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The Penultimate Problem

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Lestrade didn't know why he'd been summoned to see the Commissioner of the Met; he just knew it was bad news. The problem was, he'd done so many things recently that the high-ups wouldn't approve of that he wasn't sure which of them he was going to get a carpeting for. And when he got to the office, it was even more alarming in one way. Because there, sitting blandly behind the Commissioner's desk, was Mycroft Holmes. Lestrade's stomach did its one momentary lurch into pleasure, the way it always did when Mycroft was around, and then settled into ulcer-inducing worry, because Mycroft's presence surely meant that someone he knew was either dead or kidnapped.

"Sit down, DI Lestrade, there's no need for alarm," Mycroft said smoothly. "All your friends and acquaintances are secure. But I have an urgent assignment, and I came to request your assistance."

"Assistance with what?" he asked. You didn't give Mycroft, of all people, a blank cheque.

"Moriarty's in Switzerland."

"I know," he replied. "Sherlock got a message from Bern yesterday. In fact, it was me passed it onto your lot."

"I'm off to Switzerland this afternoon. I need someone to accompany me and I was hoping you might do so. Your passport's about to expire, but I've just obtained a new one for you."

"Right," he said. Trust Mycroft to have everything arranged even before he'd agreed to go. "But why me? And why you, for that matter?"

"This situation has been dragging on for too long, and you know what happened with Sarah recently."

"Moriarty kidnapped her from her own engagement party," Lestrade said. "And I had John threatening to gun down half of London to get her back." They'd found Sarah a couple of days ago, and she was now out of hospital, but it had been a terrible week.

"So you want to finish this yourself," he went on, as it dawned on him, "so John and Sarah don't get pulled back into this sick game."

"Or Sherlock," said Mycroft, scrutinising him carefully. "As a threesome, they are vulnerable in many ways."

Should have guessed he'd know about that angle, Lestrade thought. No skin off his nose what they all got up to in 221B, but it'd be horrible for Sarah, in particular, if that bit of information came out.

"Fair enough," he said, "but if you're taking on Moriarty personally you need a superman, or a ninja, at least, at your side. Not a middle-aged copper. Surely you've got a James Bond or two up your sleeve, Mycroft?" It always felt slightly wrong calling Mycroft by his first name, unrealistically friendly, but there had been so many mix-ups over "Mr Holmes" with his team in the past that it was necessary.

"I need someone I can trust, Greg," Mycroft replied; he somehow managed to make the first name sound more formal than even Sherlock's 'Lestrade'. "What's more, for this particular assignment, I would prefer someone with no...dependents."

"Is this a subtle way of telling me it's a suicide mission?"

"I plan for us both to survive," Mycroft said seriously, "but Moriarty has a way of disrupting people's plans. Permanently, all too often. I hope you agree he has to be stopped, by any means possible."

Half of Lestrade's old friends from the scene hadn't made it to forty, but he'd always been one of the lucky ones. Maybe his luck would hold this time, as well. Besides, Mycroft was right. This had gone on for nearly two years and it was destroying them all, like a very slow-growing cancer. He'd seen John Watson, the bravest man he knew, wince at the sound of his mobile ringing late at night, steeling himself to receive bad news of another threat, another death.

"If you need me, I'll come," he said, trying to sound as calm as Mycroft. "But what do I tell my team?"

"You don't," said Mycroft. "Even now, your Swiss cousin is undergoing emergency surgery. If you want to see her alive, you have to leave immediately."

"They're not going to buy me having a Swiss cousin."

"They know you've got French relatives on your father's side, even if you've had no contact with them for many years. A cousin in Switzerland isn't a step too far for them to accept." His voice hardened into command. "You have two hours to pack."

Fuck it, this was really going to happen, Lestrade realised with a shock. He'd just signed himself up to taking on a criminal mastermind. Well, he wasn't going to back down now. He should tell Mycroft that, but he couldn't get his mouth into gear. So instead he just stood up and stuck out his hand.

Ridiculous thing to do, of course. He always warned his team: If Mycroft Holmes comes to talk to you, don't lie, don't offer him any of our coffee, don't try and shake his hand, and pray you'll still have a job at the end of the meeting. But to his amazement, Mycroft stood up as well and shook his hand. His grip was firmer than Lestrade expected.

"I'll be glad to have you along with me, Greg," Mycroft said quietly, and Lestrade couldn't help feeling that he'd somehow registered with Mycroft at last as an actual human being, rather than just a counter in a game. And now Mycroft was looking at him with an odd intensity, as if trying to memorise his features.

Oh shit, he thought, he probably is, in case he has to identify my corpse. Not a cheery thought. Better make a move before he lost his nerve.

"So how long are we going for and what's the weather like?" he asked, because he had to say something. Mycroft's smile told him this was the right sort of question.

"It should be no more than a couple of weeks," Mycroft said. "It's still rather chilly at the end of March, so bring something warm. And pack your boots. I expect us to be doing some walking."

***

What had he been thinking of, Lestrade wondered, as he searched hurriedly for some matching socks, and started to pack them with slightly shaky hands. Stupid question: Not just catching, killing, that bastard Moriarty, but also a chance to spend time with Mycroft. He'd never had more than a few hours conversation with him; two weeks would be something completely different.

It wasn't stupid falling for Mycroft; it had seemed inevitable from the first time they'd met. The skinny genius of a junkie he'd let hang around his crime scenes had collapsed at one of them and had to be rushed to hospital. And a tall, suave man in a smart suit had wandered up to Lestrade in a waiting room, hands in pockets, and asked: "Could I have a word, please?"

Lestrade had understood about Sherlock once he'd met Mycroft, seen what might happen when, or if Sherlock ever grew up. Sherlock was a flailing mess, barely able to cope in a world full of people so much slower than himself. Mycroft had learned how to harness his incredible mind, was able to turn his detached personality to productive use. Sherlock might be a pretty boy, but Mycroft was a grown-up, and an attractive one at that.

It probably had been stupid not trying to get anywhere with Mycroft ages ago. Lestrade had suspected from early on that Mycroft was gay; there was something about the impersonal way he looked at beautiful women – like his assistant – that was familiar. And if Mycroft had been involved with someone, surely Sherlock would have teased him about that, wouldn’t he? The way he compulsively needled Mycroft about every other aspect of his life?

But he hadn't been sure for several years. Till the day when Mycroft had arrived at Scotland Yard to inform Lestrade and Sherlock that they would not be investigating the death of Louis La Rothière of Campden Mansions, Notting Hill.

"I wish if you had to polish off foreign agents you could do it more subtly," Sherlock said, staring out of the window, so he didn't have to look at Mycroft. "The Service's mucky fingerprints were all over this one."

"It was an emergency," Mycroft replied haughtily. "Don't worry, an appropriate culprit will be found. Though sadly one out of your jurisdiction, DI Lestrade."

"He means they're going to blame the Russians, "Sherlock said. "Try not to restart the Cold War, Mycroft, it's terribly passé."

"I'll let you know if any further action is required," Mycroft said, smiling at Lestrade, and left. He abruptly realised that he'd been watching Mycroft's bum rather too attentively as he walked away and there was a smirk on Sherlock's face now that meant he'd somehow spotted it even without looking.

"You should ask him out," Sherlock said, "given you've just ended your current relationship."

Lestrade leaned back in his chair and looked at the bastard silently. He wasn't going to rise to that one, on the off chance it was a bluff.

"You've shaved carefully this morning," Sherlock went on. "For the last few months it's been hurried, as if you've had something else occupying you first thing in the mornings. You've also been coming into work looking happy." He made it sound vaguely perverted behaviour. "Today, however, you were back to your normal grumpy self, but more smartly dressed than usual, and very clean shaven. The bags under your eyes, however, say you didn't sleep well. You've had bad news, to which you've responded by demonstrating that you are still able to take care of yourself, still a smart, attractive man. Ergo, you had a break-up last night. What did he do?"

"Offered me coke," Lestrade replied. "I don't know why the blokes I fall for can't get it into their heads that I won't put up with that sort of behaviour. I've seen too many people get hurt. And I can't just turn a blind eye to Class A drugs, more than my job's worth."

"You break the rules often enough for my sake," Sherlock said, smiling.

"That's different: everyone knows it gets us results. But," he added, and wondered if he should be telling Sherlock this, "there are still people in the Met who'd love to get me up on a charge over my private life."

"The same ones, presumably, who've ensured you've never made it to DCI. Or superintendent, which is what you should really be. You may be an idiot, but you're by far the best of a bad bunch."

"They want the right kind of arse-lickers for superintendents," Lestrade said, relishing the obscenity of the joke. "But anyhow, yes, I'm on my own. No, I'm not planning to try it on with your brother. I don't want to accidentally piss off a man who's just had someone fall down a lift shaft at St Pancras station."

"To piss off accidentally," Sherlock corrected him. "It's unlikely you would. He's unattached, and though I've deliberately remained ignorant of his taste in men, it is undoubtedly a taste in men. He could do worse than you. And you, I'm sure, have done worse than him. As long as you don't tell him anything about the cases I'm working on, I have no objections."

"Thanks, but no thanks," Lestrade replied. He wasn't going to try discussing this with Sherlock, of all people. It made no difference whether Mycroft was theoretically available. There were hotel rooms free at the Ritz, but that didn't mean they were for the likes of him. Mycroft, he was sure, was the kind of man who'd only want trophy shags.

Irritatingly, though, he couldn't be sure what kind. He didn't think Mycroft was the sort of posho who went for working-class boys; Lestrade had seen enough of those when he was young to recognise the signs. Got touched up by a cabinet minister himself when he was twenty. Young Oxbridge types were a possibility; the kind of mentoring that involved an education in bed as well as out of it. But most likely of all was that Mycroft went for the cultured sort: singers, artists, that kind of talent. The chance of him fancying a grumpy plod with his hair going grey everywhere was negligible. In Lestrade's experience, the only men interested in him nowadays either had an unhealthy fascination with handcuffs or were accountants. And given his tax returns were currently up to date, he'd probably leave looking for anyone new for a while.

***

A while had somehow stretched into several years, because even though Lestrade wasn't pining for Mycroft or anything ridiculous like that, Mycroft managed to make all the other men Lestrade met seem second-rate: stupid or crude or immature. So now, he thought, I'm off to get myself killed in order to get his attention. That really is ridiculous.

***

"Where do we start?" he asked Mycroft an hour and a half later. They were sitting in the first class lounge at Heathrow, and he kept on expecting to be thrown out as an interloper. "The letter was from Bern, wasn't it?"

"Yes, but we're going to Zurich first," said Mycroft, smiling benevolently. "You might say we have some gnomes to talk to."

The gnomes of Zurich, Lestrade thought. "Right, you mean we're starting with some bankers."

"I've been looking into Moriarty's finances for a long time, but there's one particular lead in Switzerland I've been saving, in case its investigation aroused suspicion. But I think this week it's time to pull that thread and see what unravels. If our flight's on time we can start the process this afternoon. By the way, as far as the Swiss are concerned, we are from the Serious Organised Crime Agency. If you can attempt looking serious, therefore, I will be responsible for the organisation, and, if necessary, the crime."

***

The financial quarter of Zurich had rather better views of mountains than the City of London did, but posh banking HQs were the same all over the world. In the bank they went to, Mycroft's polite enquiries got them taken rapidly to some high up in a high-up office. Mycroft introduced themselves to the new bloke in English and then promptly rattled off some German. Doesn't he realise all I can do in German is ask for a beer, thought Lestrade, and then he saw the banker flinching slightly, as he started what was obviously a grovelling apology. Lestrade strongly suspected that Mycroft was threatening or even blackmailing the bloke, judging by the occasional words he could follow, like 'Skandal' and 'Untergang' – that meant 'downfall', didn't it? And after a bit, the banker started printing stuff off and handing it to Mycroft, with a look that said in a universal language: I am so fucked.

"That's excellent," Mycroft said, when they'd finally left the building. "I was right, that was one of Moriarty's key feeder accounts."

"The money he collects goes in there," said Lestrade cautiously, "and then?"

"It's routed via other accounts to Moriarty's associates. Other accounts of which we now have the details. Tomorrow morning, Greg, I hope that we can start to turn off the money tap. But it will take a little planning, so if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go back to the hotel and send a few e-mails to people."

***

The next four days reminded Lestrade strongly of trailing after Sherlock during a case. Mycroft was much more polite than Sherlock, and he remembered to eat – they had some very nice meals, in fact – but otherwise his mind was almost completely occupied by the task of closing down Moriarty's bank accounts. Lestrade wasn't quite sure why he was being hauled along to the banks as well, unless his bemused silence as Mycroft discussed things earnestly with alarmed officials made it look as if Lestrade was the bad cop to Mycroft's good cop. But otherwise, he felt useless; it might as well be Dimmock here, or Hopkins, or any one of the other DIs.

A small part of him was starting to wonder whether Mycroft had just been being melodramatic when he'd said it was a dangerous mission, but he reminded himself that it was probably more that Mycroft was so good at his job that he made the impossible look easy. Besides, Mycroft had said he needed someone trustworthy, and whinging about how someone ran an operation was hardly a constructive move. He just needed to concentrate on watching Mycroft's back – among other parts of him – and wait and see what happened. Because judging by Mycroft's increasing smugness, whatever he was doing was working.

***

It wasn't just Swiss banks, either, Lestrade realised early on Day 5, when he spotted someone in the hotel foyer looking at a headline in the Wall Street Journal: "Shad Sanderson Money Laundering Allegations." He hurried up to Mycroft's room, to find him calmly eating breakfast there.

"Shad Sanderson's a British bank, isn't it?" he said, sitting down opposite Mycroft. "Hey, didn't Sherlock have a case to do with them?"

"Yes," said Mycroft, frowning. "It wasn't one you worked on, was it?"

"No, but I got an earful from Mark Dimmock about Sherlock when I came back from holiday, so I know the basics. It was Chinese gangs and drugs, wasn't it?"

"One of Shad Sanderson's traders was smuggling art works for the Black Lotus gang," said Mycroft. "Who themselves had ties to Moriarty. It seemed highly probable at the time that the bank had other connections to him as well, and so it proved. But I didn't want to close that operation down till we'd tackled the Swiss end. And meanwhile, I heard last night that my American colleagues have been having some good results with the Caribbean tax havens."

"Moriarty has a global network, does he?"

"Yes, but then so do I. I think, in fact, we should be finishing this stage of the operation today." Mycroft looked up from the pile of toast he was working his way through and inspected Lestrade. "I'm sure you've been wondering why I brought you here, but you'll be playing more of an active role in Phase 2."

"I didn't-" Lestrade began, and then remembered it was pointless lying to a Holmes. "OK, yes, I was wondering where I came in. The original message from Moriarty came from Bern, so are we going there next?"

"Not Bern itself, but the area around there," Mycroft replied. "Switzerland is renowned not only for its banks, after all, but its mountains. So the next few days are for sightseeing. We are going to tour the Bernese Alps."

There was a tension in his voice now that Lestrade hadn't heard before. This is it, he thought, this is where it turns nasty. And that kind of violence was something he did know about, and Mycroft, he suspected, didn't. Time to stop being just a passenger on this trip.

"We're making ourselves targets, aren't we?" he said. "Just so I know what's going to happen. We've pissed off Moriarty royally by nicking half his money. And now we're going to be wandering out into the Swiss countryside in the middle of winter-"

"Spring has already started to come, Greg-" Mycroft interjected.

"-in the snow and slush, saying to Moriarty, 'Come and shoot us down! Oh, and, by the way, do you want to find a handy little crag to place a sniper, because there are lots around here.' What the fuck do you think you're doing, Mycroft?"

"It won't be snipers this time," Mycroft said calmly. "Not after what happened to them at the swimming pool. Moriarty will want hand-to-hand combat."

"At which, of course, you're an expert. No, I forgot, it's your brother who knows all about baritsu, or whatever it is. And that's also why you didn't bring along a squad of marines - or even John - to guard you, just me. You're trying to lure Moriarty into a true sense of security."

"He likes flamboyant gestures," Mycroft replied. "He also likes gloating. Hand-to-hand combat in the Alps gives him the chance for both. And that gives us an obvious chance. He's quite small, after all, a lightweight, one might almost say."

"Well you may be a big man, but you're in bad shape," Lestrade retorted. "If we're going to do this, we need a back-up party. A large back-up party, armed to the teeth."

"No," said Mycroft, and suddenly the pretension and pretence was all gone, and he looked like a tired, miserable, middle-aged civil servant. "I can't trust my own people anymore. Well, beyond a handful, and they're currently occupied with the banks. If Moriarty could crack Anthea's communications, he could crack half my staff. Anthea's investigating them all at the moment and she's gradually narrowing down who among the internals we need to worry about. But for the moment it has to be just me and you."

He paused and added, "Don't worry. There can't be much left of Moriarty's organisation either, not the way I've been cutting off his funds. Moriarty's henchmen don't stay with him for love, but money. And Colonel Sylvia Moran, who would concern me if she were loose in the Alps, is safely in Monte Carlo at the moment, trying to break the bank."

"It's still a huge risk."

"I am aware of that," Mycroft said, and Lestrade watched his hand tightening on the handle of his coffee cup. "If you feel...if you consider, under the circumstances, that you want to withdraw from the mission..."

"No," he replied determinedly, "I knew what I was signing up for. And after all, even if I went back to London, some fifteen-year-old kid could turn round tomorrow and gun me down. Shit happens, especially when you're a copper."

“I, I just wanted to say..." Mycroft began, and then stopped. Lestrade waited in silence, as Mycroft drank down his coffee, and then said, almost calmly: "Have you ever made a will?"

"Yeah. I've not got much but it gets split between the Terence Higgins Trust and the Met Benevolent Fund." When it came down to it, taking care of his own had seemed most important.

"If, if it does happen, or indeed if it doesn't," Mycroft said rapidly, "you will now find considerably more funds in your bank account and pension fund than previously."

"What?"

"The money from Moriarty's accounts had to go somewhere, and you are one among several people whom it seemed appropriate to fund with it."

"You're paying me off?" Lestrade demanded, angrily. "I don't want your money."

"I'm protecting you," Mycroft said, his voice, almost, but not quite regaining its normal haughtiness. "The money officially comes as a legacy from your Swiss cousin, touched by your devotion in attending her in her last few days. It is sufficient, I hope, that if you had to leave the Met, for whatever reason – if, say, this operation went wrong and you were forced out – you would not suffer financially." Then he smiled a little nervously at Lestrade. "Please, accept it as a gift. It's the least I can do for you, under the circumstances. And, and, I always find it easy to be generous with other people's money. If you just give me ten minutes more for breakfast, we have two last banks to go and visit."

***

Lestrade had thought it would be easier getting on with Mycroft during "Phase 2", but it was worse than ever. Most people opened up when they were on undercover missions with someone; when there was only one other person who knew who you really were and there were hours of hanging round to fill in, the urge to tell them everything could become overwhelming. He'd learnt things about Sally Donovan on one drugs case that were truly alarming. But Mycroft seemed not to need that kind of intimacy. He certainly made conversation as they began their exploration of the countryside round Bern, but his talk was almost entirely about Swiss history or the cultural life of London. He sounded like a cross between the Blue Guide to Switzerland and Radio 3.

Maybe it was just Mycroft's way of coping with nerves. Lestrade knew that he himself was scrutinising sharply every face that passed them, and he suspected Mycroft was doing the same. And when they looked up at the Gemmi Pass on one of their hikes, and saw the depths of snow still up there, Lestrade couldn't help muttering: "Do you know what to do if there's an avalanche?"

"I've been reading the leaflets," Mycroft murmured back. "It might be as well to get ourselves both avalanche beacons, even if we're planning to stay in the valleys."

That really wasn't a reassuring reply, Lestrade decided.

"Hadn't we better get a move on?" he said hurriedly. He turned to step back onto the path, and his foot slipped from under him on a patch of wet grass. He was just about to go arse over tip when Mycroft's hands shot out and grabbed his arms.

"Careful, Greg," he said, "I don't want you hurting yourself." Mycroft's grip tightened on him, as his eyes, filled with concern, looked into Lestrade's. Fuck, Lestrade thought. I'm supposed to be protecting Mycroft and I can't even take care of myself. He looked away, embarrassed, and said grumpily: "I'm fine."

"I'm afraid this isn't the ideal season to be seeing Switzerland," Mycroft said, releasing his hold.

"You're telling me," Lestrade replied. "Seems to be April Fool's Day every day: you don't know if you're going to be boiling or it'll be chucking it down. Or it’s sunny and still freezing."

"Maybe I should bring you back here in June," said Mycroft. "It's my favourite time. The Alpine flowers are fully out, and it's gloriously relaxing."

"Yeah, well, I'm never at my most relaxed when there's a psychopath with a taste for semtex lurking somewhere out there," Lestrade growled, and then cursed himself silently. It wasn't going to help if they just wound each other up even more.

***

By the end of Day 10, Lestrade could feel his nerve crumbling. London crooks, in his experience, weren't subtle. If they were going to off you, they got on with it. Whereas this looking over his shoulder all the time was rapidly wearing him down. It was getting to Mycroft, as well; the polished facade was starting to show cracks. There were longer silences now, as even his capacity for polite conversation dried up. And in the posh restaurant they went to that evening, Mycroft was sipping his wine just a little too rapidly, and almost gobbling down his dessert. He often refused a sweet, but tonight the white chocolate torte with raspberry sauce was disappearing at speed into his mouth.

"How much longer is this going on?" Lestrade asked, because he'd finished his crème brûlée, and he'd never claimed to be subtle. "The boys at the Yard are going to get suspicious if I'm away for more than a fortnight."

Mycroft scraped a spoon round his dish in an unapologetically determined way for a little longer, and then looked up.

"Tomorrow is by far the most likely date." He paused, and then added: "It'll be two years to the day since the swimming pool explosion."

"Sod it, that hadn't registered."

"His mind works like that," Mycroft said. "It was supposed to be Sherlock here, of course, not myself. And John as well, who is also a key target for Moriarty."

"Whereas I'm just likely to be collateral damage. Moriarty doesn't worry about how much of that he causes, does he?"

"I'm sorry, Greg," Mycroft said. "I should have told you of my suspicions earlier, let you know my hypotheses. But I have found it oddly difficult to discuss the possibility, the probability of my forthcoming death. Although if I could be assured that society would be freed from Mr Moriarty, I would cheerfully bring my own career - indeed my own existence - to a conclusion."

Oh fuck, Lestrade thought. He really did not need Mycroft getting fatalistic right now.

"Don't talk about dying as if didn't matter," he said firmly. "You have friends, family-"

"I have acquaintances and subordinates," Mycroft said crisply. "Plus Sherlock and Mummy. And, well you know Sherlock's feelings towards me. I hardly imagine my demise would substantially change those."

"But your mother?"

"She would still have Sherlock. That would be a great comfort to her." Beneath the formal phrasing, Lestrade could suddenly hear the decades of pain of the less-favoured son. God, he had to say something, didn't he, boost Mycroft's morale or it would just be too easy for Moriarty. Depressed men didn't fight back.

"I'd miss you," he said, staring at Mycroft with sudden determination. "Wouldn't be the same not having you turn up at Scotland Yard sorting us all out."

"Thank you," Mycroft said politely. "I appreciate the sentiment. Would you like some coffee, by the way?"

"In fact," Lestrade said rapidly, before his nerve gave out, "you picked me for this mission because I'm not involved with anyone. Well, you're one of the reasons I'm not." He ought to say something better than that, he thought, as he sat there, feeling hot and clumsy, something clever, enticing. He couldn't find the words, but from Mycroft's stillness, he saw he didn't need to say anything more. Mycroft was just sitting there, looking across at Lestrade as if he'd never seen him before. And then at last he spoke, and it came out as slowly as if he was fumbling through phrases in an unknown foreign language:

"I thought...I presumed... that it was Sherlock towards whom your...affections were directed."

"Sherlock?" Lestrade replied incredulously.

"You have been remarkably accepting of his behaviour over the years."

"Yeah, well he's a complete menace, but he's improved the Met's clear up rate no end. That's the reason I've kept him around." He paused, and then added, "Well that...and it's given me a chance to see you sometimes."

God, he sounded pathetic, like a bloody twelve-year old girl. I've been keen on you for ages, but I didn't say anything. Still, at least he'd got it out, and good job he'd finally decided to bite the bullet. Because if ever there was a time when Mycroft might fancy a morale-boosting shag, it was tonight.

"I had no idea," said Mycroft, and there was a faint undertone of panic, as if he was having to reconstruct an entire model of the universe from scratch. "I, I am honoured, Greg...flattered...I have always found you attractive..."

"But?" Lestrade said. "There's going to be a but, isn't there?"

"If the circumstances were different I would have no hesitation in, in..." said Mycroft and then gave a vague wave of the hand that might have indicated his willingness for anything from a quickie in the toilets to a lifetime's devotion. "But I can't, I'm afraid, I really can't see my way beyond tomorrow at the moment."

I should have guessed, thought Lestrade grumpily. Gentlemen didn't have pick-me-up sex before going off to get slaughtered. Only the poor bloody infantry like him fancied it.

"Ok," he said hurriedly. "Leave it, it doesn't matter. But, just so you know. And hadn’t we better get to bed" - Shit – "turn in soon, if we've got a big day tomorrow?"

"A sensible suggestion, Greg," Mycroft said, in the friendly voice he probably used with slightly-less-hopeless cabinet ministers, "I'll see you in the morning."

***

When he got back to his hotel room, Lestrade watched some stupid subtitled film with a lot of explosions for a bit: Speed 3 was it, or Mission Impossible 8? Didn't make any sense in German or English, so he switched it off. To hell with it. He needed something else to help him unwind. He wondered what Mycroft was doing back in his room. A thought suddenly struck him. Well, why not? Mycroft couldn't stop him thinking about things, could he?

So he slowly, deliberately, wanked off to mental images of Mycroft. He'd have pale skin, wouldn't he, underneath all those layers of clothing, and a long, thin cock? And he'd start off being hideously embarrassed at being naked, and making excuses about 'he couldn't really' and 'he wasn't used to this sort of thing'...

No, that wasn't his idea of fun for tonight, Lestrade decided abruptly, as he lay on the fancy cotton sheets of the hotel bed. Not bashful Mycroft, but knowing Mycroft was what he needed right now. Mycroft still fully clothed, but with his erection pressing uncomfortably against his smartly-tailored trousers, as he observed how hard Lestrade was. Then he'd quirk an eyebrow and wrap one smooth, manicured hand round Lestrade's cock, and...

No, even better, Mycroft's mouth on him, licking and savouring him the way he'd eat a dessert, full lips sucking with blissful concentration on Lestrade's erection...

Lestrade came in his own hand, and lay panting for a moment, knowing he was being a sentimental idiot. Still, at least if he got gunned down with a hard-on tomorrow, Mycroft would know that it was himself, not Moriarty, who had caused it.

***

"We'll get the train down to Interlaken," Mycroft announced the next morning, "have a look round there in the morning and then get another train for Meiringen. Should be some spectacular views from the line and we'll have a good walk at the other end. If you pack a change of clothing for overnight, there's a decent little inn in the village there that I booked a couple of days ago. Under a false identity, of course."

So he'd been setting up a nice little trail for Moriarty to get onto, Lestrade thought. They were going to sneak away from Bern, and Moriarty was going to sneak after them.

"What's the weather like?" he asked. Best to stick to safe topics.

"Supposed to be cold," Mycroft said. "Oh, and the gun I bought you - bring that along, please."

The SIG-Sauer had been Mycroft's first purchase when they got to Bern, though Lestrade wondered how he'd got a permit for it. Lestrade was feeling a lot more confident with it after a few days practice, but he still didn't claim to be a marksman.

"Will do," he said.

***

The inn at Meiringen was owned by a bloke called Peter Steiler who'd once been a waiter at the Grosvenor Hotel, and was eager to discuss Fulham's Premier League prospects with Lestrade over lunch. Made him feel quite homesick for a few minutes, but Mycroft was giving him a 'we need to go' look, so he checked the route again and followed him outside. Mycroft was obviously feeling the cold more than usual that day. The long dark coat and furry hat that he normally wore had now been joined by a scarf wrapped firmly round him, so nothing but a beaky nose and alert grey eyes were visible most of the time, making him look like a particularly cross owl.

"We've got a long walk, I'm afraid," he said, as they set off from the inn. "There is a funicular railway, but it doesn't start running until May. But the Reichenbach Falls are supposed to be spectacular."

"I don't like the sound of the word 'falls' with Moriarty around," Lestrade protested. "Or the words 'mountain' or 'sodding big boulder'. We could be killed twenty times over by Moriarty and it'd just look like an accident."

"I understand him," said Mycroft, and the calm note in his voice somehow made things even worse. "He doesn't want to make things easy or quick for us. We have to appreciate the fact that we are going to die. He wants to humiliate us, break us first."

"And you want to give him the chance?"

Mycroft stopped, and turned to look at Lestrade, and the small visible triangle of his face was full of pain.

"I have tried all the sensible options to get hold of this man, to thwart him. If there were any other way to do this, I would take it. So if you have a better solution, then for God's sake tell me, Greg. I only know that we have to end this thing before more lives are destroyed for Moriarty's entertainment."

***

Neither of them were used to hill-walking, and though the snow had now mostly gone, it was still very slippery under foot, so they took it slowly. It had been raining on and off, but was clearing up by mid-afternoon, and it would have been pretty pleasant under other circumstances. It was just that it was hard to concentrate on admiring the scenery when you were worrying about someone coming to kill you. And Lestrade felt particularly vulnerable when they got closer to the falls. It wasn't only the horrendous drop, though he found himself wishing that there were more in the way of safety railings. It was the noise of the water potentially drowning out other sounds, like that of someone taking the safety catch off a gun. They'd taken so long getting up here that it would be dusk soon, and his copper's instinct was starting to scream: danger, danger, danger!

Then he spotted a tallish man in a bulky red jacket and a red woolly hat coming up from the direction of the village, striding up the path confidently with his walking poles.

"Who's that?" Lestrade demanded, feeling for the pistol in his pocket.

"Don't worry. It's Nicholas, one of my men," Mycroft announced. "I've still got a few I can rely on. "What's up?" he asked as the man approached.

"We think we've seen our chappie, back in Meiringen." Lestrade couldn't see much of Nicholas, beneath the snow goggles and the scarf, but his voice was posh public school, of course. "So I suggest we relocate there, pronto, sir. Our best chance to nab him, I reckon." He looked warily at Lestrade. "And, and we have information about our other target."

"Greg," Mycroft said, "I'm terribly sorry about this, but I need to talk to Nicholas alone for a moment."

"Fine," said Lestrade, trying not to sound sulky. So they didn't quite trust him, after all. He walked back down the path, round the bend, so he couldn't possibly hear or see anything he wasn't supposed to. Wishing his feet weren't hurting. Wishing he'd never got involved with either bloody Holmes. Now would be a good time to take up smoking again, he thought, but instead he looked out at the mountains. Very beautiful, if you liked that sort of thing. But it was going to be dark soon, and they were chasing shadows, and what the hell was he doing here?

Red jacket bloke – Nicholas, that was his name - was coming down the path towards him now.

"I'm to take you back to the inn," he announced plummily, if indistinctly, through his scarf. "Mr Holmes needs to finish checking this area, and then he'll follow us."

"Mycroft's staying here on his own?" He went back up the path for a bit, and saw Mycroft's furry-hatted figure frowning down over something he was holding.

"You can't get a signal on your bloody Blackberry here!" he yelled. Mycroft raised one gloved hand and gave a dismissive wave, without even bothering to look up. Sod him, thought Lestrade, if he wants to wander off down a mountain on his own, maybe I should let him. But no, he was here to protect Mycroft, wasn't he?

"It's not safe just leaving him," he protested.

"We've got an Alpine team coming down the mountain right now to escort Mr Holmes," Nicholas said smoothly. "But we need to get going. Don't want you slipping on the path in the dark." He handed Lestrade one of the walking poles. "I'll be behind you. Take it slowly, and we'll have regular stops."

He couldn't argue with Mycroft's judgement in front of the man's own subordinates. Well, he could, but that wasn't going to help his team pull together, and God knew they had to, in a situation like this. So he set off down the path. It wasn't as bad as he expected; he was starting to get the hang of walking in these conditions, and the pole helped a lot. In fact, it was Nicholas who seemed to be struggling now; he could hear him slipping rather too often. Odd, when he'd seemed such a fit bloke.

"You OK?" Lestrade demanded, as he waited for Nicholas to catch him up.

"I got hurt a bit earlier, and the painkillers are wearing off," Nicholas said, his voice hoarse. "If we stop for a moment, and have some food, that'll probably help both of us. There's a place we can sit down here." He plonked himself down on a boulder and pulled off the small rucksack he was carrying. "I've got some chocolate. Keep up our energy levels." He got out a couple of small bars and handed one to Lestrade, before eagerly starting on his.

"Be easier if you take your scarf off," said Lestrade, staring at Nicholas's mouth as he devoured the chocolate. There was something wrong about that, but he couldn't work out what, maybe because he was tired and half-starved as well, after all the afternoon's exercise. He unwrapped the top of his bar clumsily and bit in. It tasted odd, slightly bitter flavour beneath the chocolate - not mint, something else - hardly the sort of stuff he'd choose to eat if he wasn't desperate. And then his legs seemed to be melting away from under him, and his last thought was: Poisoned chocolate. How did I fall for that one?

***

He came to in some hospital, and had a moment's relief that he hadn't died before the vomiting started. By the time that was over, he was starting to wish that he was dead, especially since Anthea, or whatever her name was, had arrived, and was starting to demand answers. He gave her what were probably completely incoherent replies, and then she was gone, and he fell back into his bed and slept.

***

It was the morning of the next day, he was almost sure, and Anthea, looking like a travel poster for Switzerland, all glossy hair and snazzy skiwear, came and collected him from the hospital, and bundled him into a four by four, and took him off somewhere. She wouldn't say where, but he recognised the route after a few minutes.

"We're going back to the Reichenbach Falls?" he demanded.

"I need someone who knows about crime scenes and you're the only person I can trust," she said. "Can you walk, or will I need to have someone help you once we get up there?"

"I'm OK," he said. "Alright, I'm not really, but I can probably do it if you take it slowly."

"I've got them to open up the railway," Anthea replied. "If we go up in that, it's only about ten minutes walk from there."

It would have been a wonderful journey up in the funicular, if he hadn't felt so terrible. His guts were recovering from the poison now, but that just meant he could feel properly sick with nerves.

"You haven't heard anything from Mycroft?" he demanded from Anthea.

"I had a text message yesterday at 18.31 pm Swiss time," she said. "It said, You have your orders. Which means that Moriarty was either there already or he was expecting him."

"He must have sent that soon after I'd gone," he said. "I wouldn't have left him, but the bloke, Nicholas, I think it was Nicholas-"

"Nicholas Lassiter," said Anthea, in an extremely forbidding voice. "Who Moriarty somehow managed to get to. When I get to Mr Lassiter, he will regret it, I promise you."

"What happened?" he said. "Sorry, you probably told me yesterday evening, but I was still very out of it then."

"After he'd knocked you out, Lassiter hurried back to the inn at Meiringen, said you'd sprained your ankle on the path and would need help. In the confusion of organising the rescue, he managed to get away. Surprisingly simple."

"And no-one wondered about Mycroft?"

"By the time they started worrying about him, it was already pitch black. They said...they told me they could mount a search party at first light, but that if had any sense he'd have gone to the mountain rescue hut up by the falls. I said to leave it."

"You thought-"

"He hasn't contacted me for more than twelve hours. Moriarty hasn't contacted me. Whatever has happened, has happened, and getting the police or the mountain rescue teams involved will just mean unnecessary publicity at this stage. Have you got a camera?"

"I...it's probably still in my pocket. We need pictures, you think?"

"Yes. What else do we need? I've brought a tape measure, disposable gloves, some plastic bags we can use for evidence. We can't do this as thoroughly as we'd like, but if there's anything else vital, I can try and get it."

"That should be enough," he said, and then added reluctantly. "Well, unless we end up needing a body bag or two."

***

It wasn't conclusive, of course, but then forensic evidence seldom was, when you hadn't got a body.

"Marks of a struggle near the edge, and Mycroft's Blackberry left there," Lestrade, said, as they started to pack up. "No sign of any other footprints at this point, but Mycroft's and one other's."

"You can't be sure they're Mycroft's. Can you really distinguish between his prints, yours and Lassiter's?"

"Mine, I can, they're a bit smaller. Lassiter's and Mycroft's are the same, but it can't have been Lassiter up here. He wouldn't have had time to return here after he'd knocked me out, if he was going to get back to Meiringen in time. Especially since I swear he wasn't faking being worn out on the way back. And it'd have been simple enough for him to crack me on the back of the head with a rock at a much earlier point if he'd been planning that. As for the other set of prints, I know I'm not Sherlock, but I've learnt some things over the years. Those aren't boots, they're fancy shoes, probably handmade. I can't think of anyone pretentious enough to wear those for a fight except Moriarty."

"It was a fight?"

"You know it was. You know it would be. It was a personal matter, so Moriarty wanted to kill Mycroft with his own hands."

"Mycroft might have got away," Anthea said doubtfully.

"There's a sheer rock wall at one side of the path, a hundred-foot drop at the other. No prints anywhere. OK, maybe there are men who could throw someone else down a waterfall and then scale a rock wall and escape over the mountainside, but this is Mycroft we're talking about. Is that likely?" Anthea shook her head.

"So the only question left," Lestrade said, in his best unsentimental police officer voice, "is did he take that bastard Moriarty with him when he went over the edge? And I suppose we'll learn that in a day or two. I can't see Moriarty keeping quiet about it, if he's done for Sherlock's brother." He didn't look at Anthea as they headed back down the path again. It wasn't the time for either of them to break down.

***

Lestrade didn't remember that much about the next few days, but then he didn't really need to. He gave statements over and over again, to ever more senior figures: Swiss first, then British. He got on a plane back to Britain, and then dragged himself off to the surgery to tell John and Sarah what had happened. (Anthea had drawn the short straw and was reporting on events to Sherlock). He told the story of that last day repeatedly over the next few weeks, till he felt like writing it out so he could hand it to people as he met them and save time. Till it seemed like something he'd just read, as if maybe he'd hallucinated the whole thing. (What had been in that chocolate, he wondered?) He didn't go to the memorial service, because he didn't want to sit in a quiet church and hear lies told about a man he'd been in love with. It was, to the outside world, a tragic accident that had befallen Mycroft in Switzerland. Only a handful of people knew that it had been his greatest success.

Moriarty was dead, they felt sure now, as the weeks stretched into months. Moriarty was dead, and Sherlock and John and Sarah were alive. They'd found an unsent text to Sherlock on Mycroft's Blackberry:

Consider this proof against your long-held opinions of my character. It has been my honour to have long held the title of your archnemesis, and I intend to defend my claim. With regards, M.

Typical Holmes pretentiousness, thought Lestrade. And absolutely ridiculous to wish that Mycroft had thought to leave him a message as well.

***

Life went on, because that was what it did. The crime rate dipped in London, which was a pleasant surprise, and yet another sign that Moriarty was almost certainly dead. Though Lestrade found himself missing the opportunity that too much work offered to blunt the edge of his grief. Stupid to take it so hard, when he wasn't mourning a real relationship, his own lover dead. Just a road that could never now be taken, one among many.

Gradually, he started to sink himself back into normal routines – or as normal as life in the Met allowed – and then had to brace himself, ready for the next big Holmes explosion of weirdness. Of course, technically, it was going to be John and Sarah's wedding, and Sherlock would have no official role; he'd even refused to be best man. But practically, he suspected this was going to be Sherlock's show, and if there wasn't an explosion or a kidnapping somewhere along the line, there'd be someone attempting to poison the wedding cake or blackmail the registrar. He'd accepted the invitation, but now found himself wondering if he could somehow find a way of sliding out of the day.

He'd been scanning the papers carefully for the last week or two, as a result, looking for something that could be used as an excuse for a weekend spent tracking down drug smugglers or dealers in illegal parking permits or anything, really. That was why he spotted the small paragraph in the Daily Telegraph, about the body of a missing civil servant, Nicholas Lassiter, being found in Switzerland after a climbing accident.

He wondered if that was Anthea's revenge, but when he phoned her, she denied it had anything to do with her. "Leave it," she told him, "there's no point in raking up the past. The Service has put a lid on the whole Moriarty affair."

But he couldn't leave it, because it was him as well as Mycroft that Lassiter had fooled. He wanted at least to know why that bit had happened; what had made the man betray his boss and his country in that way. He did a quick bit of digging in the files and then went off to Godalming to see Lassiter's widow.

He had a cover story about checking whether the liaison between the Swiss and British police over the body had been adequate, but it turned out that Mrs Lassiter was quite happy to talk about her husband to anyone who listened. He'd been a devoted rambler and climber, Lestrade learned, someone who'd used all the free time from his boring desk job in the Ministry of Agriculture to roam the hills and mountains of Europe.

"I knew it was risky," Mrs Lassiter said, weeping, "but it was what made him happy. He'd rather have gone out like that than stuck in a hospital bed aged ninety, full of tubes."

Or stuck in a prison serving a life sentence for treason, thought Lestrade.

"He climbed the Matterhorn two years ago," Mrs Lassiter said. "Do you want to see a picture of him at the top?" She was getting up to fetch the photo off the mantelpiece before Lestrade could reply, and he found himself looking at the picture of the man who had tricked him a couple of months earlier. Mustn't tell her that, must he? A typical middle aged public school type, he thought: blond hair, slightly receding chin, beaky nose, thin lips creased into a smile...

Lestrade had a sudden image of Lassiter beside him on the mountain, licking chocolate from his mouth, and God, no, it couldn't be...there must be something wrong with his memory. Or maybe this photo was at an odd angle.

"Do you have any other good photos of your husband?" he asked.

***

When he finally extricated himself from Mrs Lassiter's memories of her husband, he phoned a number that was still on his phone as M Holmes, even though it was now Anthea's office at the other end of the line. But Anthea wasn't there and her assistant was obstructive about how he could get hold of her. Even telling her it was an emergency didn't get him any further.

He headed back to his flat, wondering what he should do. Talk to Sherlock? But maybe he was just imagining all of this. He opened the door to his flat and walked briskly into the living room.

Mycroft was standing there, smiling at him.

Lestrade had never fainted in his life. But somehow, he discovered, he had gone from standing up to lying on the floor without remembering any of the intervening stages. And Mycroft was producing a silver flask from his jacket pocket and then, placing a warm hand under Lestrade's neck, pouring something that tasted like brandy into his protesting throat. He coughed, and his brain briefly ran through all the things he ought to say, and settled on: "What the fuck, Mycroft?"

"I owe you an apology, my dear Greg," Mycroft said. "I'm afraid I was a little melodramatic, but I hadn't expected you to be quite so affected. I presumed that since you'd realised I wasn't dead – I take it that was the reason for your emergency call to Anthea – that you would be relatively unperturbed at seeing me."

He didn't want to lie on the floor and have this conversation with Mycroft. He wasn't sure he wanted to talk to Mycroft at all, but certainly not like this. He levered himself up and deposited himself in an armchair, and then stared at Mycroft for a bit, just to check it was definitely him, and not Nicholas Lassiter. Or Sherlock. Or a tall, thin, smartly-dressed hallucination. But no, it was really Mycroft standing blandly there, he was sure of that now.

"If you've got more brandy, it might help," Lestrade croaked after a while. Getting drunk sounded like an ideal reaction to someone coming back from the dead. Mycroft handed over the flask, and he swigged the contents rapidly. Nothing like a bit of Dutch courage, he thought.

"So why aren't you dead?" he asked. "I mean, I know why you aren't. Because you're Nicholas Lassiter, or you were." That wasn't quite as coherent an analysis as he'd have liked, but never mind. He started trying to think of how to explain it better. Mycroft, meanwhile, was rummaging in the briefcase he'd brought. He produced a laptop, opened it up, clicked on something and handed it to Lestrade.

"This will explain what happened better than I can," he said.

There was a video running on the laptop because, of course, there'd been a camera watching. Middle of nowhere in Switzerland, but Mycroft had still managed a cameraman with an impossibly high-powered zoom lens on one of the other mountains. He saw himself and Mycroft on the screen: Mycroft staring at the Reichenbach Falls, Lestrade looking round in a rather shifty manner. And then the camera panned to pick up a man coming towards them, a man in a red jacket and hat.

"I don't need to see this," he protested, pushing the lid of the laptop down. "I worked it out, even if it did take me forever. You and Lassiter swapped clothing, when you were supposedly talking in private. It was you taking me back down to the village, and Lassiter waiting to meet Moriarty."

"He is, was, trained in unarmed combat, a crack shot and an experienced mountaineer," said Mycroft. "As well as an extraordinarily brave man. I knew I couldn't survive an encounter with Moriarty. I thought he had a decent chance."

"You thought you could fool Moriarty with that trick?"

"I fooled you," Mycroft said sardonically, "Well, I thought I had. The resemblance isn't that close, but in the dark and for a short period of time, we could be mistaken for one another. I must apologise for incapacitating you, by the way, but it was vital there should be no outside interference. And I was assured that the drugged chocolate would do your system no long term damage."

"What's funny," Lestrade retorted bitterly, "is that's what gave you away, even if it did take me forever to realise it. I saw your mouth when you were eating the chocolate, must have subconsciously recognised it. You have..." He stopped. He wanted to say: you have a very sexy mouth, but this was a man who'd pretended to be dead for several months, the bastard. "You and Lassiter have different lips."

"Well observed. Fortunately, Moriarty didn't spot that and didn't realise Nicholas wasn't me until it was too late, until he'd got within reach of him. You don't get within Nicholas's reach unless you're ready for some very rough games. Do you want to see what happened?"

"Not really. I don't like snuff movies," Lestrade said. The alcohol in his blood was simply fuel for the sudden explosion of anger he felt. "You sodding bastard, Mycroft! All that junk you spouted to me about not wanting someone with dependents, and meeting Moriarty face-to-face, and then you stick Lassiter there as your sacrificial goat. What happened? Did you lose your nerve, or were you just stringing me along all the time?"

"I, I realised that you were right, that I might not be able to finish...to kill Moriarty. I needed someone who could."

"So you're claiming it's my fault that Lassiter died?"

"Watch the video," Mycroft repeated. "I can explain what happened, but you wouldn't believe me. Please, just watch it." He opened up the laptop. Lassiter, in Mycroft's hat and coat, was still standing there, fiddling with the Blackberry. And then someone came round the corner of the path.

Moriarty didn't have a coat or a hat on; he wandered towards Lassiter in his fancy suit as if he were out for a walk in Regent's Park, rather than halfway up a mountain. If you were the sort of man who went for a walk in Regent's Park carrying a pistol. Lassiter just stood there, and watched him approach, and shuffled on the spot in a way that somehow suggested a hopelessly confused Mycroft. And then Moriarty made a gesture with the gun, and Lassiter's hands went up, dropping the Blackberry at his feet. The camera was too far off to see their faces clearly, but Moriarty was presumably saying something to the other man – gloating, probably - and then he started to back Lassiter towards the edge of the path and the drop below.

Oh God, Lestrade thought, he never had a chance. And now Lassiter was dropping to his knees, crouching with his hands over his face. Had he been shot already? No, Moriarty was just standing there, looking at him. What was going on? And then he remembered.

"You said Moriarty wanted to break us, didn't you?"

"I told Lassiter," said Mycroft, "to grovel. That Moriarty wouldn't be able to resist that, would want to see him, me, begging for mercy. Want to see that close up."

Moriarty was moving towards Lassiter now, coming to stand beside him, reaching down with his gun to flick the furry hat contemptuously off Mycroft's head. And Lassiter uncoiled, with the sudden smooth movement of a man who knew every dirty fighting trick going, and as one fist crashed into Moriarty's hand holding the gun, the other arm was hooking away Moriarty's leg. Now, Moriarty was slewed across the ground, looking up in shock, and Lassiter was on him, kicking, punching, shoving, and Moriarty was sliding backwards towards the precipice. He clawed out desperately, but he couldn't get his balance, and over he went.

Lassiter stood, panting, beside the edge for a few moments. Then he bent down, picked up Mycroft's hat and put it on, and went towards the rocky wall at the other side of the path. A moment or two's inspection, and he put his hands up to cling onto something, one agile leg now searching for a hold...

"It was sheer rock," said Lestrade. "No one could climb up that."

"As I said, Nicholas was a brilliant mountaineer," said Mycroft. "I presume he was worried that he might be ambushed if he went back down the main path. Unfortunately, both he and I had made a major miscalculation."

Lassiter was working his way gradually up the rock face, aiming for something that the camera was also now seeking out. It looked, in the gloom, like it might be some kind of mossy ledge. Lassiter had almost reached it. And then, suddenly, horrendously, a boulder rushed into the shot, filling it; a huge rock, that struck Lassiter a vicious blow, and his body was crumpling, detaching from the rock wall, and he was falling...The camera swooped down to watch him fall towards the water, and somehow managed to make it look beautiful, as if he was flying, till his body bounced off a rock below, and disappeared out of view.

"Colonel Moran's doing, I suspect," said Mycroft hoarsely. "She'd given Anthea the slip and flown into Bern that morning. I thought if Moriarty had anyone with him, they'd be down nearer Meiringen. But, as I said, a major miscalculation on my part."

You fucked up, Lestrade thought, and Lassiter paid the price. But if it hadn't been him there, it would have been them: Mycroft pushed down into the abyss, and Lestrade crushed by a rock, and God, he'd rather Lassiter was dead than they both were. It was terrible for Lassiter and his poor bloody wife, but they were alive, and Moriarty was dead, and for a few moments that was all that mattered.

Mycroft stopped the video, and then in silence switched off the laptop and replaced it in his briefcase. Then he turned back to Lestrade, visibly reaching for his usual air of superior calm, as if the whole thing was no more than the normal debriefing after an operation.

"I didn't know about any of this, of course," he said, in a tone of polite apology. "I'd agreed on a rendezvous with Nicholas and Sid Paget, the cameraman, but they didn't appear that night. I felt I had to lie low till I had a clearer idea of the situation, and unfortunately, I didn't have the chance to retrieve my spare phone from the inn, as I'd counted on. By the time Sid appeared and I learnt about Nicholas, Anthea and you had already presumed my death. And I began then to see how useful that presumption might be, given the continued existence of both boulder-heaving thugs, and other enemies of mine. So I have, temporarily, remained dead."

"But you told Anthea, didn't you?" Lestrade demanded. "You couldn't have done this without either her or Sherlock helping, and I know which one you'd pick."

"Anthea is unusually capable of keeping secrets. I regarded others in my circle as less able to do so. Your...affectionate regard for me, for example, might lead to accidentally betraying me. Indeed, now you are aware of my secret, we need to consider how to proceed-"

"What do you mean, we?" Lestrade snapped. He could feel his anger surge up again at the months of unnecessary pain that Mycroft had inflicted on everyone. "What you can do is proceed out of my sodding flat right now, thank you very much!"

"Greg-"

"Don't you bloody 'Greg' me! I do not take kindly, Mr Holmes, to people wasting police time. So clear off, and next time you want to play mind tricks, pick another sucker."

Lestrade stood up, hoping his legs wouldn't wobble. He thought he was steady enough to be able to throw Mycroft out of the house bodily if he had to. But Mycroft was just standing there, pale and baffled, looking at Lestrade. Finally, he picked up his briefcase and walked to the front door and let himself out without a word. Lestrade collapsed back onto his chair, thinking: What the fuck do I do now?

***

He got through the next day's work on autopilot, and then remembered it was John's stag do in Chelsea that evening, and he couldn't think of a convincing excuse to get out of it. Well, it'd probably be loud and in your face – Harry Watson, the original party girl, was organising it, after all – and no-one would notice he was wandering around in a daze.

Unfortunately, Harry had decided they needed entertainers at the party, and the first one she produced was a magician. Sherlock, who for some unfathomable reason had come along, promptly began explaining to everyone within earshot how the tricks were being performed.

"Can you please take him away," John begged Lestrade, "before someone clocks him one for spoiling the mood. Possibly me."

So he had custody of Sherlock now, did he, he thought, as they found a quieter corner of the building. A man who tomorrow was going to watch one of his lovers marry his other lover. What with that and Mycroft on his mind, Lestrade couldn't think of anything to say, and for a while he just let the conversation wash over him, as Sherlock languidly announced embarrassing deductions about the other guests. Might get away with this yet, Lestrade thought, fidgeting with his glass of tonic water – getting drunk tonight would really not be a good move. And then he became aware that Sherlock had fallen silent, and the pale grey eyes were now coolly appraising him.

"You know," Sherlock said, smiling an evil grin, "I think you should tell me that my brother has come back from the dead."

"How the fuck?" Lestrade demanded, once he'd finished choking on his drink. "No, you can't, you just can't."

"Oh, but I can. You've been looking oddly at me ever since you arrived, wondering if you should tell me something or not. Obvious possibility is it's connected with the wedding, but you're not edgy around John, so unlikely to be that. What's more, you keep on looking towards the door whenever someone comes in. You're half-expecting someone to turn up, and there's a look between disappointment and relief on your face each time you realise it's not that person. But all the guests you know are here already. So, someone you half hope will come and half dread, connected to myself and to you, but not particularly to John. Ergo, Mycroft. You're expecting him to turn up even though you'd previously believed him dead, so vague suspicions about him being alive wouldn't be enough. Therefore, you've already seen him. In the last day or two, I presume."

"My God, that is-"

"Amazing?"

"Spooky," Lestrade said, thinking maybe it was a good time to get drunk. "Yes, Mycroft's back. He turned up at my flat yesterday."

"So how did he do it?" Sherlock asked. "I hope you did think to enquire, in between passing out and yelling at him."

"What makes you think...oh, it doesn't matter. He pulled the most unbelievable stunt." He rapidly explained about Nicholas Lassiter.

"I suspected that was how it was done," Sherlock said triumphantly at the end of the account.

"No, you didn't," Lestrade retorted. "Because if you had, you'd have questioned me a lot more carefully to see if I was sure it had been Mycroft I left by the falls. God, I was a sodding idiot, wasn't I?"

"No more than normal," said Sherlock, almost kindly. "Mycroft, after all, is just a rather more skilled version of this magician here. He understands the psychology of tricks. You were in a state of abnormal stress, which always worsens perception, and he, or rather Lassiter, distracted you with the Blackberry, made you think he was ignoring you, rather than hiding his face. And, of course, Mycroft had one huge advantage over this shoddy prestidigitator here."

"What's that?"

"You trusted him," Sherlock said, smirking. "Always a bad move with a Holmes." His mobile rang and he pulled it out his pocket. "I need to go. Got a lead on Colonel Sylvia Moran."

"Moriarty's shooter?" Lestrade asked, but Sherlock was already disappearing. Lestrade sighed and went to warn John that there might be trouble.

"Sounds good to me," said John. "Well, more fun than this. You know Harry's also hired a stripper and an escapologist? I'm expecting a bloody Chinese circus after that."

Sherlock reappeared when the escapologist had just started, a shop mannequin under his arm. To Lestrade's slightly fevered imagination, its face somehow reminded him of Sherlock's own. They slipped away easily – Harry was extremely distracted by the stripper.

"We're going back to Baker Street," Sherlock announced, as they piled into a taxi. "Colonel Moran failed to finish off Mycroft, so time to give her a chance to kill another Holmes."

***

Three hours later, they were sitting in 221B, whose windows had once again lost some of their glass. The mannequin, dressed in Sherlock's purple shirt, now had a hole through its head, thanks to Colonel Moran. They didn't have her in custody – Sherlock had let her escape, for his own convoluted reasons – but they did have her fancy rifle, over which John and Sherlock were now poring with fascination.

Lestrade just sat and watched them, hoping they wouldn't tamper too blatantly with the evidence or start trying to shooting something with it. He hadn't slept much last night, the adrenaline from chasing Moran was wearing off, and he wasn't quite sure what to do next. Then John appeared beside him with a couple of glasses and a bottle of whisky in his grubby hands.

"You look like you need it," he said to Lestrade, pouring him a tumblerful, and sitting down opposite him. "It must have been a hell of a shock finding out about Mycroft. A good shock, but still..."

"It's not really a big deal," he lied automatically. "Not as if I knew the man that well."

"Greg," John said kindly. "I've seen the way you've been going round since Switzerland. I think everybody's realised what you felt about Mycroft. Well, maybe not Anderson, yet."

"The thing is," Lestrade said, a refill or two later, "I've told Mycroft it's through. I mean I know there's nothing to be through between us, but if there was, it would be."

"Why?"

"He didn't tell me what he was planning, and then he played dead for months."

"And?" John said curiously.

"I forgot, you're with bloody Sherlock, you expect that kind of treatment. How many times has Sherlock shammed dead so far?"

"It's more he pretends to be dying," John said. "Twice so far this year, and the second time was a little too convincing."

"And you put up with it?" Lestrade demanded. "You have a beautiful, intelligent woman you're marrying, and you still saddle yourself with Sherlock. You're a nutter."

"Yes, but I wouldn't be happy without him," John said, smiling. "Neither of us would be. Greg, you're crazy about Mycroft as well, aren't you? I know you've every reason to be furious with him, but is it worth rejecting him over this?"

"It's the principle of the thing," he insisted, as the whisky burned through his veins. "There's an important principle here."

"Holmeses not mucking you around? Definitely a good theory," John said. He sounded almost as out of it as Lestrade felt. "But you know what? You wake up in the middle of the night with bad dreams, there are nicer things to grab hold of than a principle."

He was still trying to think of a good reply to that when Sherlock materialised in front of him and announced: "You're both going to pass out at this rate, and it'll make the place look untidy. Lestrade, I'm sending you home with Moran's rifle. Try not to lose it, but don't bring it to the wedding. John, put the bottle down and go to bed, or you won't be in a fit state for the service and Sarah's Uncle Victor will be furious."

Lestrade stumbled down the seventeen steps with Sherlock's help and found a car waiting for him, with Anthea in it.

"Do you mind having to give Mycroft his office back?" he asked vaguely. "Though 'spect you knew all along you'd need to."

"Mr Holmes only contacted me after the memorial service," she said wearily. "He thought I'd be more convincing there if I wasn't sure he was alive. Just sit in the back, put your seatbelt on and try not to be sick on the upholstery."

***

By the time Lestrade got to the hall the next day, his headache had moderated from excruciating to merely unpleasant. Though there were still moments when he felt the need to close his eyes and try and shut out the world. At the end of one spasm, he opened them again and heard an increased buzz from the crowd of guests. He looked round to see that there were now two Holmeses in morning dress at the back, each cheerily ignoring the other. He sighed, and Donovan, beside him, patted his hand and said: "It could be worse, sir. If it was the Freak coming back from the dead, he'd have disguised himself as the registrar."

***

It was only after the ceremony and the meal, and the toasts, and a staggeringly embarrassing speech by Harry – which nevertheless managed to avoid mentioning what Lestrade now thought of as The Secret about Sarah, John and Sherlock – that he started to relax. There had been no long-lost spouses turning up to prevent the marriage. No-one was going to die or be kidnapped this time. There were even people present who looked more ridiculous on the dance floor than he did. The worst case scenario for this evening was now people drinking too much champagne and/or having inadvisable sex. Harry Watson was almost certainly a candidate for both.

It was because his mind was still lingering in a slightly aggrieved way on the prospect of other people getting to enjoy inadvisable sex, that he was slow to react when the immaculately-tailored figure of Mycroft appeared in front of his chair. By the time his brain had formed the words: "Go and throw yourself off a waterfall," he'd remembered that Sarah would hardly appreciate a row at her wedding, and that John and Sherlock wouldn't enjoy one that didn't end with a violent, but mysterious death.

"We need to discuss things, Greg," Mycroft said, in his superior I-Am-The-British-Government voice.

"Fine. Go ahead," he replied sulkily, even as his heart started to race. He didn't see why he should make this easy for the bastard. Mycroft gave a wary look beside them, to where Anthea had a giggling Molly sitting on her lap and practically eating out of Anthea's hand.

"Somewhere more private perhaps?" Mycroft suggested.

"No. No more hiding away. If you've got something to say, say it here."

"Very well. Last night you apprehended a trained killer and then let her go," Mycroft said crisply. Lestrade clenched his sweaty fists and refocused rapidly. So this was about Moran, was it? Stupid of him to think otherwise.

"Sherlock let her go," he replied. "I was waiting in an empty house with John on the opposite side of Baker Street from 221B, because we thought she'd use that as a base. But instead she took the shot from street level, where Sherlock was." He should have realised that if Sherlock wasn't with John it was so he could get himself into extra danger. Like tackling a sniper single-handed.

"So it was Sherlock who let the Colonel walk free," Mycroft said. "Why? Or, at least, what was the excuse he gave to you?"

"Sylvia Moran has her own little gang. Nothing like the scale of Moriarty's, but if she was arrested, there would be retaliation, according to Sherlock." He could see Mycroft's brain rapidly considering the possibilities, retracing his brother's decisions.

"She threatened Sarah," he said. "And Sherlock made a bargain with her. If she left the country and never returned, he'd let her go and pay off her gambling debts. But Moran had to surrender her weapon to Sherlock, because that would tie her to the murder of Ronald Adair, via the records held by Von Herder, the gun's designer. And that would then ensure she remained on the wanted list in this country for the foreseeable future."

It had taken Sherlock five minutes to explain all that to a furious Lestrade last night, and Mycroft had worked it all out in seconds. Typical Holmes, he thought.

"Sherlock considered that Sarah's safety outweighed possible future crimes by Moran in other jurisdictions," Mycroft went on, smoothly. "An...interesting decision."

"You wouldn't understand," Lestrade said. "He was trying to protect Sarah...because he loves her." He looked grumpily up at the suave figure in front of him, wishing Mycroft would just leave him the hell alone.

"Don't you have a coup or something to organise, now you're back from the dead?" he demanded. "Or aren't you officially resurrected till 9 am on Monday?"

"I had always planned to 'resurrect' myself, as you put it, on this occasion," Mycroft said, smiling warily. "I'm afraid I do rather share Sherlock's fondness for melodrama, after all. But..." Suddenly his smile faded, and he looked unhappily down at Lestrade, pursing his lips, as if he wasn't sure how to go on. And then he said, very quietly:

"I had presumed that my supposed death would not affect anyone at more than a practical level. I knew that Sherlock would not believe in it, and would therefore consider my absence largely as an intellectual puzzle. I had not appreciated the possible emotional effect on any of my other...friends. I have made many serious miscalculations during this whole wretched business, but that was undoubtedly the worst. I can only apologise for any distress I may have caused you."

The formal phrases slid fluidly off Mycroft's tongue as if they were the only ones he knew. They probably were, Lestrade realised, but Mycroft's misery was clear.

"You fucked this one up properly, didn't you, Mycroft?" he said. Mycroft nodded, and there was something in the way that his shoulders dropped, as he seemed to shrink into himself, that suddenly wrenched at Lestrade's gut. What the hell was he trying to do to Mycroft, and was it really worth it?

He looked around, trying to think what to do. Less than ten feet away from him, Anthea and Molly were snogging unashamedly now, their bodies entwined in improbable ways, and on the dance floor, John and Sarah were attempting a rather sketchy version of the twist. And, God, there were Donovan and Sherlock dancing with one another. Donovan. Sherlock. Dancing. People were enjoying themselves, making love, making up, and here he and Mycroft were dragging each other down. Somebody had to do something constructive, and it wasn't likely to be the British Government, was it?

Lestrade stood up, put his hands on Mycroft's shoulders, and started kissing him. There was one sharp moment of shock from Mycroft, and then he started kissing him back, and sod it, Mycroft wasn't a bad kisser, was he? Well, a man with a mouth like that would be good. Maybe Lestrade ought to say something at this point, before all the blood left his brain and headed south. He broke off the kiss and Mycroft practically whimpered.

"It was bloody terrible thinking you were dead," Lestrade said, "because I care about you, you bastard." Probably not the most polished declaration of love, but what the hell. "Why do you think I came to Switzerland in the first place? To be with you, even if it was likely to get me killed. Fucking stupid, I know, but that's me all over."

"I thought I was so clever," Mycroft said, clutching rather dazedly onto Lestrade, "and yet I...what do I do, Greg? What do you want us to do?"

Mycroft hadn't got a plan for this, Lestrade thought incredulously. Good job there was someone ordinary around.

"We do what people do at wedding receptions," he replied and felt himself start to grin. "Drink too much champagne and have inadvisable sex. But first, we have some smoochy dancing."

"But I...we...Sarah's relatives might object to two men dancing together," Mycroft said, halfway between delight and terror.

"If they do, I'll get Donovan to arrest them for a public order offence," Lestrade said. "Now if they could just play something better to dance to, we're set." And then he looked across at the DJ and saw Anthea was talking to him.

"A special request now," the DJ announced, "for some old friends who've been having a rough time recently." And then the lilt of Ben King's voice rang out:

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

Perfect, thought Lestrade, as he put his arms round Mycroft's tense body, and started to sway against him, singing along:

So darlin', darlin' stand by me

Oh stand by me

Oh stand, stand by me, stand by me.

Mycroft was a terrible dancer, or maybe it was just his legs were shaking. He kept bumping into Lestrade as they moved round the floor, but that simply gave Lestrade a semi-plausible excuse for letting one hand drop down from Mycroft's waist to his bum. In fact, he decided, once this song was over, they might even skip the drinking too much champagne stage.

He still wasn't sure how this whole thing was going to work out, but then that was probably going to be true with anyone he found. You didn't get simple relationships anymore at his age: there were always things in the past, whether it was drug-taking exes or dead criminal masterminds. He would worry about that tomorrow, he decided. For tonight the only problem was working out where he and Mycroft could slip off to without getting disturbed. But then Mycroft would doubtless have already cased the joint, and could suggest a suitable action spot – correction, would be able to recommend a secure location for sexual intimacy.

Which meant the only remaining problem - the final problem - was how he ensured that at some point during the proceedings Mycroft ended up on his knees, begging him for mercy.