“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.”
― Bram Stoker, Dracula
“Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?”
― Bram Stoker, Dracula
It was a dark and stormy night.
Actually, winters in the British Isles being what they were, it was a dark and stormy afternoon, but even at half past three it was incredibly dark outside. Given that Mycroft was on his first full day of his long-deferred and much anticipated holiday, deep in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands, curled next to the fire in a velvet armchair with a leather-bound copy of Dracula in his hands and a cup of cocoa gently steaming at his elbow, he thought he was allowed some artistic license.
Sighing happily, he tore his gaze away from the rain-lashed wilderness glimpsed through the dimness of the brooding sky outside his window and returned to Victorian London and all its horrors. Mycroft had lost count of how many times he’d read Stoker’s seminal work, but it mattered naught. Classics were just that--classic for a reason. Mycroft’s holiday let had a small shelf of books, mostly paperback romances and improbable thrillers, but he’d brought with him a valise full of his favourites.
Two glorious weeks alone, and he had naught to do but read, sleep late and eat unwisely.
So deeply engrossed was he in Jonathan Harker’s adventures, that at first the knocking at the front door registered as nothing more than another facet of the storm raging. Eventually it penetrated the mesmerizing charm of the story and Mycroft frowned. His location was remote, and known only to a select few, and there was no reason for a visit, nor was this the season nor weather for a casual visitor. This could only herald trouble of one kind or another. Tossing aside his chenille blanket, Mycroft shuffled his socked feet back into his abandoned slippers, set aside his book and rose, heading for the front door, trepidation mixing with annoyance.
The house was not normally equipped with security cameras and live feeds, but of course his team had come in ahead of time to accommodate his particular needs. Mycroft brought the security panel to life and selected the front door camera. An image appeared, of a vaguely familiar shape, turned back towards the distant lane. Mycroft pressed the intercom, “Yes?”
“Sorry to bother you,” the man--for it was a man--started, in a London accent, turning back towards the door, “My car ran off the road into the ditch and I can’t get it out. I was wondering if I could use your phone to call for a tow?”
Mycroft stared at the man on his screen, familiar in every aspect. Lestrade. Lestrade, of all possible people to show up out of the blue like this. What on earth was Lestrade doing on his doorstep at this precise moment in time? Was this some cosmic joke? Had--dear God--had Sherlock something to do with this?
“Hullo?” Lestrade brought his face in closer to the peephole, “Can you hear me, mate? I promise I’m not here for anything nefarious, it was just an accident. I’m a Detective Inspector with the London Metropolitan Police...I’ve got my warrant card on me, lemme just hold it up to the peephole…” he was reaching for his wallet as he spoke, “Just need to come in, if I can, it’s pissing down out here and freezing to boot.”
“That won’t be necessary, Inspector,” Mycroft said, resting his forehead against the door and briefly praying for sanity, “Come in.” So saying, he unlocked the door and swung it wide, meeting the astonished eyes of a very surprised and very wet Lestrade. “Do come in, Lestrade.”
“Holmes,” Lestrade said blankly, not moving. His hand was frozen in the act of removing his wallet, and his dark eyes were wide. “Uh…this is a...surprise.”
“I think my surprise matches your own,” Mycroft said dryly, stepping back. Pointedly, “You’re letting in rain.”
“Oh!” Becoming aware that the wind was blustering heavy sheets of icy rain directly into the entry, Lestrade practically hopped forward over the doorsill, “Sorry!”
“It’s fine,” Mycroft said, shutting the door. They stared at one another awkwardly for a moment, then Lestrade rubbed the back of his neck, “Heh...didn’t uh, didn’t expect you to open the door.”
“I confess I hardly expected to see you either.” Mycroft cleared his throat, “Let me get you a towel.” He eyed the rapidly growing puddle at Lestrade’s feet, “Or two.”
“Sorry I’m dripping all over,” Lestrade apologized, lifting one sodden foot as if he could mitigate the mess.
“That stone floor is a good two hundred years old,” Mycroft said, an unwilling smile tugging at his mouth as he turned away, “I highly doubt you will seriously damage it.” He returned from the downstairs shower room, towel in hand, to find Lestrade had removed his shoes and socks, and hung his dripping overcoat on the peg by the door. He was shaking from the cold, and Mycroft hurried to offer him one of the towels. He’d taken the liberty of hanging several over the towel warmer and turning it on; Lestrade should really get out of his wet things and take a hot bath. For some reason his cheeks heated.
“God, that’s better,” Lestrade said gratefully, emerging from the towel, hair completely, devastatingly, disordered. He handed it off to Mycroft and blotted at his clothes with the other towel, “There, not so bad now...my mobile has no signal out here...think I could use the house phone to call for a tow?”
“Of course,” Mycroft said, leading the way down the back passageway to the cavernous kitchen, where the only landline was located. He turned the flame on the hob up as he passed, moving the heavy teakettle in place. Might as well offer the man a cup of tea, only decent. “The phone’s this way,” he said, gesturing at the heavy black unit on the wall. It was ugly and old fashioned but had never failed him in the seven years he’d been coming here on his yearly holiday.
Busying himself at the Aga, Mycroft thought about the tin of rich tea biscuits in the larder, a few of them wouldn’t come amiss. His stomach gave a bit of a grumble, and glancing at the clock ticking contentedly on the wall, he saw that it was nearly tea time. Perhaps Lestrade would like some nourishing sandwiches; after all, the poor man was nearly frozen through.
“Bloody hell,” Lestrade said, hanging up the handset with a bit of a bang. “Line’s dead.”
“What?” Mycroft turned in shock, “That--that just can’t be.”
“Check for yourself,” Lestrade said shortly, then stopped, sighing gustily as he pressed fingers to his eyes, “Sorry, this has turned into a shite day, didn’t mean to snap.”
“I’m sorry as well,” Mycroft said, clutching a cup to his chest, “I didn’t mean to imply you were lying.” He stared at the phone, “Perhaps my mobile…” which was locked in the desk drawer and which he’d hoped not to look at for the entirety of his visit, “let me just check.”
Less than two minutes later he was back, “I’m afraid the storm must be interfering with the reception,” he excused, finding Lestrade huddled over the Aga, warming his hands off the heat emanating from the teakettle, “I’ve no signal.”
“Oh brilliant,” Lestrade sighed, as if it were anything but. He closed his eyes, weary. "I…don't know what to do."
"You'll stay here," Mycroft said, because of course that was what had to happen. "The weather forecast was quite dire and you can hardly sleep in your car." He summoned a smile, "I'll make up the bed with fresh linens while you take a shower. Have you any things with you?"
"In the car," Lestrade sighed, peering out the window at the lashing rains. "Should have brought it with me."
"There's a pair of Wellies and an old mackintosh in the mudroom," Mycroft indicated the warped door leading off the kitchen to the kitchen garden as he set the teakettle aside for the moment. "Perhaps it will mitigate the worst of the rain."
While Lestrade fetched his bags from the stranded car, Mycroft made the bed and added more logs to the fireplace in the bedroom, which was feeling a bit chilly despite the radiators ticking snugly away. Satisfied that everything was as welcoming as he could make it, he returned downstairs to move the teakettle back on the hob. By the time it whistled, Lestrade was coming in the door, which was shoved wide by the wind, resulting in a startling bang and a rush of cold, damp air down the corridor.
"Sit here," Mycroft said, pulling a chair close to the old hearth, which he'd stoked into a good blaze. "I've got a cup of tea steeping for you and I'll take your bags upstairs while you drink it." Waving aside Lestrade's objections, Mycroft arranged some biscuits on the saucer, poured out the tea and took care of Lestrade's baggage, which was fairly sparse. Returning downstairs he encountered the other man on his way to the shower room. "I've left out towels and things, but I didn't think about your toiletries and dry clothes," Mycroft said, amazed he'd forgotten something so basic.
"I left them on my way in," Lestrade admitted, smiling.
Mycroft busied himself with putting together some sandwiches and making a pot of cocoa, listening to the sound of the rain (truly thunderous) rather than the sound of the shower and any attendant thoughts of the other man in said shower. "Madness," he whispered, and began putting together a simple soup which could simmer for their dinner later.
"This is cozy," Lestrade said several minutes later, dressed in joggers, thick socks, slippers, and an Arsenal hoodie which looked old, worn and sinfully soft. His damp hair stood up in disarming spikes and his grin was easy. "Something smells great."
"I made us a snack," Mycroft said, indicating the plate of sandwiches he'd made with leftover roast chicken, wholemeal bread, salad and artisanal mustard. "I've soup for later, but this will hold us over."
"Anything I can do to help?"
"Just take that tray and we can go into the sitting room," Mycroft suggested, "We'll have to eat in the armchairs but there's a roaring fire and, more importantly, the liquor cabinet."
"Say no more," he smiled, and followed behind Mycroft, loaded tray in hand. In but a handful of minutes they were settled in plump armchairs before the fire, which roared, as advertised. The pot of cocoa and the sandwiches sat on a small piecrust table between them.
Their silence was companionable, and Mycroft began to relax. There was no need to fret; the storm would clear by morning and he could summon help and Lestrade would be on his way. The man need never know of his long-held, burning tendre for him. Mycroft's humiliation would be staved off for yet another year. It was Lestrade who insisted on taking care of the minimal dishes, and Lestrade who suggested they put a tipple of amaretto in their second cups of cocoa. It proved to be a capital idea, and Mycroft relaxed further. He'd long admired Lestrade and longed to get to know him better, but his own insecurity and inexperience, as well as the man's unfairly beautiful looks had stood in the way.
Now, however, Lestrade seemed happy to bask in the warmth of the fire and chat about books and holidays and the beauty of the Highlands. "I normally come up here once a year, but a bit later in the season. Funny thing though, I got a call from the lady who runs the B&B I always stay at, saying she was all booked up and could I come a month early?"
"I too had to change my plans," Mycroft admitted, "I'm usually here just after the New Year, but the cottage was undergoing unexpected repairs and I had to defer my plans until now. Odd that we should both be here out of season as it were."
"Lucky for me," Lestrade laughed, raising his cup, "Not many would have opened their home to a stranger in such a remote place." He sipped, thoughtful, "Like divine intervention."
"Hardly," scoffed Mycroft, reaching for the pot of cocoa. More like the torments of hell, he thought, but not as sourly as he would have an hour or two since. This time was...pleasant. Lestrade seemed quite happy to chat with him, almost like friends. No, no, that way madness lay. This was pure temptation, which would lead nowhere. Definitely the work of the devil.
The lights flickered and then snapped out, startling him. "Heavens!"
Lestrade spoke up, "Storm must be getting worse, cut the power lines."
Luckily the cherry-glow of the fire lit the room sufficiently. Mycroft rose to his feet, frowning. "The generator should have come on automatically."
Lestrade followed him to the hall, where Mycroft fetched a torch, and into the kitchen, where he donned the still-wet Wellies and mackintosh, and ventured out into the kitchen garden and into the old potato shed, where the generator stood. A close inspection revealed no reason why it shouldn't have kicked on automatically, although really Mycroft had no idea what he was looking for. Attempting to start it manually proved fruitless, and when he returned to the kitchen, where Lestrade stood at the open door, peering into the windswept darkness keeping watch, he had to admit as much.
Lestrade insisted on trying, and Mycroft relinquished the torch and outdoor things, and contented himself with boiling water for more cocoa, and taking some of the more perishable items out of the refrigerator and storing them in the frigid lean-to just outside the kitchen door.
Once Lestrade too professed himself baffled, they returned to the sitting room and their cocoa. Mycroft lit two tall oil lamps and several candles, suppressing a painful blush over the sheer romanticism of it all. His conversation was a trifle stilted, but Lestrade was easy enough, chatting about his drive up, the unexpected detour, the GPS which had seemed to send him on a snaky, circuitous route. "Lucky I landed here," he said with a soft smile. It was all so painfully intimate and dear and he was drowning, Lord help him.
In desperation, Mycroft suggested cards.
The only deck he could find inexplicably boasted naked men with enormous, er, mustaches. There was a moment of appalled silence, broken by Lestrade's naughty giggle when he spied the Jack, who rather than having two heads, appeared to be attempting self-fellatio. "Blimey, he's keen!"
Mycroft feeling it was vastly unfair that the man should have such an enchanting giggle, was nonetheless unable to keep from laughing as well, "What shall we play?"
"Bugger My Neighbour?" suggested Lestrade, before his eyes went wide as his words registered and he yelled, "I meant Beggar My Neighbor! Beggar! "
Mycroft buried his face in his hands, hooting, and Lestrade threw cards at him, shouting that he knew what he'd meant. I know what I wish you'd meant, Mycroft thought, and settled, reminding himself of reality. His smile lingered, however, as did his feeling of happiness. Whatever the circumstances, he was greatly enjoying this unexpected interlude with Lestrade.
Cards turned into a game of draughts, and when they tired of that they wandered into the kitchen, seeking dinner. Mycroft ladeled up vegetable barley soup, while Lestrade cut slices from a loaf of French bread Mycroft had purchased at the bakery in the village on his way to the cottage the day before. They decided to open a bottle of red to accompany it, and settled themselves back in the sitting room, which had begun to feel quite homey.
The temperature in the house had started dropping as the remnants of heat from the radiators dissipated and the chill outside penetrated the thick walls. Mycroft had replenished the fireplace with fresh wood, and hurried through the chilly upstairs to load more wood on the fireplaces in both bedrooms. He was decidedly not looking forward to sleeping in the bed without his luxurious and much-needed electric blanket. Luckily there were hot water bottles in the cabinet below the sink, and he left them on the kitchen bench, ready for bedtime.
Such a good time were they having that it was only the cold--and Lestrade's poorly concealed yawns--which called a halt to the evening. Mycroft banked the fire, blew out the lamps and candles and they filled the hot water bottles by torchlight, making sure to fill two thermoses with amaretto-laced cocoa as well. Upstairs Mycroft bid Lestrade a diffident goodnight and retreated to his own room, shivering as he piled more wood on the fire and more blankets on his bed. Like lightning he shed his clothes and hurried into his warmest pyjamas.
The wind was wailing and the rain still lashing at the windows--really he was beginning to worry about the possibility of flooding leaving Lestrade stranded past morning--and his mind wouldn’t settle. Finally giving up the idea of sleep, Mycroft lit another lamp and several candles and resumed his book. As earlier in the day, he was absorbed in his reading when he heard a knocking. This was closer, however, and softer, as if not to disturb him. "Come in," he called, straightening from where he'd slouched comfortably among a nest of pillows against the headboard.
Lestrade stuck his head in the room, looking deliciously rumpled but decidedly apologetic. "M'really sorry, but my fire keeps going out and my hot water bottle leaked in the bed and..." he looked miserable, trailing off.
"You'd…best come in with me then," Mycroft managed to say, sounding remarkably composed. He hoped his expression was suitably unruffled. "My hot water bottle is still quite toasty."
Carrying a lit candle carefully in one hand, trailing a blanket after him, a very relieved, yet slightly sheepish looking Lestrade let himself in the room, closing the door against any draughts. Gingerly, as if he feared landmines, he climbed in on the other side of the bed, and added his blanket to the mountain Mycroft had already created. "Sorry," he said again.
"Lestrade," Mycroft said in mild exasperation, "there's no need for you to apologize. You hardly engineered this situation."
"My name. You should call me by it--considering we're sharing a bed and all." He twinkled a little, indomitable spirit resurfacing.
"I shall use it when I call you to breakfast in the morning," Mycroft said repressively, and tucked a bookmark between the pages of Dracula. "Which will come soon enough, so I'll say goodnight." He blew out the lamp, unable to bear the thought of trying to carry on a normal conversation with the man lying so close.
"You'll stay in bed," Lestrade said, "I'll make breakfast. Least I can do."
Mycroft glanced over his shoulder, planning on telling him he was a guest, but the words dried up in his mouth. Lestrade, gilded by candlelight, was leaning on one shoulder, eyes soft, and dark, and earnest. "I…" Mycroft was aware he'd never finished his thought only when Lestrade's mouth curved into a positively wicked smile. Startled, he jerked his eyes to the other man's. A surprised--dare he say delighted-- look of knowing was on the other man's face. Mycroft went bright pink.
"Goodnight, Mycroft," Greg smiled, dropping him a gentle wink, as he laid down, snuggling his head into his pillow. "I'll see you in the morning."
"When I bring you breakfast."
"...don't quite think…"
Greg's tone was laden with promise as Mycroft's startled breath inadvertently blew out the last candle, cloaking them in intimate darkness. "In bed."
“Oh heavens…” floated on the air, borne an impossible distance purely through unearthly means.
"Not quite," From the high vantage point of the nearest hill, Crowley smiled smugly as he watched the soft glow of candlelight retreat from one bedroom window only to strengthen at the next curtained bedroom window, where a candle already burned. Unless he was wrong--and he was never wrong about these sorts of things--the two men were about to become very well acquainted.
Shivering a little as a cold drop of rain snaked its way under his collar and down the back of his neck (corporeal forms were fun but so impractical), Crowley turned away, giving them a bit of privacy. “Agh!” He leapt, startled, “Aziraphale!”
The Heavenly being crossed his arms, a disapproving frown pinching his cherubic face (actually, Crowley had always thought cherubs were horrid little blighters and Aziraphale was...not). “Crowley,” he said with a stern, schoolmasterly sort of tone in his voice, “What have you done?”
“Hmm? You’re not to blame for that poor man’s horseless carriage running off the road and becoming horribly stuck in the ditch, then? Hmmm? He might have been killed!”
“I made sure he came out unscathed!” Crowley flared, stung. A moment later he saw the smug smile blooming on his old friend’s face and realized he’d been had. And by an angel, no less.
“So you did have something to do with this! What happened to staying out of the affairs of humans?”
“I’ve not done anything wrong,” he muttered, crossing his arms. He tried to suppress a shiver and failed.
Clicking his tongue, Aziraphale moved to stand next to him. With a soft, feathery pop, his wings sprang into being, and arched to shelter them both. Crowley wouldn’t have admitted it--not if all the imps of hell were stabbing him with cocktail forks while Queen’s All God’s People played on a loop--but he was warmed all the way through when the angel did that.
“Their time was coming,” his companion remarked, peering through the sheets of rain at the house. A startled oh escaped him, and he went pink. Turning around hurriedly, he faced the same direction as Crowley. “You needn’t have hurried things along.”
“‘Their time was coming?’” Crowley asked in disbelief, “Angel, they’ve been dancing around one another and missing opportunities left and right for nearly twenty years!”
“There’s nothing wrong with a long courtship,” said Aziraphale quite stiffly, and for some reason he recalled “ You go too fast for me, Crowley.”
Crowley felt tenderness wash over him in a wave; he tried to brush it off. “Besides,” Crowley pointed out, damned if he was going down for this alone, “I’m not the one who interfered with the man’s GPS!” Raising an eyebrow, he gave the angel a knowing look, “Something made his route mysteriously change to bring him by this exact house at the height of the storm.”
“One can’t really trust technology, now can one? Tool of the devil and all that,” Aziraphale said piously.
“I am rather proud of the internet,” Crowley bragged modestly, smiling his most charming smile. “However, I’m not the one who knocked out the power to the house-- and killed the generator.” He lifted a knowing brow.
“Er...well, there’s something so intimate about candlelight, don’t you think?” The angel bit his lip, glancing over his shoulder. “You don’t think they’ll freeze, do you?”
“Oh, I think they’ll figure out how to keep warm,” Crowley suggested, tone rich and sinful as dark chocolate. Aziraphale never could resist chocolate. “But the fault for whatever happens tonight can’t be solely laid at my door, Angel. That’s all I’m saying.”
Blushing the colour of a spring sunset, Aziraphale muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, “Well I was getting bored.”
“Oh, he was getting bored,” Crowley called out dramatically to a non-existent audience. “Well, that’s alright then.”
“Those who live in glass houses,” Aziraphale said primly, and dimpled.
Crowley pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed noisily. Why must Aziraphale do this to him?
“You look like you could use a drink, Crowley, old friend,” Aziraphale said now, taking his arm and guiding him back down the hill towards the waiting Bentley, which sprang accommodatingly to life as they approached. “Let us seek out the nearest eatery and restore the old tissues with some of mine host’s finest cognac and a pheasant pie.”
I’m courting Bertie Wooster, Crowley thought. But he thought it with a smile.
After all, it was a properly dark night...any number of things could see them stranded at the inn for the foreseeable future. Floods were a pain in the arse to manage, but some things were worth it.