldn't be good news.

He disconnected the call and immediately made another, requesting a helicopter on the roof of the hotel. This was going to be the most exciting night the Connaught staff had seen in years. "Ten minutes," he said to the room at large when he'd hung up. He looked at Sherlock. Sherlock looked back at him. "Will you go?" Mycroft said.

"You'll owe me."

"I'm well aware."

"Explosives?"

"I have an expert on site - please let her handle the actual disarming process - but you'll need to get her in and locate the devices. The entire compound's been locked down, and most of our agents have been compromised."

"Time limit?"

"Unknown. But I think you may safely assume there is one."

Sherlock nodded sharply and left the room, John a step behind him. Lestrade wanted to catch them, shake some sense into them, tell them to be careful. He knew it was useless. It always was. He watched them go with a sick feeling that was slightly relieved when Mycroft gave a nod and Simmons and Anthea headed out after John and Sherlock. Anthea was still mostly an unknown quantity, but at least Simmons had some common sense.

The door shut again with a quiet snick. Mycroft stood at the window and looked out over the city.

"What about Carruthers?" Lestrade asked.

"Quiet," Mycroft said, sounding more like Sherlock than Lestrade had ever heard him. "I'm thinking."

Lestrade sat down to do some thinking himself. He wished he still had the file on Northgate, but he'd read it enough times that the text was almost visible behind his closed eyelids. Carruthers must have plenty of other connections, but Northgate was the only one Lestrade was familiar with, so that's where he'd have to focus.

Except that wasn't true. There was one other connection he was far more familiar with. He glanced at Mycroft. It was a crazy idea, wasn't it? Maybe it was. Probably it was, but it couldn't hurt to say it.

"Mycroft," he said. "The Eurydice."

Mycroft turned slowly to look at him.

"He knows you. He must've researched you, right? And why would you--"

"Guard my own yacht from him. Yes. We're closer than any of my people. Come along." He was already moving toward the door with surprising speed.

Mycroft was on his mobile for almost the entire trip, organising back up, sending people to secure other possible escape routes, checking on John and Sherlock's progress.

"Are they going to make it?" Lestrade asked.

"I believe so. If there's a timer, it's most likely set to coincide with Carruthers' escape, to ensure the maximum possible distraction."

Lestrade tapped a finger against the leather seat.

"What," Mycroft said.

"Sherlock said--" No, that wasn't the way to start. He looked over at Mycroft, who looked back at him calmly. "Did you let this thing with Carruthers go further than it had to? For...whatever reason?"

"I suppose that depends on your point of view. And upon the desired resolution of the episode."

Lestrade steeled himself. He had to ask, even if he ended up looking like a fool. "Did your desired resolution in this case have anything to do with me?"

"Yes." The car slid to a stop at the docks. "We're here," Mycroft said. He got out of the car before Lestrade could reply.

The two of them moved quietly along the wooden jetties. Lestrade paused briefly as they stepped from solid ground to floating path. The sky in the east was tinged with the faintest hint of colour. Dawn was coming.

"This is a terrible idea," Lestrade said, mostly to himself. Entirely to himself. No one else was listening. He watched Mycroft move ahead with surprising stealth, even grace. His umbrella hung from two curled fingers over the water.

Lestrade heard the shot in the same moment he saw the figure standing silhouetted on the deck of the yacht. Mycroft went into the water without a sound. Lestrade went in after him without a thought.

It was even darker down in the water, underneath the maze of wooden jetties. The Thames bullied him into a piling and pushed into his mouth. He kicked off his shoes and kept kicking. He was a decent swimmer, but it was a struggle to stay above water here, in the dark, disoriented and with sodden clothes adding to his body weight. The chill of the water spread through him faster than he would've thought possible.

He twisted his head wildly from side to side, arms churning the water to keep himself afloat. Mycroft was nowhere in sight. After a second of panic he remembered the supposedly waterproof torch on his keychain. He yanked it out of his pocket, ripped something, nearly dropped it. His hands were so cold already.

The tiny barrel of it was metal and slippery, and he fumbled the twist needed to turn it on again and again, forced himself to breathe and do it properly. Blue light cut through the gloom and he let out a shaky breath as he scanned over the water. Nothing. There was nothing.

He struggled out of his dinner jacket and kicked away from the piling. Mycroft had fallen to the right, toward the land. The current wasn't strong here with so much to disrupt it, but it was pushing him back, and he went with it, back and in, under the docks.

Slats of yellow light striped the river. The water was utterly black. Lestrade cast his torch around again and called out. He heard shots from above, but everything except this seemed distant.

There was a sudden silence. He was afraid to call out into it. If Mycroft answered, Carruthers might get to him first and finish the job. Assuming he hadn't succeeded the first time. Lestrade's imagination showed him a vivid image of Mycroft's dark blood staining the water, and he struck out for the next piling, casting his torch in every direction.

Nothing. Sodden wood. Floating condoms. Sludge, leaves, a plastic cigarette lighter. Something pale. He almost passed over it, wedged as it was back into a corner between a piling and a concrete barrier. It was white cloth, billowing in the water.

"Mycroft!" he hissed, low, and swam for it as best he could. He was getting colder, teeth starting to click together.

A hand reached out for him when he got close, and he clasped it, heart stuttering with relief, breath catching hard in his throat. For a moment, he couldn't speak, could only fold Mycroft into an awkward, clammy, one-armed embrace.

He took a deep breath. "Is it bad? Come on, let's get you on solid ground."

"I'm perfectly well," Mycroft said. "Quiet."

"You were shot!"

Mycroft slapped a hand over Lestrade's mouth. "He thinks I was shot. Let us, please, keep it that way. A brisk swim in the Thames wasn't my first choice, but I saw few alternatives."

Water slapped against the pilings. A mournful siren cut through distant traffic noise. "You'll freeze if you stay down there," Carruthers said. His shoes tapped against the wood no more than twenty feet away and then moved further away, onto concrete. "Come, now. Let's be reasonable."

"Odds on him thinking it's completely reasonable to shoot us?" Lestrade murmured.

"Favourable. But we can't stay in the water forever. Go left. There's a ladder. You'll come up into shadow. I'll be at the other end. Come at him while he is focused on me."

Lestrade nodded and struck out to the left. He pulled himself through the icy water and tried not to think. He reached the ladder and gripped each slippery rung with care. They dug into his stocking feet, and the rusted metal scraped at his palms. He poked his head over the edge. Under a streetlight thirty feet away, Mycroft was climbing out of the water. His motions were slow and telegraphed pain. Carruthers had a gun trained on him.

It was like a painting: the angle of the light, the sharp contrast, shadows and highlights. The moon rode high through a haze of reddish clouds. Lestrade crept closer, circled around, kept to the darkness.

The closer he got, the more impossible the situation seemed. He'd never get close enough to take Carruthers out without being seen. The moment Carruthers saw him, he could shoot him. He had no reason to keep Lestrade alive.

He'd have to run. A few more feet, and then a dash and hope Carruthers was surprised enough to miss. Or else that the distraction was enough for Mycroft to get away. Twenty feet away. Fifteen. He drew breath for a yell, prepared himself to run.

Mycroft looked straight at Lestrade in that moment. Carruthers noted the look, half-turned, and Mycroft barrelled into Carruthers and knocked both of them to the ground. Lestrade ran.

Mycroft wasn't a fighter. His punches were glancing, and Carruthers soon landed a solid blow to his stomach and pushed him off. Mycroft curled on his side, hand pressed where the blow had landed

Lestrade caught Carruthers just as he regained his feet and spun him around so that his face met Lestrade's fist at speed. It fucking hurt and must've hurt Carruthers more, but he didn't stop. He ducked down and punched up into Lestrade's stomach, and when Lestrade bent double around it, tried to plant his knee in Lestrade's face.

Lestrade knew that trick and twisted automatically at the last second. It left Carruthers off balance, and one good shove put him back on the ground. Lestrade was about to make sure he'd stay down when he heard Mycroft's voice behind him.

"Enough." Mycroft was standing tall and straight, and he had the gun trained on Carruthers. Lestrade looked him over, but the only obvious injury was a split lip.

"You all right?" he asked anyway. Mycroft nodded. "Now what?" Lestrade asked.

Now, apparently, it was time for a long, cold wait in the dark. All three of them were bloody and battered. Mycroft was clearly in pain and shivering now so badly that his aim was no longer steady and neither was his voice when he used Carruthers' phone to call for reinforcements.

Lestrade got Carruthers out of his very nice coat and draped it around Mycroft's shoulders. He was shivering himself, but tried to ignore it. He paced, jogged in place, and kept an eye on Carruthers.

The man seemed physically smaller now. He'd been more frightening unarmed at the party than he had here at the docks. Lestrade wondered how much of that was his own familiarity with dark, dirty locations where people wanted to do him harm, as opposed to posh parties where the only weapons allowed were sarcasm and condescension. Lestrade knew where he was with a man who wanted to kick his face in.

They waited. None of them spoke. There were no threats from Carruthers, no posturing. There was only a cold, heavy silence that seemed to last for hours.

At last Lestrade heard the sound of engines nearer than the road, doors opening and closing, footsteps. They were surrounded by quiet, competent people in soberly coloured suits. Some of them led Carruthers away in handcuffs. Some had dry clothes and warm blankets and medical training. They were Lestrade's favourites, especially the one who managed to get Mycroft's shirt off and check his ribs.

"It was a glancing blow. I'm perfectly all right," he said, testily.

"If he'd shot you, you'd be a fucking corpse, so shut up and let them do their work," Lestrade said, maybe too loudly. There was a pause all around them and then a redoubling of activity. Lestrade sat down heavily beside Mycroft with a muttered and completely insincere apology.

Mycroft's hand came to rest over his. "He is a notoriously terrible shot. There was very little chance he'd hit me from that distance."

"Is this you trying to be comforting?"

"Yes, I suppose it is."

"Not bad," Lestrade admitted. He turned his palm up and laced their fingers together, surprised when Mycroft let him.

As soon as Mycroft was pronounced unbroken and got a top on - a hilariously oversized t-shirt and hoodie combo - he was up and moving. He was on a replacement mobile, giving orders about the rest of Carruthers' network that included the phrases 'sod Heathrow' and 'the trains can wait'. Tonight was going to be a bad night for travel. Lestrade trailed after him, vaguely surprised he hadn't yet been shunted into a corner away from sensitive conversations.

He sat on the boot of a car while Mycroft paced nearby. One of the agents came up and offered him a mobile. "Call for you, sir," she said.

He chose to simply accept that this was a thing that happened in his life now. It seemed simpler. "Hello?" he said, holding the mobile up to his ear.

"Greg!" John said. "Is that you finally? It's been about five different people so far."

"It's me. You four all right?"

"Peachy," John said dryly. "Sherlock's got a head injury. Anthea's got some burns. Neither of them are too badly off, but of course they're both trying to refuse treatment. I look the worst off, but that's only because it's my face."

"What's your face?"

"Scrape on my cheek and forehead, some bruising. It's superficial. Sherlock's hovering like a--"

There were sounds of a brief struggle, the hiss of fingers or fabric rubbing against the phone's mic, and then Sherlock's voice came on on the line. "He was going to make an absurd animal comparison. And he's resisting treatment too," Sherlock added loudly, clearly more to John than to Lestrade.

"How about if everyone gets appropriate medical attention? I know it's a bit mad, but you ought to try it at least once," Lestrade said. "Might stop you collapsing nose-first into a petri dish this time."

Sherlock made a noise of disgust and outrage and dropped the phone, judging by the loud clunk that followed.

"Sorry about that," John said cheerfully. "He says he'll get treated if I do though, so thanks for whatever you said."

"Any time. How are the bombs?"

"Defused."

"Mycroft's agents?"

"Rescued."

"Compound full of mixed nuts?"

"Mostly rounded up. Pretty sure some ran before we even got here though, and we passed a few in the halls busy getting out while we got in."

"Not bad. You lot heading home when you're patched up?"

"Yeah, there's a car for us. Can't wait to get home and..." John trailed off and sighed deeply.

"What?"

"Just remembered. No milk for the tea. Nothing to eat, either, of course. Is everything all right on your end?"

"Oh, yeah. Apart from Mycroft almost getting shot and both of us ending up in the Thames, it was great."

That took some explaining. When John was finished scolding him and finally had to hang up and get his face seen to, Lestrade caught one of the younger agents and hoped he wasn't someone important. There was no way to tell with the nearly identical dark suits.

"Listen, could you arrange for some food and things to be delivered if I give you a list?"

"Of course, sir. The address?"

"Two-twenty-one B Baker Street. Milk, tea, cheese, bread, butter, something green, and Chinese takeaway."

The young man asked for details on the Chinese, and Lestrade made a few guesses, gave him Sherlock's favourite Chinese restaurant, and watched as he walked off to be efficient and useful.

"Thoughtful of you," Mycroft said, appearing at his shoulder to guide him toward a waiting car.

Lestrade sighed in perfect bliss as he slid into the heated interior of the back seat. "I may marry this car." He leaned back and closed his eyes. "So. Everyone lives happily ever after," he said. He didn't feel happily-ever-after. He didn't feel much of anything, except tired and uncertain. It was all over, and he didn't know what came next.

"And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true," Mycroft said.

Lestrade elbowed him gently. "Where are we going?"

"Back to the hotel."

"Hot water," Lestrade moaned.

Nothing in the universe seemed more desirable, and the actuality of it, twenty minutes later, did not disappoint. Mycroft was naked and wet and now pressed up against him under the blessedly hot spray. There were three shower heads, and all of them were the perfect temperature and pressure. He sniffed the air and frowned.

"Is this water actually perfumed?"

"I think you'll find that's the increasing absence of eau de Thames," Mycroft said, smoothing soapy hands over Lestrade's back. "We were both so offensive, I wasn't certain the hotel staff would let us in."

His fingers flexed against Lestrade's scalp, and Lestrade gave up on forming a reply. He leaned into Mycroft, licked hot water from his neck, stroked him idly and without intent. He pressed one hand lightly over the bruise on Mycroft's side where Carruthers had hit him. It was hard not to think about the sharp report of the gunshot, the graceless topple of his body over the side.

"You're really okay," he said.

Mycroft brushed their lips together and lingered with his forehead against Lestrade's, suds from Lestrade's hair sliding down the curve of his cheek.

"Yes," Mycroft said. "And so are you."

Lestrade woke up just after eleven. Mycroft was still asleep, one arm flung across Lestrade's chest, the other off the side of the bed. His hair was flat on one side, mouth slack. As Lestrade kissed each corner of his lips, Mycroft opened his eyes and smiled.

"Good morning."

"Barely," Lestrade said. "Are you going to be terribly busy and important today?"

"Probably," Mycroft admitted, nose crinkling.

"How's my flat?"

"It should be livable by now. Are you going home then?"

Mycroft looked like he was bracing himself for the answer to that question. Lestrade tugged him close and folded an arm over his waist. "We have to go somewhere. Your house burned down, remember?"

There was a beat of silence. Mycroft raised his head to search Lestrade's face. "We?" he asked.

"I know it's not the Connaught, but you let me stay at yours all that time. Seems like the least I can do. I understand if you can't," he added quickly. "Security or whatever."

Mycroft's smile was slow and warm and so was the press of his lips to Lestrade's cheek. "I would be honoured," he said.

*

Lestrade moved back into his flat that afternoon. It was as if the break-in had never happened. The replacement sofa and television were eerily identical to the originals. Lestrade had to check that there was no cigarette burn on the centre cushion, no loose connection in the back of the television, just to be certain.

Several walls had been repainted, but the hook where his sister's painting had hung was still there. He looked at it and sighed. He couldn't imagine anything else hanging just there. He'd find his pliers later and pull it.

The bedroom was similarly restored, though he thought his sheets had received a threadcount upgrade. Fair enough, since Mycroft would be sleeping in them. The thought made his stomach clench in a way that was only partly due to excitement. The flat was very small and a bit shabby. It wasn't what Mycroft was used to. Of course, Lestrade wasn't what Mycroft was used to either, but that seemed to be working out.

They'd start off right, he decided. He'd cook, since he hadn't got the chance to before. He checked the fridge, half-expecting to find it fully stocked, but it was, instead, completely bare. He looked into the bright, white void with satisfaction. This was only the second brand new fridge he'd owned in his life, and there was a peculiarly sharp pleasure in starting over, all condiment mistakes wiped clean.

An hour later, he walked home from Tesco with four full bags, including red snapper for dinner and a loaf of bread studded with black olives that would end its life smothered with garlic butter and baked until hot and crisp.

Outside his building, he stopped short. A large, flat package stood propped against the door. It was wrapped in plain, brown paper. He felt a lurch of dread, and for a moment he was convinced it would contain a bomb, or Mycroft's ear, or something worse.

A couple of deep breaths convinced him that it was the wrong shape for an ear and probably for a bomb as well. He squatted down to examine it. There were two words written in the very centre, letters small but precisely formed: I'm sorry. He knew what it was all at once, and he ripped the paper off right there, with the rain starting and the fish getting warm.

The first jagged tear revealed his mother's face, painted with slightly more love than skill, one eye noticeably lower than the other. His sister had tried to blame it on Cubism. He yanked the paper off and looked it over, smile growing. He could see, if he searched, where it had been cut, but it wasn't obvious. He flipped it over. Even on the back, the repair was camouflaged by a strip of cloth the same color as the canvas.

A foolish smile took over his face and camped there. He took it, and the painting, inside and up to his flat, since he didn't want to explain either one to his neighbours. The painting's hook was still up, waiting for it, and he set it in place.

Despite the eyes, his sister had got the mouth just right. His mum smiled down on him with familiar, crooked warmth. She'd hated having her photo taken, and this was possibly the world's last remaining representation of her smile. He wondered if Mycroft had known why the painting was important, or only that it was.

In the kitchen, he rang his sister and unloaded the shopping into his pristine fridge with his mobile clamped between ear and shoulder. He'd meant to say how much he still liked the painting, but that would lead to questions he couldn't answer. In the end, he just listened. She told him about a possible promotion at work that her boss was trying to block because he was a fiery, putrid, infectious arsehole (her words), about the sad tomato plant she was trying to grow on her windowsill, about her husband's imminent return from Iraq. It was twenty minutes before she asked what he'd called about.

"Just wanted to hear your voice," he said. "Rough week."

"Was that a large enough dose? I can keep going."

"Yeah, okay," he said, which was guaranteed to make her worry. But it had been a rough week. Eventually, he put her on speaker, and she talked right through the assembly of a spicy tomato sauce for the fish, the blending garlic, butter, and parsley for the bread.

She'd only just rung off, with his promise of lunch next week, when Mycroft walked in.

Lestrade kissed him hello, relieved him of his suit jacket and set him to stirring the sauce.

"Thank you," Lestrade said. "I got the painting."

"I didn't want to mention it, in case the restoration proved infeasible. It's satisfactory?"

"More than." He slid the snapper fillets into the gently bubbling sauce. "Between that and the way you got me the exact same couch and telly and fridge and I think even the same mattress I had before, I might almost think you were softening me up for something."

Mycroft let out a tiny puff of a sigh. "It was especially difficult to resist getting you a better mattress. And the fridge. It could have had a separate drawer to keep wine at the appropriate temperature and a sparkling water dispenser."

"That's a thing?"

"It is, indeed, a thing." Mycroft glanced at him hopefully. "It's not too late to change your mind."

Lestrade waved a bread knife at him and went back to slicing. "I don't need my fridge to dispense sparkling water. I like my water sparkle-free."

"I learn new things about you every day."

"I want to ask you something," Lestrade said, as he put the garlic bread into the oven.

Mycroft didn't look up from the sauce. "You want to know what my goals were for this operation. You asked me before."

Lestrade nodded.

Mycroft was silent for a few seconds. He slid his fingers over the carved end of the wooden spoon in his hand, as if memorising it.

"There were several things I wanted," he said, finally. "The simplest was the dismantling of Carruthers' organization and his capture. I also needed a shift in power that would lend my opinions more weight at the highest levels. A difficult resolution, one that walked the brink of disaster, was more likely to bring me that."

"They'd listen to you more because you didn't do as good a job as you could've?"

"Things that look difficult are valued more than things that look easy. That is a simple fact. In addition, you had become involved. I truly did not believe he would hurt you, and I regret not foreseeing that. But once you were involved--" Mycroft pressed his lips together and glanced at him sideways.

"You saw some kind of opportunity," Lestrade suggested.

"You're not upset by that?"

"I think you see everything as an opportunity. It's the way your mind works. It's why you always win."

Mycroft simply nodded. "A good summation. I saw several opportunities. A chance to become more intimately acquainted with you. A chance to keep you away from work long enough to recover properly for once. Please don't argue; I've read your file."

Lestrade shut his mouth. There might've been an incident when he came in to work with a head injury and passed out at his desk briefly.

"A chance," Mycroft continued, "to keep you safe." He took a deep breath and let it out in a low sigh. "And an opportunity to introduce you to the world in which I live. A necessity if we were to develop a relationship based on anything more than casual sex."

"You couldn't have just told me about it? Seems like it would've been a lot simpler for everyone, especially you."

"No. Without experiencing it, you would've come to resent me, for the things I couldn't tell you, for the things I could tell you, for the decisions I must make. You may still, but I believe... I hope that the memory of working with me in this will temper your feelings."

Lestrade moved to stand behind him and rested his chin on Mycroft's shoulder. Mycroft caught his hand and rubbed gentle circles into the back of it with his thumb. He leaned back and let Lestrade take some of his weight, which might be symbolic, or manipulative, or both. It wasn't just Mycroft leaning on him, not tonight, not during this conversation.

Maybe it never would be. Maybe Mycroft's every word and action would always have another meaning, or two, or three. Lestrade tried to decide if that mattered to him, if it would come to infuriate him in time.

"I know what you're doing," he said.

Mycroft didn't stop. "It's not just for you," he said. "It's for both of us."

Lestrade kissed his neck and held him closer. That was symbolism he could live with.