Thursday is not the day he wants it to be, in any way. It starts all right: the morning is quiet enough to actually empty the bin of paperwork on his desk, and though the three hours of signing and typing is tedious, it’s fueled by the excellent coffee that Mycroft Holmes apparently knows nothing about. The morning is also quiet enough, too, that he has time to think about the evening, to plan what he’s going to sing at karaoke. “Straight to Hell,” of course, and maybe “Pinball Wizard.” Both are classic, both are on the mixtape, and both are comfortably in his range because he’s kidding himself if he thinks he’s not going to be a little rusty. It’s been a while since he’s sung in public, a lot longer than that since he’s sung in public in front of anyone he really knows well enough to care. His fingertips still above the keyboard. That’s sort of ridiculous. He doesn’t really know Mycroft at all.
He swallows the nerves with another mouthful of coffee, turns up his speakers as loud as he can without the music being heard outside of his office. He doesn’t want to deal with anyone standing in his doorway just now.
The thought turns into some sort of perverse conjuring because Sergeant Donovan appears in the space at the very moment he’s considering picking up lunch for his team. From the look on her face, no one’s getting lunch.
“Two bodies,” she says. “Bobbing in at The Tower.”
She’s not being metaphorical. Whoever put them there moored them there with thick hawsers and wooden floats, directly in the view of the sightseers flocking in and out of The Tower, not two hundred feet from the docking points for the Thames tours. Lestrade takes one look and texts Sherlock. It’s weird. Sherlock appreciates weird. He’s there faster than Lestrade thought it possible for crossing London at midday.
The wind is raw coming off the river, and it starts to rain before the crowding tourists are even cleared away. More people than he wants to consider are saying how cool the staging is, even while the blockades are set up. Are they going to do a beheading next? He bites down on the urge to shout at them to fuck off, and the one nice thing is that Sherlock is saying, quiet audibly, at least half of the things he’s thinking.
He and Sherlock and John and two constables put themselves in a boat and edge out through the choppy water to the bodies. Behind him, John says something about Sherlock’s glee being indecent, but when he glances over his shoulder, John’s fighting down a grin, too. The empty sleeve of John’s jacket is pinched between the two of them until they’re close enough that Sherlock scrabbles forward, until he’s leaning right out over the water, knees braced on the side of the boat, to look at the bodies. He’d like to cuff them both in the back of the head, but it’s good, too, to have them here. After the last case, it’s good to have them anywhere. They circle, slowly, letting Sherlock have a good long look at the bodies before they pull them in.
At half-four, they have a dozen completely contradictory reports from the people who saw the bodies first, but there’s forensics to do, and though he’s wet from the elbows and the knees down, around his collar where the rain’s seeped in, it looks like what they can do here, on the scene, is winding down. He checks his phone, and there aren’t any messages. If he can get out of the Yard by seven, he’ll have time to clean up before he’s supposed to meet Mycroft. Lestrade takes one more pass along the quay to be sure that he hasn’t missed anything, any strange marks on the wood. There’s nothing amiss that he can see, and he turns his face out toward the water again, to the bridges and the topsails of Drake’s Golden Hinde just visible in the gray, past the bulk of HMS Belfast. As his gaze pulls slowly back in, something rocks in the river’s heart, something vaguely pink.
“Fuck me.” The water’s slosh swallows the words, and the next thing he says comes as a shout. “We’re going back out.”
On this trip, Sherlock doesn’t even pretend to put himself near the seats. He’s sitting on the bow, holding the metal hooks for mooring it for balance. His grip seems ginger, and Lestrade almost wishes he’d left John and Sherlock out of it, as banged up as they both still are. John is as close as he can get to him, though, his left hand outstretched and knotted in Sherlock’s collar. Sherlock turns and glares. John doesn’t let go. The boat skates closer, rocks harder.
There are three more bodies strung out through the Thames. There is the one he’d seen, and they find two more not far off, moored just beneath the surface of the water, anchored by their feet and floated at the neck, so they bloom upwards, like flowers.
“This,” John says, “seems an elaborate gesture.” When the words leave his mouth, he grits his teeth; Lestrade can see the tension in his jaw even though the light is dying. Moriarty. Who else seems to specialize in elaborate gestures of death?
Sherlock doesn’t seem so convinced. “Yes, because they were intended to be found. This is art, John.” The mooring ropes have been dyed to match the victims’ clothing, so that, from afar, they aren’t visible. The vertical ropes here are green. Sherlock sighs. “Obviously, green.” His magnifying glass is everywhere. “No wonder you’re disgruntled, little man. Corpseflowers, petals, stems. No imagination.”
Lestrade tries to ignore Sherlock’s art critique over the corpses in favor of calling for a dive team. There could be more, like this, underwater. “How’d you know it’s a man?”
Sherlock closes his pocket magnifier crisply, though he’s careful about the way he slides his hand into his coat pocket. “Hauling bodies about requires a certain amount of strength, don’t you think? Particularly live ones that don’t particularly wish to be moored to the river bottom.” He points to the fingertips of one of the vertical ones, a middle-aged woman with thick, bushy hair that even the Thames couldn’t subdue. They’re just a bit raw. “She lost consciousness before she could do any real damage to the rope or herself, but she tried.” Sherlock looks at the other vertical one, a stout bald man. “And this one didn’t.”
Lestrade cannot help but think about Jennifer Wilson, her mangled fingernail.
“They haven’t been in the water long,” John says. Less than a day. At least one of the bodies, though, has been expired for a few days, and not in the water. Three clock towers toll out what he already knows: he’s not getting out of the Yard by seven. He’ll be lucky if he gets off this boat before seven.
Making himself tap out the text is harder than he expected, the sinking feeling of disappointment palpable. London’s criminal underbelly has declared war on rock & roll and all that is good in the world. Reschedule for next week? He hits send. Giving Mycroft another week to think about it, though, might save the man from an evening he really might not enjoy. Might be best. Lestrade tries to keep that in mind as he puts his phone back into his pocket, tries to ignore how good he’d felt that morning, thinking about it all.
“If you’re finished, Inspector.” Sherlock’s eyes are boring a grey hole into the side of his head when he looks up. He’s all but tapping his foot. He wants all of the ropes, the floats, every last bit of contrivance from the river-bottom, and that’s the purview of the dive team, because even Sherlock can’t breathe under water.
“I’ll get you in tomorrow to see everything,” he says, and that seems to mollify him a little. He’s steering Sherlock away from the ambulance when Sergeant Lofton calls him back to the dockside, where the boat idles. Lestrade jogs over, his breath fogging white in the growing darkness, but before he hears her question, one of the divers, flippered feet ungainly on the rocking bow of the boat, slips. It’s instinct: Lestrade lunges to catch the man, and he gets him by the arm, but they’re off-balance, everything slick with fog and drizzle, and then they’re falling, the frigid Thames closing over his head.
Fuck. The cold water is like hitting a wall, but here, the diver is all grace, and it’s only a matter of seconds until he’s back on the quay, spitting out river water. That’s the worst part: of all the things he’ll willingly put in his mouth, the Thames is absolutely not on that list. He’s cold, knows he’s going to get colder fast, so he starts delegating even while the paramedics are trying to fuss at him. He takes the blanket, not sure if it really does anything for shock victims, but he can say, categorically, that it’s currently doing fuck-all for warmth. He leaves the dive team and Sergeant Lofton with instructions to call if there are any new developments, and he’s about to ask Sergeant Donovan to drop him round his flat for dry clothes when Sherlock shouts for him.
He’s made a cab materialize seemingly from nowhere in the misted night. Lestrade is starting to think that that’s Sherlock’s real talent, which is good, because John seems chronically incapable of hailing one. Even when he phones for a cab, it’s late.
“It should be a quick enough fare from Baker Street to your own,” Sherlock says, “given the hour and the weather.” He dips in beside John, close enough to leave Lestrade a great deal of space for his sodden self. He follows.
In the back of the cab, it’s much warmer than it was in the street, but it almost seems to make the chill worse, knowing the contrast. He hasn’t been so desperate for a hot shower in a long time, but he’s trying not to let the shivering show. John isn’t buying that.
The taxi pulls up to the kerb, and John squints up through the window. He glances at Sherlock. “Did you leave the lights on?” 221B is bright as Christmas.
“No.” Sherlock’s already reaching over John for the door handle, and Lestrade is the one who hands the cabbie a note before he’s piling out, too. He might be soaked, cold, and pissed off with the whole day, but he’s also the one of them in the best shape to deal with…well. Best be ready for anything.
John eases the door open, though he doesn’t look particularly pleased that Lestrade gets to the stairs first.
When they inch the door to the flat open, none of them expect this: a warm, yellow glow of heat thrown from a tidy fire in the fireplace; a spicy citrus scent on the air; no one at all in the flat. Further inspection reveals a stack of clothes, a pair of woolly sheepskin slippers. Sherlock takes one glance at them while he hangs his coat.
“For you, Inspector, obviously.” He walks toward the back of the flat, shedding the damp bandages that must have covered his wrist beneath his gloves. “Men’s nine-and-a-half. Too small for my feet, too large for John’s. Must have been her husband’s. You’re about his size. And don’t worry. He’s dead.” A door closes, and Lestrade can only stare.
John seems satisfied by the explanation. Then he nudges him. “You’re still dripping a bit—” He nods toward the coat pegs. “—and you need to dry off before you make me explain hypothermia to you. You can thank Mrs. Hudson later.” His head tilts a little at that—why in the hell would Mrs. Hudson have done anything for him, particularly since he gets the impression that she’s still piqued about the drugs bust those months ago—the same thing Lestrade is trying to decipher—but John doesn’t seem to care. He only stands, looking expectant.
The loss of his coat is like being hit with a cold wind, even though the room is warm. Then John disappears, likely for his own room, up another set of stairs, and Lestrade is left alone with the fire and the clothing and the slippers and the warm orangey smell, which turns out to be some sort of toddy simmering, very gently, on the stove. Three mugs are set out on the single square foot of countertop that John has cordoned off—complete with caution tape—for “Food Only,” each filled a third with what seems to be a ridiculously excellent whiskey because even his shivering brain can extrapolate that from the bottle on the countertop. He shuffles back into the sitting room, nudges the stack of fabric.
Blue jeans, exactly his size, even the brand he wears, and he’d swear they were a pair he already owned, given how worn-in they feel, but they aren’t because there’s no identifying quirk, no give at the back pocket, no fray across the back of the cuffs. A thermal undershirt and a black sweater. Thick, woolen socks. Underwear. He’s holding the evergreen boxer-briefs in his hand, trying to figure out where they came from, when Sherlock breezes back into the room, pyjama-clad and dressing gown flapping. He glances at the underwear.
“Interesting,” he says. “I thought she was still peeved with you.” Then he stands in the doorway and brays for Mrs. Hudson.
John pelts back down the stairs, having changed one damp jumper for a battered sweatshirt and his shoes for corduroy slippers, and suggests that Mrs. Hudson should be—or likely had been—asleep. He sees Lestrade still standing where he was left, and he actually shoves him toward the toilet, tosses a towel from a cupboard at him, too.
It is harder than he thinks it should be to pick open the laces on his shoes, and by the time he’s undressed, he’s shaking hard. He gives himself a rough toweling, dresses, and he curls into the clothing that’s still warm from the fire. He can’t remember the last time something felt so good. He leaves his wet things hanging over the rod in the shower, and through the door, Sherlock is explaining the bodies to Mrs. Hudson. Lestrade tries not to think about the part where, right now, he should be at Retroactive with a friend, half-hoarse, a little drunk, and flirting with people half his age. He blinks into the mirror. He’s not sure he can even consider Sherlock a friend—where does he get off thinking that of Mycroft?
He curls his arms across his chest and leaves the loo, intent on sitting as close to the fireplace as possible without his eyelashes burning. The slippers on his feet are plush and lovely, and when he steps out into the sitting room, Mrs. Hudson’s still there, yawning a little and watching Sherlock talk. John passes him one of the mugs, a thin slice of lemon topping it, and at the first sip, he definitely makes a sound a lot more like a moan than is probably decent. He can’t quite bring himself to care that much—if Mrs. Hudson’s used to Sherlock, she can’t be easily shocked—and the mug is hot under his hands.
“Thank you,” he says, over the fragrant steam. “This was very kind of you.” Maybe John had texted her before they left the crime scene. Maybe Sherlock simply happened to have a stack of clothes that clearly don’t fit either him or John lying about. It wouldn’t be the strangest thing in the flat, he thinks, peering toward the skull, now sitting beside a stuffed fox squirrel that must be at least seventy years old. He suspects the squirrel is there to keep the skull company, now that John goes most places with Sherlock.
Mrs. Hudson helps herself to a small tot of whiskey. “Oh, it wasn’t me, dear.” She pats his hand around the mug. “It was Mr. Holmes’s young woman.”
By which she can only mean Anthea. Unless Mycroft has a whole flock of gorgeous birds doing his bidding? Or maybe she actually means something about Sherlock, though that seems even more impossible. He and John turn to look at Sherlock, who is in mid-sip.
“I haven’t got a young woman,” he snaps. His face darkens. He marches toward the sink, as though to pour out his mug, but John stops him, spins him back to the sitting room.
“It’s nice. You’ll live,” John says, and Sherlock slumps on the sofa, sulking at his mug. John sits next to him, almost close enough to touch.
“And she’s not a woman. She’s one of his creatures.” Sherlock bites his slice of lemon in half, chews it, peel and all. The backs of his knuckles are red and raw-looking, and there are still blisters under his cuffs, but he flips open his netbook. The mug is ignored. But the half slice of lemon is more than Lestrade’s ever seen Sherlock eat while “working.”
Mrs. Hudson raises an eyebrow. “Well,” she says, “she’s about the prettiest creature I ever saw. A body could do worse.” She fluffs the Union Jack pillow absently. “Are she and Mr. Holmes—” She pauses delicately.
“No,” John says, but it sounds more hopeful, almost insistent, than certain. The dismissive noise from Sherlock seals it, though, confirms it. Something that feels weirdly like relief washes down Lestrade’s throat. He follows it with another mouthful of the sweet, warmed whiskey, inches a little closer to the shrinking fire. There must be something on Lestrade’s face because Mrs. Hudson is looking at him with an impish look.
He clears his throat. “Bit out of my league,” he says. He’s leaving it at that.
John makes a knowing, rueful face, and Sherlock looks as though he’s going to say something else when John says, “League—Christ, I knew I forgot something. Sorry.” He rubs at his shoulder, shifts. “Lestrade. Assuming you’re not ill by Sunday, would you be up for a bit of football?”
That isn’t at all what he expected to hear. “Yeah,” he says, without even thinking about it. He’s not expecting to be ill. It doesn’t happen often, and it’s never happened after an unexpected soak in the Thames. Tonight makes the fourth time. Only two have happened since he joined the Met. “What’s the catch?”
John shakes his head. “No catch. Our surgery and Robinton Circle have a bit of a friendly set up, and football’s not part of the treatment plan.” He palpates his shoulder, faintly wincing. Sherlock’s attention flickers from his laptop long enough to bat John’s hand down.
“Yeah,” Lestrade says again. “Assuming no one starts planting corpses between the rose bushes in Regent’s Park.” A Sunday morning and maybe, hopefully, a Thursday night. That’s all he’s asking for, next week. Maybe the universe could be just, for one week.
When he gets home, there’s a voicemail on his phone—Mycroft—and Lestrade is glad, not for the first time, that his phone is waterproof to a depth of fuck-it-you’re-going-to-drown-anyway.
I am certainly no stranger to the frequent inconvenience of one’s career. Affirmative for Thursday. I hope all is well.
Lestrade listens to it twice. It seems strange that he says nothing about the events of the evening, after all of the trouble he went to, but maybe he’s at work, too, since their plans went to hell. Lestrade holds his phone for a while, thinks about calling back. He expects that Mycroft is still awake, even though it’s closer to midnight than anything now, but that seems a little excessive. Though maybe not as excessive as buying underwear for a bloke he just met, really. Lestrade curls up in bed with his book, still wearing the thermal shirt and the socks and the excessive, unexpectedly well-fitting underwear.
By the end of Friday, Sherlock’s cracked the case—disgruntled artist who was, in fact, very disgruntled, who’d been doing make-up for a funeral parlour, had “borrowed” (he said) a few bodies for his “installation” from the parlour. He’d borrowed four of the bodies—the dive-team had found a sixth moored completely underwater, all the way on the soft riverbottom—but two happened to be art critics: the woman with the bushy hair, and the fellow who’d been on the riverbottom, who’d also been cracked in the head with a tin of linseed oil, of all things. Sherlock is disgusted by the clumsiness of it all, the reverberating dullness. The arrest was simple, the book will be well and truly thrown at the appropriate party, and Lestrade is just glad it’s over.
Saturday slips by easily, and every time his phone rings, he startles. None of the calls are Mycroft. He thinks that’s good because it means Mycroft isn’t cancelling Thursday—yet.
The football on Sunday morning is amateur at best—only seven on a side, all positions except keeper tenuously defined, and Lestrade finds himself not only one of the better ball-handlers on either squad, but also one of the most fit—but both sides are taking it deadly seriously. The pitch isn’t regulation size, slopes a bit to the left, and the ground is just a touch slick; everyone is a muddy mess, even Sarah, who’s proving to be the sneakiest player on either team, nipping up behind one of the Robinton doctors, a huge fellow, and nicking the ball from his foot. It is the most fantastic bit of fun he’s had in ages. John stalking the touchline, slapping a clipboard against his thigh and roaring after his team, makes it even better.
They’re in the last two minutes, both teams hell-bent for the last goal. The score is something atrocious, eight to eleven, and they’re not winning, but that doesn’t so much matter as doing something amazing right this very second. The ball gets loose in front of Robinton’s net, and he leaps for a header. The ball blunts against his forehead, hurtles toward the net, but he doesn’t see if it slots home because someone’s elbow lands full in his left eye. When he hits the ground, he’s laughing even as the ache springs in under his eyebrow. Someone picks him up, the big guy on the other side, and apologies are exchanged, though they’re unnecessary.
“Bugger that,” Lestrade says. “Did it go in?” He wipes his face, turns one whole and one squinted eye toward the goal, and the Robinton keeper’s dribbling the ball toward the bench slowly.
Sarah shakes her head, and she reaches out, pats him on the head. “Sorry,” she says. “The heroism was thwarted today.” The way she says it makes him wonder what John said about the night at the pool, and he’s glad his heart’s already pounding, the blood crashing in his ears from all the running, because then no one can see the blush if there is one.
They reach the bench, and John makes him sit, peers into his eye, seems satisfied with what he sees. “No blood in the eye. Just a hell of a shiner coming in.” He raps a blue gel cold-pack on the bench, puts it on Lestrade’s face. “Well.” John is grinning. “I shouldn’t have to ask if you enjoyed yourself.”
“That was grand,” Lestrade says, his breath starting to even out. “You do this every weekend?” Now that he’s still again, the late-winter chill feels good.
“Near as we can.” John bends to close up the first-aid kit, and in the space where his body had been, not too far off from the side of the field, the long, gray shape of Mycroft Holmes, leaning on his umbrella.
Lestrade can’t help that he rakes a hand through his hair, and it comes away maybe a little more muddy than it had been. Or maybe the mud only moved. John looks surprised, but he straightens, picks up the first aid kit from the bench with his good arm, and starts walking toward Mycroft. There’s a swarm of fifteen-year-olds clamoring for the pitch already. One of them leans out, raises his hand to Lestrade for a fist bump.
“Nice one,” he says, braces showing.
Lestrade touches his knuckles to the boy’s, and he wants to laugh. Then he glances up, and wishes the ice pack were large enough to cover his whole face. Mycroft’s black woolen coat and dove-gray suit are immaculate.
“A valiant effort,” he says. He holds out his bare hand.
Lestrade looks for a clean patch of shirt on which to wipe his hand, finds a six-inch square of mostly tidy green on the right side of his chest, and at least he doesn’t leave any visible smudges on Mycroft where he takes his hand. Mycroft’s hand is pleasantly cool, and he thinks about how nice that temperature would be on the back of his neck. He swallows hard, lets go.
“Mum always said we weren’t playing hard enough if our kits came home clean.” He hopes that the thermal shirt under the t-shirt jersey isn’t damaged under the mud and clotted grass. He’s worn it every day since Thursday night. It’s dead comfortable.
Mycroft’s eyes travel from his caked spikes to the ice pack. He smiles. “I take it she would find this level of effort acceptable?”
Lestrade shakes his head. “I duffed the header. She’d be on me for that.” He finds himself grinning and unsure why.
“Exacting.” There’s a certain resigned quality to the word that suggests Mycroft has experience with that.
He shrugs. “Mostly just football-mad. Only time my parents ever fight is during World Cup and Six Nations. And over pudding.” Custard. Crème Anglais. Custard. Crème Anglais.
Both Mycroft and John blink at him, and Lestrade asks where Sherlock is. They both shake their heads.
“He’d rather dissect his own spleen or floss with barbed wire?” Mycroft rests both palms atop the handle of his umbrella.
“Rather trim his nails with a wood-chipper,” John says. “He used the spleen one the other week.” Before the explosion, he must mean. “And he had some phalanges in an ascorbic acid solution—” John scratches the back of his head absently. He brightens. “Thank you, by the way.”
Mycroft’s chin tilts crisply to the side. “For what?”
Lestrade plucks at the sleeve of his shirt. “Thursday night. That was more than handy.” He’s not going to mention the underwear. “And best whiskey I’ve ever had.” He’d like to revisit it, sometime when his teeth aren’t chattering. Of course, by now, Sherlock probably has eyeballs pickling in it, just to see what happens.
Alarm is the best word Lestrade can come up with to describe the look on Mycroft’s face.
“I am afraid I don’t know what you’re referring to.”
This time, Lestrade believes him.
“Anthea?” John says. “Mrs. Hudson said she’d been by.”
The customary calm returns to Mycroft’s face. “Ah. Anthea.” He clears his throat. “Yes, she’s quite remarkable.” Something is unexpected, but not unexpected-bad, maybe. Lestrade is about to ask when John breaks in.
“Might have saved this one from a trip to the A&E.” John glances at him. “Not that he didn’t try again today.” John’s body twists, looking back toward the dwindling knot of the other doctors and nurses and orderlies. When Lestrade follows his line of sight, three of the faces turn away—Sarah, a nurse, and the big Robinton fellow. “If you’re looking for an office visit,” John says, grinning, “I don’t think you’d find it difficult to get an appointment.”
“No, I’m good,” Lestrade says, maybe too quickly. He pulls the ice pack away from his face, rubs it once across the back of his neck. Mycroft’s eyes follow the motion.
Mycroft pulls a crisply folded handkerchief from his breast pocket. It’s the purplish navy of Tottenham, edged in white, though there’s no logo anywhere, and Lestrade is willing to bet the thing is custom-ordered. Mycroft steps a little closer, holds it out as though to wipe away one of many smudges. Lestrade ducks back, just a bit, the eye that isn’t swelling shut rather rapidly on the Spurs-blue cloth. He winks. Mycroft catches that, and one corner of his mouth quirks up. Then Lestrade lifts his face, strangely pleased at what has just happened, that no one else knows the whole of it, and Mycroft cleans away another smear that’s gone mostly to mud from the ice-pack’s condensation.
“If I’d known,” Lestrade says, “I’d have tried harder to get something to bleed, put a little proper red on that.” He licks his lips, and they taste like dirt. Mycroft raises one eyebrow, just a little. He wishes there was a Sunday match today, then is thankful there isn’t. He’d do something rash, like ask Mycroft Holmes down to the pub.
“I think you’ve had enough trauma for the week, Greg.” John lifts his arm for him, settles the blue gel back against his eye and cheek. John is one of the few people who can manage use his given name socially and his title at work, easily. Most of the time, he forgets he has a first name.
“I find I rather agree with John,” Mycroft says, tucking the handkerchief back into his pocket in such a way that none of Lestrade’s mud is visible. Lestrade’s mouth is dry, but he has been running.
The chirp from John’s phone may save them all. John stares down at the screen, and he types furiously, using both thumbs. The next chirp comes from Mycroft’s Blackberry. Lestrade asks John for his wallet and keys and mobile before he forgets and John goes running off on some errand for Sherlock because the man’s out of tea or butane or fingernail shavings.
Mycroft is the first of them to actually commit to walking away. He strolls toward the black Jaguar, a driver visible, waiting beside the car. He’s some yards away when his voice floats back, though he doesn’t turn.
“Thursday, Detective Inspector.”
“Yeah,” Lestrade says. “Thursday.”
John hasn’t appeared to hear that at all, so intent on his mobile as he is. Lestrade isn’t sure if he’s grateful or disappointed that no one seemed to see anything that’s just happened. The car is gone when John says, “Thank you for distracting him. Even if he is Sherlock’s brother, I’m not informing on him, even for good intentions.”
Lestrade only nods, doesn’t say that he really doesn’t think Mycroft Holmes gets distracted.
By Tuesday, his eye has gone from a puffed purple tenderness to a yellowing ring, a thick dark sliver beneath his eye. By Tuesday, there’s a tension under his skin that he hasn’t felt in a long time. By Tuesday, he’s put in a request for a day and a half vacation, for Thursday afternoon, all of Friday. While he’s mid-apology for the short notice, Superintendant Forsythe wags the pen across the sheet, says it’s about bloody time after that business at the pool. He says to say hello to the niecelings next time he talks to them. Lestrade is dismissed, head spinning.
He sits back down at his desk until it’s time to look into a nice, tidy set of stereo thefts. It doesn’t call for Sherlock, it doesn’t involve him falling into a river, and it doesn’t send him home at one o’clock in the morning. He makes dinner, coq au vin, because he’s also sick of getting takeaway for lunch and the leftovers will last him two days, and before he can catch himself, he texts an invitation to Mycroft. The return call comes within minutes, the echo in the background tiled—the lav, somewhere.
“You’ve interrupted a very significant meeting.” Mycroft’s voice is smooth, even.
“You didn’t have to call me back.” He’s not apologizing for an invitation.
“I’m thanking you.” The sink runs, keeps running, and the phone gets farther from the rush: Mycroft turning the water on to cover the sound of conversation, probably standing next to an inexplicable couch. Posh toilets always have strange furniture where it doesn’t really belong: sofas, armchairs, armoires. “Significant, yes, but dull,” he says, “so dull.”
“You sound like Sherlock.” He grins into his half-glass of Burgundy.
“Bite your tongue.”
Bite it for me, memory supplies, automatically, in the voice of one of his old mates, the voice of Cliff. They were never together, not really, but they went to shows together, snogged a lot, shagged a few times. Cliff’s married now, has got a set of twins, teaches maths in Chelmsford.
Lestrade chews his lip. “I should let you get on with your significant meeting.”
“Likely true,” Mycroft says. “Another time?”
He nods into the phone.
Thursday arrives. Quietly. Sergeant Donovan all but tosses him out on his ear when the clock ticks over to afternoon, officially. The hours between leaving work, though, and leaving for his engagement—engagement, he’s decided, is the correct word because it’s not a date, and “going on outings” isn’t something he does—are difficult. At two, he calls his brother and family. It’s breakfast in the Aguilar y Cruz-Lestrade household, and he’ll have about ten minutes of the girls crunching toast in the receiver before they have to leave for school.
“Hello. House Aguilar y Cruz-Lestrade speaking. Password?”
Marisol says, Coralina in the background, but before Corrie loses the phone to her mother, he says, “Never tickle a sleeping dragon.”
“Tío G!” Corrie mostly shouts into the phone, and Betsy clicks onto the other handset. Their flat—apartment, Betsy always corrects—isn’t large, but they have the two phones for just this purpose.
The girls are a smoothly oiled machine of alternating bites and sips, taking turns telling him about school and indoor football league and a local library book sale. From the background, Bob says that they’re going to have to start getting rid of furniture to make room for books. Marisol says they can start with Bob’s chair. Lestrade has seen the chair. It’s been in every place Bob’s lived in in New York.
He tells the girls about the football match and his header and his black eye. Betsy says, “Did it go in?” Corrie wants to know if he elbowed the guy back.
Then it’s time for them to go off to school. They say goodbye in three languages. Bob and Marisol pick up the phones.
“God, I miss them,” he says.
“They miss you, too.” Bob says they’re going to be in Spain for Marisol’s friend’s wedding in June. They’re planning a few days in Bordeaux, too, to visit the grands-parents. Maybe he could make it down, make it a proper to-do. He writes the dates in his calendar.
Then the interrogation starts. “Why are you calling us at two in the afternoon in the middle of the week?”
Marisol says that if he’s been shot again, she’s going to slap him.
“I just took the afternoon off,” he says.
“Are you sick?” Marisol would have her hand on his forehead if she were in the same room.
He shakes his head at his mobile like she can see him, but she seems to understand because she doesn’t ask if his glands are swollen, if he feels faint. “Have some plans tonight,” he says, “and work has a habit of getting difficult at the worst time.” Saying he has plans is as much as he’s said about it to anyone. It feels nice to say, at least until Bob gets hold of it, which takes no time.
“What kind of plans?”
“Celebrating my birthday.” Bob doesn’t argue with him that it was almost two months ago now, unfortunately, because he might have lost him in bitching about semantics.
“With?” Marisol, of course, participates, just as Bob says, “How?”
He very nearly says “no one,” the knee-jerk reaction. “A friend. Karaoke.”
Marisol makes a thoughtful noise and Bob laughs. “Mon petit Grégoir going on a date.”
“Finally,” Marisol says.
“Are the girls gone?” He thought he heard the door, but that doesn’t always mean they’re really out, in case Corrie forgot her trainers for gym class or Betsy left her lucky pen. When Bob says yes, Lestrade says, “Va te faire foutre.” He hasn’t used his French regularly for years, but he’s never going to forget how to tell his older brother to fuck off.
Bob and Marisol both giggle.
Marisol says, more kindly, “Maybe not a date. But this is how you start.”
“Yeah. By showing off. Punk,” Bob says.
Marisol’s eyeroll is audible.“Certainly Greg is the only one of you who does that.” There is a small, wet sound from both receivers: a kiss.
Lestrade wonders why he thought calling them was a good idea. Clearly Slytherins, he wants to say to the girls. It doesn’t explain why he’s grinning when he hangs up.
At seven, he’s been dressed and ready for an hour, and he would give anything for a cigarette, something to do with his hands that isn’t pulling at his own hair because the bit of gel he put in it is set and it is doing exactly what he wanted it to do. He considers calling Mycroft, too, to tell him to dress…casually. Whatever passes for casual with a man who wears a waistcoat to a pick-up football match. That tight feeling in his stomach redoubles, but it’s not bad, reminds him of the short time he was in a band, the early shows.
When the knock comes at half-seven, a bit early, he’s kind of pleased because it means that Mycroft isn’t obviously looking for ways to trim minutes off the evening. He tugs open the door, and they are frozen on the threshold for a moment.
Mycroft is still wearing a suit, but it’s somehow different than the others, cut less formally, the waistcoat cut more deeply, his tie looser. And he’s wearing a hat, a charcoal fedora with a green band. His jacket lies over one arm, even though it’s cool enough that he could be wearing it. He’s got matching sleeve garters—thin, green rings just above the elbow—and it should be ridiculous. It should be laughable. On anyone else, it would be a costume. On Mycroft Holmes, it looks as natural as breathing.
“Look at you,” he says. And he does, again.
Mycroft actually flushes. “I look like a cartoon.”
Lestrade shakes his head. Nothing of the sort. And, well. “If you do, so do I.” A greyed man in his forties with his hair spiked, wearing a leather jacket and jeans that are snug enough through the seat that Bob would say he’s trying to prove something, a small silver stud in his ear, heavy motorcycle boots for the bike he no longer has. With the thin black line under his eye, the last bit of bruising, he’s a caricature of his own youth. It still feels good.
It feels even better when Mycroft shakes his head a bit. “There is nothing comical about your appearance, Gregory.”
Lestrade wants to say something else to that, but the use of his name disarms.
There’s a pause. Mycroft asks how his eye feels.
“S’good,” he says. He ducks back, kills the music and the lights, double-checks keys, wallet, mobile. When he comes back to the doorway, he catches a tiny thread of sound from Mycroft. It’s the chorus of “Bankrobber,” and he can’t help pointing out the obvious. “You’re humming.” He grins. “You could sing tonight. Sign-ups are open.” Provided there’s no transportation disasters, their arrival is calculated for optimal placement on the sign-up, slots open to take one halfway through each set. Never go early in the queue, never go late.
Mycroft shakes his head again, a little. “That is the extent of my vocal prowess.” He glances, grins. “I am, however, an exquisite applauder when so moved.” The high, near-ginger arch of his right eyebrow.
“That sounds like a challenge.” And that sounds good, too. The night curls around them, the street its usual mid-level hum of traffic and passersby. He tips his head toward the corner, the general direction of the Underground. The way home might call for a cab, but not yet.
At that, Mycroft’s steady stride behind him makes half a hitch, then recovers. “A night full of challenges, then.” He doesn’t seem too put out, though, and Lestrade will make it worth his while.
“You can’t go to all this trouble and not give the people what they want to see.” He lets his eyes flicker down, a little. Mycroft will easily be the best-dressed person in the whole club, but neither of them will be the most strangely dressed.
He turns the conversation toward the Underground before he says something else that he probably shouldn’t, explains the route, the Bakerloo to Embankment, change to Circle, then on to Temple, a few blocks’ walk. Mycroft’s face says he hasn’t been on the Tube in a long time, maybe ever, and Lestrade knows Sherlock’s avoidance of it. Sherlock makes exceptions as needs must, of course, but. “Too many stimuli for you, too?” Because a man who seems to have a driver, all of the time, ever needs to use public transportation.
“Something of that nature.” Mycroft’s hands are in his pockets, and he is watching the thickening crowd carefully. People are looking at them, and Mycroft seems uneasy—nothing as obvious as a facial expression, but the stiffness with which he carries himself. Lestrade’s been around enough to recognize that.
He takes two Oyster cards from his wallet, hands one to Mycroft, and the best thing about Holmeses is that they’re quick on the uptake, generally. Mycroft comes through the gate behind him neatly, at least looking like he’s done it often enough, and when they’re on the escalator, Lestrade moves so he’s a step above Mycroft, so the height difference isn’t as vast as it would be if their positions were reversed. A number of people on the up-stair actually turn their heads. Mycroft shifts as close to the hand-rail as he can without actually touching it, turns his face as though he’s actually looking at the theatre advertisements. Lestrade leans down a bit, a poster for Mama Mia! sliding past, and puts his mouth near Mycroft’s ear. “They’re looking because we are,” he says, as gravely as he can, “sexy bitches.”
Mycroft’s eyes snap open wide, then he dissolves into laughter. They step off the escalator, round another tiled hall, and the train is empty enough, actually, to sit like civilized people. Lestrade finds himself almost disappointed at that. There is, though, a young woman wearing what is clearly a cape and a top hat, and a small knot of boys—not more than fifteen or sixteen—with their hair in black and red crests. No one pays anyone any mind, except two grown women who are clearly giving them another once-over.
Lestrade stretches his legs out and grins.
Retroactive feels like stepping back into his old neighborhood, and though it’s been months since he’s been here, the bartender raises a hand to him, and one of the servers comes skittering around the bar, throws her arms around him. Lilah is twenty-four, in love with everything, and wearing her white-blonde hair in a sharp pixie cut. She kisses his cheek and he knows he’ll have to wipe lipstick away.
“We missed you. People keep coming in here and butchering ‘London Calling.’ It makes me gag.”
“See what I can do about that, then.” He won’t do that one, of course, and she knows that, but it’s the principle.
“Who’s your friend?” In the shadow between them, she squeezes his wrist. He’s suddenly doubly grateful for Mycroft’s company—when last he’d been here, the first time after he and Will broke up, Lilah was hell-bent on setting him up with her neighbor. She thrusts out her hand.
“M. Holmes.” Mycroft takes it, gently, and he barely moves, doesn’t bend, just inclines his neck the slightest bit, but Lilah pinks and flutters like he’s just kissed her hand.
“Just an initial. Mysterious.” She winks. “Right. I’ll be back in a tick. Make sure to sit in my section.” She points at a row of half-booths and tables snugged up against the wall. She picks up a tray of drinks and weaves her way into the crowded tables near the front.
“You,” he says, “are a dangerous man.” Lestrade leads them to one of the booths, and Mycroft takes the seat with his back against the wall, the stage and everything spread out before him.
“That’s the extent of it, I’m afraid.” The way Mycroft says it suggests that it isn’t just false modesty.
Lestrade snorts. “That’s all you’d need.” He spreads his hands across the table. “I’m going to go sign up, and you’re going to give Lilah a drink order when she comes back. So what are we drinking?” He glances back toward the bar. “System requires we’re drinking the same thing, and I’m only picky about wine and beer, which I wouldn’t recommend here.” Beer’s too heavy for the occasion, and they’ve a house red, a house white, neither of which are particularly good, and a short list of other options that he expects wouldn’t impress Mycroft Holmes.
Mycroft blinks. “System?” Lestrade sees him look over the bar again, searching for something that he missed—impossible—that would indicate some sort of strange “your whole party needs to make a collaborative order” rule.
“You’ll see.” And he walks away.
He comes back to find a gin and tonic at his seat. He’d had a boyfriend once—short-lived—who wore Tanqueray like cologne. It turned lush, foresty, green-scented on his skin. Lestrade is not going to think about that right now. The liquor is fresh and light on his tongue—no cheap, oily gin for Mycroft Holmes.
“To your liking?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Very much so.”
The best part of coming to Retroactive for karaoke is that it is at least half regulars, and the quality of the regulars keeps the bar high. That doesn’t protect them from all of the disasters—the third singer is actually two women who’ve clearly been to a pub or two before this one, and they’re butchering Lily Allen. Lestrade wants to put his head down it’s so bad—they can’t decide on parts, though they’re trying to do it on the fly, and they’ve wandered well past “enough drink to make it easy to work the crowd” to “drunk enough that it’s hard to read the screen.” The fact that they’re reading the lyrics at all is proof enough. Can’t knock ‘em out, can’t walk away. The whole pub is trapped.
So he slides his chair around the little table, puts it next to Mycroft. “I feel compelled to write a eulogy for this.” He takes a mouthful of his drink. “This song is too clever to deserve this fate.”
Though it’s loud, Mycroft appears to catch every word. Lestrade suspects he lip-reads, like Sherlock, and that he has adjusted his reading for Lestrade’s cadence, regional accent, and general vocabulary. At least, he’s looking at Lestrade’s mouth. Lip-reading seems like the wisest explanation. Sherlock has lorded his knowledge of the pitfalls of lip-reading at him before, and Mycroft appears to be making none of those mistakes. However he’s doing it, it’s nice, because it means they can have a bit of conversation without shouting. Mycroft’s delivery is pure RP, probably made even sharper so the task for Lestrade is even easier. Everything about the night is happening easily, and that was exactly the last thing that he expected. So he tells Mycroft that, yeah, he’s all right with Lily Allen, that he’s made up mixtapes for the girls with her and Natasha Bedingfield because they’re making rare, catchy, young music that doesn’t give him fits when he thinks of his nieces listening to it.
A few more songs elapse, including a very nice cover of “Fame,” which is a song he loves but hasn’t got the range for. “Space Oddity” is about the only Bowie track he’d do in public, but it’s over done, and is thus out of contention. Then he’s up, and Kev does the right thing, letting “Straight to Hell’s” longish musical intro unspool while he makes his way front. There’s something he likes about the empty little stage, the staccato guitar, the steady bass, waiting for him, and maybe it’s a bit cheap to leap up, take the mic just in time to skin into the lyrics, but it feels good.
The whole thing feels like it goes so quickly, even though it’s a long track for karaoke, more than five minutes, but the words are rough and sweet on his tongue, the clean, rocking percussion a weaving backbone to the whole thing. The song is a cruel one, more about global sociopolitical heartbreak than anything else, but Strummer makes it sexy, too (without even trying to do it, of course, because that’s the magic of Joe Strummer), and that’s where he goes with the exhalation at the end, letting the sound bend him, curl him down over the mic until he’s all but breathing heavily into the ears of the people draped on the edge of the stage. Someone’s hand slides up his left calf.
When he gets back to the table, Mycroft’s jacket is folded neatly beside him, and his palms are pinked with clapping. So moved. Lestrade allows himself to feel irredeemably smug for just a moment. There are fresh drinks sitting there, and Lilah pauses at the table for two seconds on her way to deliver someone else’s vodka martinis.
“Shameless,” she says, grinning broadly. “Isn’t he?” She looks at Mycroft for confirmation.
“That is one word for it.”
Lilah pats Lestrade’s cheek. “And we only encourage it.” She taps the table. “This round, courtesy of them.” She tips her head at a pair of men in their forties at the bar and a gaggle of twenty-something girls—clearly tourists—who’ve been buying drinks for just about everyone. The girls are already turned back to the stage, but he lifts one of the glasses toward the blokes at the bar in thanks.
He slides the other across to Mycroft and Lilah is gone. Mycroft nods. “Ah, the system.”
“Mm.” The best part about Lilah is that she preserves the original order. Mycroft started them on excellent gin, and Lilah will keep it that way, never busts it back down to the well to simplify her life on a hellishly crowded night, even if she has to keep it sorted which tables are drinking Beefeater versus Millers versus Bombay. “This is my best party trick: free drinks.” Also an excellent way to keep him from being too drunk to stand at the end of the night. “Well. Second best party trick.” Maybe third, but Mycroft definitely doesn’t need to know about the first just yet. By the end of their third round of drinks, he’s considering demonstrating the other one, though.
He’s caught in that thought when Mycroft says something else.
“I see no reason not to encourage you,” he says, the left side of his mouth pulling up into a grin. “You are very good at this.” The room’s gotten even louder, and he leans closer as he says it.
“Thanks.” He’s not sure what else to say. He stretches out his legs, and he can feel the brush of Mycroft’s trousers against his jeans. A man at the next table wriggles his way out of his chair, and Lestrade leans closer to Mycroft to make room. He presses his leg up against Mycroft’s, and from the corner of his eye, he sees Mycroft startle at the contact—a tiny widening of his eyes—and then the expression is gone. He’s about to move—might have been a poor choice, just there—when there’s a bit more pressure at his ankle.
He sees Mycroft drink deep, keep his hands on the glass. Lestrade changes the subject to football, because he’d bet the man has precious few people he can—or is willing to—talk to about that. They’re elbows-deep in playoff projections and he’s trying very, very hard not to touch Mycroft’s left hand, half an inch from his own, when he thinks take it slowly. He’s not sure he knows when he decided he was thinking about taking it anywhere.
When his second song comes up, though, he gets to the front a little early, asks for a change. “Pinball Wizard” isn’t going to do it tonight. And Edith Piaf isn’t exactly punk, but he can get it halfway there, knows where to sharpen the edges and smudge the lines. Valentine’s Day and anniversaries were the two occasions in the restaurant where his father was grateful for the “constant noise,” when his youngest son could sing a couple to a table or through their pots du crème. He takes the mic, thinks this would be infinitely better with a cigarette, and licks his way around “La Vie en Rose.”
About halfway through the song, too, he slides down from the stage, winds his way between the tables. One of the tourist girls actually screams like she’s at a concert, and someone’s hand is definitely on his arse. He fully intends to make it around to the bar, to the blokes who bought him a drink, but that would put him close enough to Mycroft that he’s not sure he could resist getting far too close. And then people would definitely stare, which seems to be something Mycroft is interested in avoiding. So he finishes the song from the front of the stage, hands the mic back up to the DJ.
While he’s walking back to the table, a handsome young man in a blue shirt, his hair an artful muss, glasses thick-rimmed and ironic, holds up a little piece of paper. He tucks it into Lestrade’s front pocket. Lestrade could kiss him. That much is imminently clear. He could kiss him right in the middle of the crowd, likely again in the hall near the toilets. And he would like to, desperately, not because of who this person is but because he’s someone who’s interested and Lestrade’s feeling a little high on attention and Bombay Sapphire. Except that he can see over the man’s shoulder, can see Mycroft watching him. He disentangles himself, and when he gets back, his chair is gone, borrowed by the next table. He raises an eyebrow at Mycroft, then slides onto the plush bench beside him.
“Your messages, sir,” Mycroft says, and he holds out a palmful of phone numbers. His mouth is wry, and Lestrade pulls the one from the young man from his front pocket, adds it to the pile. Then he reaches, tips Mycroft’s hand over one of their empty glasses, so the slips of paper fall on melting ice and lime slices. Somehow, despite the warmth of the room and the fact that he’s sweating, Mycroft’s hand is still pleasantly cool under his fingertips. Again he thinks of running it across the back of his neck, but he lets go, wipes his own fingers through the condensation on the side of his glass, rubs that into his skin.
Mycroft sips at his drink. “Your French,” he says. “It’s exquisite.”
“No, it isn’t.” His father would have said his French tonight was like talking with his mouth full of pebbles. His father has never quite understood the point of punk rock.
“I might not have been referring to your enunciation.” He glances up under the brim of his hat, and Lestrade inches closer to him under the pretext of making room for one more body for the next table.
The room is suddenly far too loud, too close—the wrong kind of close—and he is very, very near to doing something incredibly stupid.
“You want to get some air?” He gets up, and Mycroft follows, his coat again draped over his arm.
He leads them out through the back, where there’s a small crowd of people smoking. He breathes deep, exhales through his mouth.
“How long has it been?” Mycroft glances at the smokers. “Since you quit.”
Lestrade reaches for Mycroft’s wrist, nudges his cuff up from the watch-face. “As of this minute, nine years, two months, six days and twelve—no, nineteen hours ago, adjusting for the time-zone. Give or take a few minutes.”
“Not that you’re counting.” Mycroft looks at where Lestrade is still holding his wrist. He doesn’t pull his hand away, though, only holds still until Lestrade lets go. “Since your second niece was born?”
“Corrie.” He nods. “Bob quit, too. I didn’t want him to have to do it alone, and, well.” He wants to be an old uncle, someday. He walks them further down the alley. “Figured it’d get easier than it is. Not bad all the time, but.” He still wears the patches for work, though he tries to avoid them when he’s not at the Yard. Right now, his forearm itches.
“I find it helps to have other things to occupy one’s time and energy.” Mycroft keeps walking, and Lestrade follows him, going single-file behind him as they pass a few more people. The back of Mycroft’s waistcoat is snug across the band of his trousers, just at the base of his spine, and his shoulders are narrow, more so than they seem at first, like he can change his shape by the way he carries himself. It makes sense. Sherlock can do that, too. If they don’t go back inside, he’s not going to be heartbroken.
The scent of gin might be only in his nostrils, but he feels like he can smell it on Mycroft, wonders if it’s in his pores. They’d both taste like it. They’re at the end of the block, halfway down the next before it sinks in that he’s thinking, very hard, about kissing Mycroft Holmes.
They pause in the lee of someone’s private garden to let a large party go past, a party, by their conversation, looking for Piccadilly Circus. He wants to let them blunder on, on principle, but he doesn’t. They’ll be walking for ages, and they’re not at all dressed for the night’s chill. He points them at the correct bus stop, tells them to watch the marquee on the bus for their destination.
Mycroft looks at him indulgently. “Kind to tourists, children, and consulting detectives. Will you be adopting a puppy later?” He shakes his head. “Not exactly punk rock, by my understanding.”
“You might be surprised.” He’s never been left to slog home in the rain after a punk show, never been left unconscious in a toilet because he might have had a drink or five too many. Some of that is good luck, but not all.
“I find I am in a constant state of surprise with you, Gregory.” They’re still in the shadow of some sorry-looking ivy. Mycroft slips his jacket on. “Was your birthday ‘riot’ acceptable?” He smiles.
“Yeah.” More than. And yet. Lestrade reaches for his wrist again, pushes back his sleeves to see the watch again. “It’s on past midnight. Does it still get to be my birthday?” Can’t have someone disappeared for doing something stupid on his birthday, right?
“Yes, of course,” Mycroft says. His eyes are trained on Lestrade’s fingers. Which means he’s not watching Lestrade’s other hand come up, curl around the knot of his very fine emerald tie, and by the time he looks up, their lips are together. The kiss is short, chaste by his usual standards. The earth doesn’t shake, there’s no peal of heavenly trumpets. Mycroft’s eyes, in fact, are still open, wide, like he’s been hit in the face with something, and Lestrade is opening his mouth to apologize when Mycroft’s eyes close, slowly, and his breath is visible in the deliberate rise and fall of his chest. The delayed reaction is not the usual territory of a Holmes, he knows, but it’s funny on the rare occasion it happens to Sherlock, and here, now, it is nothing short of amazing.
Then there they are. “I, well. Bit cheap of me to get m’self a present,” Lestrade says. He shoves his hands in his pockets. Nothing but trouble.
“No,” Mycroft says. “Nothing of the sort.” He is again staring at Lestrade’s mouth, until he glances out around the fringe of vines, and there’s a soft patter of rain through the wilted leaves.
Right. Making out on the street is a very bad idea, for at least half a dozen reasons. The Underground is off to the left, but neither of them turns that way. It is easier to walk, to keep walking. The quiet between them is the sound of footsteps on wet pavement, and Lestrade blinks away rain, sees Mycroft watching from the corner of his eye.
He’s trying to decide what to say next, what the right choice is, when a car slows beside them, keeps pace.
Mycroft mutters something Lestrade is pretty certain is Latin for balls. He doesn’t remember much useful from primary school Latin, but he does remember the dirty words they weren’t supposed to learn.
The window comes down, and there is Anthea in the passenger seat. “You forgot your umbrella, sir.” She looks Lestrade up and down, and he feels vaguely like he’s just been caught necking on the sofa. After curfew. With the vicar’s son. He’s missed that feeling, pushes down the grin that threatens.
Mycroft stands up straighter. “We had agreed that Thursday evenings were your evening off, Anthea.” The rain drums down harder, and where Lestrade’s standing, the flick of the wipers seems to add just a bit more to the water on his person.
“And it is now Friday morning, sir.” The car’s back door swings open apparently on its own. “Would you and Detective Inspector Lestrade prefer to ride?” She glances down at her mobile. “The forecast suggests the weather is going to get worse before it gets better, and it would be a shame to ruin Inspector Lestrade’s jacket.”
He’s about to say that the jacket’s been through a lot worse—it has, in fact, been in the Thames—when Mycroft nods. “Thank you, Anthea.” His hand lands on Lestrade’s back, just above his left kidney, just for a moment, to nudge him toward the open door. The feeling is gone as fast as it had happened.
This car is not the same one he’d been in after the hospital. The divider between the front and back seats is tinted glass, and the way Anthea is not looking backwards at them suggests that it only allows back-to-front visibility. Mycroft rolls his eyes, and Lestrade is sorely tempted to laugh, except, as they pull back into traffic, the weather does change, the wind sudden and high, the raindrops landing sideways. Once in a while, one of them splatters slushily on the window.
“Handy, though,” he says. The word jogs his own memory. Now, he thinks, is not a good time to examine the thought.
“Indeed.” Mycroft shifts, twitches in his damp jacket. He looks up ruefully. “This sort of thing is becoming a habit.” He brushes a few drops of water from Lestrade’s leather-covered shoulder, chases them down the sleeve with his fingertips, though he stops short of actually touching skin.
“Oh, it’s not so bad.” Lestrade turns his palm up, waits. “Neither of us has drowned yet.” They go through two intersections before Mycroft settles his hand over it, curls their fingers together. It may be the tamest date he’s been on—fuck you, Bob—literally ever, unless he counts the two he’s been on where the date was over before anyone even ordered a drink, which he doesn’t: one closed-mouth kiss, barely a kiss, their hands actually twined. An unexpected chaperone with a Blackberry and eyes like sheathed knives. A ride home in a car with windows designed to keep all secrets, driven by a man who is likely also a bodyguard because no one who drives for a living has a neck like that naturally.
The car idles at another traffic signal and the rain separates out into drumming, marking their breathing. Around them, London is a riot of light and water, music spilling from clubs and people spilling from buses, doorways. Inside the car, Lestrade runs the side of his thumb over the back of Mycroft’s hand. There is near-silence, the air a single struck chord.