"Will that be all, sir?"
"Just tea for me, Anthea."
"Of course. And for you, inspector?" she smiled pleasantly as she turned towards him.
"Oh... I'm not much for tea, but thank you."
"Some coffee then?"
Lestrade blinked. Her smiled was very affecting.
"Coffee would be great, thank you... Anthea?"
He watched the door close behind her.
"Your assistant is lovely, Holmes" he remarked without thinking, then was immediately sorry as Mycroft's sharp eyes fixed expressionlessly on him. It was the same unnervingly penetrating gaze as his younger brother's.
"I suppose she is. It comes in handy on occasion. A woman like her tends to throw men off their game. It can be quite convenient, detective inspector." Mycroft's tone was casual, but Lestrade bristled as if it had been an accusation, or more likely a barb.
"I just meant--"
"Oh, I know what you meant, Lestrade. It's not why I hired her. She's efficient, discreet and very intelligent. I would be quite lost without her."
The door opened then, and Anthea came back in with Earl Grey for Mycroft, and a cup of steaming coffee for Lestrade.
"Milk?" she asked simply.
"No, thank you, I like my coffee black."
"Oh? So do I." She replied. Lestrade wondered if it was his imagination that made her smile seem warmer and more genuine than it had seemed earlier.
Forty very intense minutes later, thoughts of Mycroft's assistant had been pushed to the back of Lestrade's mind by the somewhat uncomfortable interview. Finally, Mycroft stood up, bade Lestrade a good afternoon, walked him out of his office, and instructed Anthea to see him out.
They rode the elevator in silence, until Lestrade cleared his throat and spoke up.
"So you like coffee?"
"Yes," she replied simply "Black, like you. No sugar."
They lapsed into silence again. Lestrade tried to squash the vague notion of asking her out for coffee on the spot out of his head.
"It can be a bit much," she said, startling him. She couldn't possibly...
She gave him a sideways glance, eyes sparkling and her lips quirking up into a smile.
"Conversations with my boss. A lot of people find the experience unnerving."
"Well, I don't know about unnerving..." He trailed off as she smiled, then turned her attention back to her Black Berry.
Lestrade was not the sort of man to randomly ask out women he didn't know. He didn't date all that much, to be perfectly honest. Years ago, in his twenties and early thirties, perhaps he'd have asked her. But a lot lay between that younger version of himself, and the man standing in the elevator with a young woman who called herself Anthea. Over a dozen years, a marriage that had failed due to his commitment to his job, a head of dark hair that had turned grey... no, he wasn't the same man. Nor did he think a young woman like her would be interested anyway.
As the elevator door opened, he wondered idly how old she was exactly.
"Twenty eight," she said as he turned to indicate that she step out first, her face inscrutable.
"Isn't that what you wanted to know, inspector?"
"How.... why do you think that?"
"Lucky guess," she replied, breaking into a smile again. He had the distinct impression that she stifled a laugh, and found himself grinning in return.
Donovan would have rolled her eyes in disgust.
"There's a car waiting to drive you back to Scotland Yard, inspector," she informed him, crisp and all business again, except for a mischievous sparkle in her eyes.
"Thank you, Anthea. It was lovely to make your acquaintance." He nodded in farewell and turned to go.
It occurred to him as he started towards the front door of this elegant but unremarkable building that he had no idea when, or even if, he would see Mycroft Holmes, and by extension Anthea, again. And even if he did, there was no guarantee that she'd be there.
Lestrade wasn't the sort of man to randomly ask out a woman he'd just met and whom he knew nothing about. He barely dated, in fact.
He stopped, and turned around.
"Actually, Anthea," he called out.
She'd been about to press the elevator's button, he saw her draw her hand back instead before turning back to face him as he strode towards her.
"Was there something you needed, inspector?"
"That... wasn't really what I wanted to know."
"Oh? Then what was?"
He draw a hand through his hair absently, and forced himself to smile as if he was at ease.
"I was wondering if you'd like to get coffee sometime."
There was a small pause during which Lestrade cursed himself, sure she was about to say no. But then she smiled, that warm smile that, unknown to Lestrade, she rarely bestowed on many people, much less men whom she had just met.
"That would be lovely, inspector."