They've fished Sherlock out of the river by midnight. He's not in the best mood when he's returned to the bank, just downstream from the Northumberland Wharf Waste Transfer Station - covered in weeds and filth, bundled into a traditional orange blanket by paramedics, and then informed that the Matthams brothers both got clean away in the chaos.
They've got to stay here until CID have been. Lestrade's on his way, just pulling himself into some clothes. It's been a hell of a night - and John has a feeling it's not over yet.
Sherlock has a look in his eye that suggests someone will get the sharp side of his tongue before morning. His shoulders are high and stiff, and he's oddly quiet. John knows the warning signs well by now. Hoping it's someone else who takes the bite for once, he opts to keep his mouth shut and sits quiet on the wall next to Sherlock, keeping him silent company as he broods, stinks and glowers in his blanket. Flashing lights from the ambulance cast their shadows long across the cobbles.
It's not going to be easy explaining the Matthams brothers' escape. John hopes Greg feels like being lenient today.
When a black car finally arrives on the scene, and the tape barrier is lifted to permit its passage, his heart stirs. A few questions, a look of despair - maybe a slap on the wrist for show - and they can get Sherlock back to Baker Street for a shower.
The car hasn't brought Greg.
Seeing a familiar head of auburn hair rising smoothly from the backseat, John's mood sinks.
"Oh, good..." he mutters.
Sherlock shoots him a sharp little frown. "What?" He turns to follow John's gaze.
"No, no - don't look. It's nothing."
Sherlock puts two-and-two together. His expression sours. "For heaven's sake..." he mutters. "Is there no peace?" He hides himself deeper into his blanket. "Pretend we're not here, John."
Mycroft is already walking this way - and he's not happy in the least.
"I... think he might've spotted us already," John says, trying not to smile.
Sherlock mumbles something that ends with, "... save my sanity...", and reluctantly pulls his face out of the blanket.
Mycroft comes to a halt before them. He leans upon his umbrella, casts his sharp eyes from one to the other, and waits with unconcealed displeasure for an explanation.
Sherlock looks at him - then slowly shakes his head. "Oh, Mycroft... have you no shame?"
John glances sideways, confused. Sherlock's face is a blank wall. Nothing crosses it.
He lifts his head in time to see Mycroft's tongue poke into his cheek.
"Not particularly." Mycroft's eyes are as hard and grey as flint. "Skipping ahead to important matters... might I request an explanation of what you were doing in the Thames, little brother? I hope you're looking forward to Weil's Disease."
John looks between them again, suspecting he's missed something.
"You can request an explanation," Sherlock says, with a scowl. "You can request as many as you like, brother mine. Whether I'll then supply you with one, barefaced hussy, is another question."
John's eyes fly wide. "Sherlock - what are you - "
"Showing up here to rebuke me," Sherlock snaps, "with all the dignity of a Hackney slapper, carrying her knickers in her handbag. Did you think you were handling it discreetly?"
Mycroft rolls his eyes so hard it hurts even to witness. "For God's sake."
"Whoa, whoa - hang on - " It takes John several seconds to switch his brain back on. "What're you talking about, Sherlock?"
Annoyed, Sherlock leans back on the wall. He folds his arms.
"My brother has been forced to peel himself from the arms of his recently acquired but now regular male lover," he says, "in order to come and admonish me in person. Luckily he anticipates being back with his carnivorous bit-of-rough within a maximum of three hours, so at least our tedious lecture will for once have a time limit."
As Mycroft lays a hand across his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose very hard, John realises his mouth is open.
He closes it.
"That's - erm - "
"For heaven's sake," Sherlock sighs. "Must I always spell everything out, John? Surely even you've noticed the signs..."
John casts a wild look at Mycroft, hardly daring to meet his eyes. "Sherlock... maybe you should just - "
Sherlock throws back his head with a dramatic sigh, groans to the full depth of his throat, and says,
"The suit, John. The tie. The state of him - where do I even begin? I suppose we'll have to start somewhere..." He gestures at Mycroft from the ground-up, a quick slash of his hand. "Obviously the suit is new, and given my brother's giddy sartorial exorbitance, that's not necessarily a surprise - but the colour is outside his usual pallet. He tends to toneless neutrals in the hope that it extinguishes some of the colour in that unequivocal ginger mop of his - unaware that it actually just makes him look ginger and ill. And now he's suddenly hurled himself into a passionate affair with muted navy, and expects nobody to realise he's been receiving copious compliments on his natural colouring? He's flaunting his hair and eyes as brazenly as a peacock. I can barely look, John. It's almost making me nauseous."
John closes his mouth again.
He hadn't noticed the suit was new.
"Sherlock, you - can't take a navy suit and - "
"John," Sherlock nearly sobs. "John, please - just for once - utilise your eyes. You were given them for a purpose. It's a new suit, and it fits him."
Mycroft looks about ready to strangle Sherlock. "Why," he demands, outraged, "in the name of my sanity would I purchase a suit that doesn't - "
"It fits your recent weight gain, Mycroft! Clearly you're not intending to lose that six or seven pounds you've put on since January - and yet the thing is tailored to fit you, not to hide you. You're not resigning yourself to the additional weight, you're embracing it. Restaurants and dessert with two spoons, is it? I'd recommend moving to a dessert each, brother mine. Maybe then your paramour will be able to restrain himself from snacking on your neck for supper. Hoped the darkness would cover the edge of this evening's souvenir, did you? It doesn't."
Mycroft looks away across the river quickly, rubbing his mouth in annoyance. His shoulders shift; it eases his collar half an inch higher.
John lifts his face out of his hands. He pulls himself together, and mutters, "Sherlock, how can you know... 'male'?"
Sherlock groans. "The stubble rash, John. The overly casual stance. The lingering whiff of a high-street men's eau de toilette - 'Givenchy Gentleman' is it, Mycroft? Judging by that outrageous dry-down from iris into black vanilla. Hardly your usual price bracket. I won't mention that those knees have been in vigorous contact with a carpet very recently. I suppose it's possible you could have taken the sacrament kneeling before a female lover, but let's be statistical here."
John wonders briefly if this is a dream. He hopes so.
"The - 'overly casual - '?" he says. The second it leaves his mouth, he realises he doesn't want to know.
"Sherlock." Mycroft's eyes blaze. "Enough."
Sherlock snorts, flashing a smile from ear-to-ear. "Walk to the car and back, brother mine," he jeers. "Show us that brazen little hip-wiggle again." He tips his head towards John. "Be grateful, John. It's not recommended to leave them in for more than three hours. The pair of us will be home by dawn."
John nearly passes out. "Oh, God! Sherlock, stop - "
"At least he's not hit you like a home-run and headed for the hills like the last few did, Mycroft... this one's fond of you, is he? I suppose that preserves at least a shred of your dignity. The cufflinks were for your birthday, if I'm right. A rather ostentatious pair, far more bling about them than you'd choose for yourself, but you like the man enough still to wear the ugly things... birthday last month, possibly tallying with the purchase of the suit... unless you really have drowned yourself in sentiment, dear brother, and you celebrated your six month anniversary together with gifts. Then again, looking at the utter disgrace of that tie, I wouldn't put it past you..."
John looks up through his fingers, despairing.
Mycroft stares back. He's gone as pale as the moon behind him, every speck of colour drained from his face. His tie looks perfectly normal to John.
He'll wait all night if he has to.
John inhales. "For Christ's sake," he sighs. "Fine. Go on."
Sherlock nearly purrs.
"Only a madman could believe my brother's hands were responsible for that Windsor knot," he says, sleekly. "Not a horrendous job, though... a professional man at least. He knows what he's doing, even if he hasn't your fussy precision, Mycroft."
He lifts his chin.
"The angle suggests someone shorter - two inches, maybe - doing it from behind. (Don't, Mycroft. Believe me that you've demeaned yourself enough this evening already.) There's a slight crook to the left within the knot itself, but it's been adjusted on the surface with care. It suggests the use of a full-length mirror. He's used to using one himself, and it's only natural for him to position you in front of the thing before he sends you off into the night - so there's a protectiveness for your appearance and reputation. How sweet. I'll wager that the full-length mirror in question is that horrendous antique you inherited from our grandmother, which means you've had him in your bedroom this evening, at your house - which means he's passed all the requisite security checks - which means you're envisioning quite the future with this lucky, lucky man, brother mine... I'm delighted for you both. Perhaps you'll spend less time harassing me now."
Sherlock's smile gleams in the darkness.
"Perhaps we should skip the tiresome lecture," he concludes, "and you can wiggle your way on home to him. He'll be missing you terribly, I'm sure, and far be it from me to interrupt the soft pangs of love's middle-aged dream. Is he going to take your surname, or you his? Actually, Mycroft... don't tell me. Let's leave something to the imagination."
There's another car arriving.
John barely sees it until it's cruised to a halt beside the ambulance. He can barely see a thing - the silence is crippling him, and he doesn't know where to put his eyes. Mycroft has turned the colour of fresh cherries. He looks like he's tempted to become the second Holmes dredged out of the river tonight.
Lestrade arrives into the horrified silence without a clue, throwing shut the door of his car.
"Fun and games as usual, Sherlock?" he says, tossing his keys in his hand. "You know some of us are busy sleeping at midnight, don't you? Could've thrown yourself into the Thames at a more convenient hour, mate..."
The silence continues.
Lestrade pauses. He looks from Sherlock to John, and then with concern to Mycroft, who's staring down at his shoes with his eyes tight shut. His knuckles have gone white around the handle of his umbrella.
Lestrade clears his throat. He scratches his stubble. "What've I missed?" he asks.
Wondering if they're about to get the whole sorry explanation again, John glances worriedly across at Sherlock - who's turned as white as the ambulance doors.
"What?" John says, alarmed.
Sherlock's staring at Lestrade as if the man's a ghost. "No."
"What's the matter?" says John. "It's Lestrade. He's come to ask about the Matthams brothers."
Mycroft turns his head up to the sky, crushing the handle of his umbrella in his hand. He inhales and mutters a brief prayer.
As the penny drops, so does John's jaw.
It takes half an hour to fish Sherlock back out of the river. It would have taken less, but the process is lengthened by his determined evasion of his rescuers, treading water beneath an upturned shopping trolley until someone agrees to swear on their mother's life that Mycroft is no longer on the scene.
He refuses to look at Lestrade while paramedics tend to him again. He keeps covering his eyes and groaning.
"We were planning to tell you in a month or two, mate... somewhere quiet." Greg raises an eyebrow. "Somewhere not near a river."
"Go away, Lestrade. We are no longer friends."
"That's a bit harsh, isn't it?"
"How could you? How absolutely could you? I can't cope." Sherlock curls inside his shock blanket. "John. Do something."
Greg glances at John, fighting a smile. John fights his too, folding his arms across his chest and looking down.
Greg braces himself with a breath.
"How could I what, mate?" he says. "What's the problem?"
"Date your brother?"
"He's allowed to see who he likes, Sherlock. Was I meant to come to ask your permission first?" Greg pushes his tongue across his teeth. "Maybe if you didn't get yourself into trouble so often, I wouldn't have kept running into him all the time."
The shock blanket groans. "Don't you dare blame me for this, Lestrade. You brought it upon yourself."
"Yep. And you're going to have to make your peace with it, aren't you?"
"That remains to be seen."
"What else're you going to do, Sherlock? Avoid us both for the rest of your life?"
"A splendid suggestion," says the shock blanket. "I shall implement this immediately. Go away, Lestrade."
"Or," Greg says, still smiling, "maybe you could stop seeing things you're not meant to, learn to put a sock in it, and get over yourself."
Sherlock audibly huffs. "I doubt that's possible."
John has to agree. The day Sherlock gets over himself, the sun will freeze.
"Yeah?" Greg says, amused. "Your brother manages." He prods the blanket carefully. "He can do your magic trick too, you know... figuring people out at a glance. He just chooses to keep it to himself. There's a novel concept, huh?" Greg bites his lip. "Maybe there's things he spots about you and keeps to himself."
"I'm not striding about London like some wanton Soho strumpet, Lestrade. There's a difference."
"'Having a boyfriend' is now called being a strumpet, is it?"
"Hnngh. You're engaging in - excessive things."
"Hang on, let me get a pen... gonna need to write this down so I remember... right. What counts as not excessive? Just so I know what I'm allowed to do to your brother." Greg pokes the blanket again. "Standard missionary's okay, is it? You can't take issue with that. How about oral if we promise to feel guilty the next day? Is that cool? I'll ring you up beforehand to get your blessing, how's that?"
Sherlock withers into the corner, tightening his shock blanket around his head.
"John," he begs. "John, take him away. He's torturing me."
John smothers his smile, keeping it out of his voice. "Pretty sure what you just did to Mycroft counts as 'torture', Sherlock... you can leave me out of this one."
"So we're agreed, are we?" Greg says, with a grin. "You're going to keep your nose out of your brother's business, and keep yourself out of the Thames. I'm going to get your brother a stiff drink and a shock blanket of his own. John's going to get a medal some day for putting up with you. And you're both going to get your arses to Scotland Yard tomorrow morning, to explain to me why the Matthams brothers are now on the loose again. Right?"
Sherlock says nothing. He simply groans.
Greg straightens up from his knees, and scruffles the top of the blanket. It twitches away from his hand.
"Bye, mate. Bye, John - see you in the morning."
John smiles, wondering if Sherlock will have emerged from the blanket by then. It's not likely. "Bye, Greg. Have a good night."
"Don't tell him that!" Sherlock cries in despair.
Greg hops down from the ambulance. He flashes a grin back at them.
"I'll give your brother your best, Sherlock." His eyes glitter. "And mine."
He strolls away, sliding his hands into his pockets.
"John?" says the shock blanket, after a minute.
John bites down into his grin. "Yep?"
"Can you carry me back to the river, please?" Sherlock slumps slowly onto his side. "Weigh me down with something first."