Chapter 1: Book One: Lestrade
By the time he met the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, Detective Inspector Lestrade was simply known as “Lestrade.” He signed his paperwork and cheques “G. Lestrade” and he was high enough in the food chain in the Met that if he wanted to be addressed by his surname only, no one was going to argue with him. When he had been a new recruit, he had preferred the distance it had put between himself and the other officers. Ascending the ranks of the police force had not changed that.
Lestrade wasn’t looking for any intimate relationships.
When he was a young boy, however, his Da had liked to call him Georgie.
“Georgie-boy,” he would tell him. “You’re going to grow up to be a strong man—just like my Da.”
It caught on quickly, of course, but Lestrade had not thought of himself as a Georgie, so every time he was clasped about his shoulders and addressed by his popular nickname, his face would screw up in an affectation of distaste and confusion, but he never said a word. At primary school they called him “Gorgy Georgie” and the teacher said (several times) that he was going to grow up and make someone a very happy woman. He hadn’t been so sure of that, but he let her say it and pat him on the head whilst he felt like he was being treated like a small and friendly lapdog.
His two older brothers treated him that way as well. James and Tristan were over a decade older than he, so he could hardly blame them, but growing up in a household full of adults who insisted upon butchering his name and emphasizing his youth made him feel misplaced and diminished.
It was hard to be anything but thrilled when a man showed up on his doorstep with a letter addressed to “Master Gregory Lestrade.”
Despite containing himself, two siblings, a dear uncle, and his ma and da, their cottage was much too small for a contraption like a doorbell (or so his mum said). Visitors had to knock on their wood and glass-paned door, which made it rattle under every assault, and whoever was closest yelled and answered it.
Greg had been at the top of the stairs, but he had just suffered through yet another day of being called “Gorgy Georgie” and getting the piss taken out of him, so the idea of a stranger being at the door had been interesting enough that he had shouted “I’ve got it!” and pounded noisily down the stairs. The man on the stoop wasn’t a person he recognized and with an electric shock of excitement Greg realized that this singular moment was going to turn out to be very important.
The man was very tall and was dressed in a very nice suit and looked very much like a strong and able bodyguard. Greg tried not to clutch the door as his eyes skittered over the man’s body in a futile search of a gun, but he wasn’t sure he succeeded.
“Hullo?” he asked hesitantly.
The man smiled and said, “You must be Greg.”
Greg nodded his head, feeling vaguely like a puppy being forced to bob up and down like a loon.
“Georgie?” he heard his mum call from inside.
“Just a mo!” he shouted back. “Can I help you?”
The man smiled again and simply handed him a letter. “It’s from the big house up on the hill,” he explained.
Greg frowned but accepted the letter. He was vaguely aware of his father coming up behind him and starting a conversation with the bodyguard come messenger, but he was too busy sliding his slim fingers under the adhesive and carefully tugging the envelope open to listen very carefully to the flow of words over his head.
Gregory Lestrade, it said, you are personally invited to join my wife and I for dinner on 22nd March at our manor on the hill. Your parents are invited as well, but we are eager to meet your acquaintance for we are in search of a companion for our son and we think you might just meet the criteria…
Regards, Mr. and Mrs. Holmes.
It was a very poorly kept secret that Greg’s father was a seventh son of a seventh son. He very rarely had anyone bother him about it anymore as he had a family and a well-established life with nothing remotely fairytale-ish about it (as long as you discounted him falling madly in love with Greg’s mum and never having a lick of trouble between them). But while the village didn’t think it a very huge deal that they had a seventh son of a seventh son in their midst, that didn’t mean that the seventh son himself believed that.
“Georgie,” he had told Greg some years earlier. “You know the lore about seventh sons being special, right love?”
“Yes, da,” Greg answered readily.
“What most don’t know is that there’s legends and sayings about the other sons too. You’ve only got to worry about one, though.”
“I do? Which one?”
“Yours,” his father said as he crouched down to Greg’s level. “You’re going to grow up to be very special, our unexpected boy. The third son of a seventh son is the most important of all: the perfect companion. You’ll be loyal and strong with honor like the knights of England’s past. Whoever you pledge yourself to can expect your support for the rest of your life.”
“What about theirs?”
His father’s face grew solemn. “When they die, you’ll never be able to pledge to another.”
“Da,” Greg said as he emerged from his memories. “Da, I want to go.”
His words interrupted the irritated speech his da was giving to the messenger about his boy being too young to go up to that large house on the hill and that the master of the house was a pillock for asking.
“I want to go,” Greg repeated.
His mum and da were reluctant, but he was the one invited, despite only being twelve, so it was truly his decision. When the afternoon of the 22nd arrived, his mum fitted him in a suit that he’d never worn anywhere but weddings and funerals, but all it did was make him feel stiff and uncomfortable.
As she sat on his bed and tugged at his collar he looked at her shiny brunette hair coiled up on top of her head in a bun and wondered what the other boy would look like. He himself had adults calling him handsome already—he was compact, strong, had the faintest hint of his father’s square jaw, and had his mother’s brown hair (complete with sun-bleached strands). He knew his family was nervous and wanted to make a good impression, but the suit simply wasn’t working for him.
“Mum, about the suit.”
A black car showed up for them at their cottage in front of their rambling garden and took all three of them up to the big house on the hill that had a view of the whole village. Greg slid onto the posh leather seats and was very grateful that he had convinced his mum to let him wear a knit jumper and trousers instead of the suit. The soft wool made him feel less like plucking anxiously at his clothing. The ride in the sleek black car was a short one, but Greg didn’t suppose that the serious driver would have said a word even if it wasn’t.
His mum kept a hand on his in his lap. Instead of feeling like a small child holding hands with his mum in public to keep from getting lost, Greg felt like she was the one reaching out to him for reassurance. So he turned his hand palm up and she threaded their fingers together, causing her ring to glint dully in the dim light. His mum had married his da over twenty years ago but the ring was still polished a brilliant gold despite being encased by the soft wrinkles of her delicate hand.
His father slung an arm around his shoulders and the warm weight anchored Greg between them and kept him from trying to dash out the door and get away. He could appear to be calm for his parents’ sake, but he was an absolute ball of nerves inside. Would he be good enough? What was the other boy like? Could he truly tie himself to one person forever?
When his da spoke of it, it sounded more like a fairytale or something that was believed in but wasn’t necessarily true. Greg knew the dangers, though—every time a child or a teacher extracted a promise from him he could feel it wrapping a tether around his heart and tying him to them until he fulfilled the requirements. It was a frightening responsibility for a small child to be obligated to do exactly what he promised for whomever he promised it to. The tale his da told him about being tied to a single person forever should have frightened him even more.
But Greg knew one thing his da didn’t.
The car pulled to the end of a long drive and slowed in front of the large house. Gravel crunched noisily under the tires and as the sun faded, lights glowed form the many windows facing Greg and his parents. They shined like twinkling fairy lights and charmed Greg even before the driver ushered the little family from the car.
Greg held the hands of both his mum and his da as they approached the front door to the house—more properly called a mansion, he supposed. The door opened before them and they found themselves in a glittering hallway.
Greg could tell that his mum felt dowdy in her plain dress as she held back a little, so he squeezed her hand in comfort before releasing it. She could hold his da’s hand instead, he thought as he pulled away from them and walked bravely across the plush carpet ahead of his parents.
A woman in a sharp trouser suit escorted by a man in casual trousers and shirt descended a grand staircase with a wide banister. “Hullo!” she called out, smiling directly at Greg.
He stopped and his parents stood behind him. He imagined they loomed like overprotective guards, but he straightened his shoulders and stood proudly on his own, regardless.
“Good evening, Mrs Holmes,” he replied. “Thank you for inviting us.”
Her escort—husband, Greg realized when he spotted their matching silver rings—smiled broadly at his greetings.
“Gregory,” he said warmly. “We were very glad to receive your acceptance of our invitation.”
Greg nodded. His mother had wanted to write it for him, but he had wrangled from her the nice cardstock she saved for holiday notes to her mother and had written in his nicest print that he would be very glad to join the Holmes’ for dinner.
The married couple reached the bottom of the stairs and Mr. Holmes said, “Would you join us in the dining room? We wouldn’t want the food to get cold.”
Greg bobbed his head and replied, “Yes, thank you,” somehow finding himself the unspoken leader of his little family. He felt slightly ridiculous claiming such a title when the palms of his hands were prickling with sweat and a hard lump resided in his throat. He patted his damp hands against his trousers and followed the two adults who wished to bind him to their son and tried to shove down his trepidation.
He told himself that he could say yes or no without recrimination, but that was a hard idea to swallow with such luxuries blaring in his face. He suspected that the rug beneath his feet cost more than his parents’ entire cottage, but he brushed the thought aside before it could fester.
“Please,” Mr. Holmes invited, “sit where you would like.”
His mum and da flanked him at the table and Mr. and Mrs. Holmes sat opposite with friendly and welcoming smiles on their faces as a servant served the meal. But Greg could see a sharp intelligence glinting in Mrs. Holmes eyes and the look of a pure bred hunting dog in Mr. Holmes’ face. They were accustomed to getting what they wanted, one way or another.
“Pardon,” his mum spoke up timidly. “But where is the boy? You mentioned your son in the letter.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Holmes replied, her dark hair, nearly black, swung about her face in ringlets and shined underneath the glittering chandelier hanging above their heads as she laughed “He’s away at school, of course.”
“You ask my son,” his da said lowly, eschewing his meal in favor of accusing their hosts, “To be a companion for a boy who is not even present?”
“Da,” Greg said quietly. “Leave it.”
His da shot him a sharp glance but subsided sulkily and began clanging his silverware clumsily against his plate as he sliced up his food. “I just don’t see the sense, is all.”
“Will you tell us of your boy?” his mum asked instead. “We are all very curious, he’s never been to the village.”
Mrs. Holmes smiled broader and Greg had to shake off the feeling that she was baring her teeth like a vicious fox.
“He’s very clever, our Mycroft,” Mr. Holmes boasted. “Two years younger than you, Gregory, but they moved him up two years.”
“That right?” Greg replied, wondering if the poor sod was bullied for being so being so bright.
“He wants to move ahead another,” Mrs. Holmes confided, “But we wouldn’t’ want him too far distanced from his age group. He has trouble making friends as it is.”
“It must be hard for him,” his mum ventured to say, “Being younger than his classmates.”
But before Mrs. Holmes gaze could harden and pin his mum with an icy stare, Greg interrupted, “They’re afraid of him. For being clever.”
All the adults turned to look at him but Greg only speared a crunchy leaf of lettuce with what he suspected was a real silver fork and shoved it in his mouth. “He’s a ginger too,” he noted after chewing and swallowing. He knew it was rude to point, but he did so with his fork anyways. “Like you, Mr. Holmes.” He popped another leaf into his mouth and began chewing noisily.
Mr. Holmes raised his eyebrows so high that they would have disappeared into his hairline if it hadn’t been receding.
Mrs. Holmes, however, only asked, “And how did you reach that conclusion?”
“Most don’t trust gingers,” Greg said matter-of-factly. “Being that and clever would make it twice as bad for him.” He speared a small tomato and popped it in his mouth. When he bit down, the juices flooded his palate with bright flavour—he had never tasted anything like it.
The Holmes’ dropped details about their son throughout that strange dinner. Enough for Greg’s mum and da to be satisfied and for Greg to have more questions to keep stifled.
Did Mycroft play sports? Would he mind if Greg did? Would he call him Georgie like everyone else? Did they expect Greg to go away to boarding school just to keep their son company? What was he really like?
Did he believe in magic?
Greg wasn’t sure that he believed in magic, but he knew deep down in his soul that if he tied himself to Mycroft, not only would he never be free to choose another, he would be protected from binding promises of any sort. Mycroft would gain a forever faithful companion and Greg would gain safety and protection—even at a distance.
All too soon the meal was over. For Greg it seemed like he only blinked. The glitter of the chandelier’s lights sparkled off the china and silver—dazzling Greg to a degree he didn’t’ believe possible. Despite that, he was aware of his mum and da succumbing to the Holmes’ charm and retreating to the den for coffee. Alone, the young boy stood and left the dining room.
His footsteps muffled on thick carpet, Greg wandered the empty manor. Once he ascended the stairs he no longer heard the chatter of the adults in the wide and meandering hallways. He saw no family portraits, only paintings of the countryside and an occasional lace-framed window with inky darkness beyond the frames. The air of the manor seemed to be waiting and prickled Greg’s skin with anticipation.
Mycroft, a brass plate proclaimed form a heavy wood door streaked with flares of red. Greg laid his hand upon the solid paneling and imagined that he could feel the age of the tree from the grain. “What do you think of him?” He asked it. “Is he a good sort?” The door didn’t answer, but when he tried the handle it swung easily open.
“Huh,” Greg breathed into the silent and waiting air. He stepped through the doorway and wondered if he had been transported to the past.
Mycroft didn’t have posters of footballers or the Clash on his walls like Greg did. Instead, he had shelf after shelf of books. Old books with proper covers—not the cheap paperbacks Greg’s mum bought down at the market. Scattered among the books on the hardwood shelves were artifacts that looked like they came straight from an archaeological dig. As Greg stepped towards them, curiously, he noticed arrow heads, remnants of clay pots, and worn down figurines.
The light from the hallway only lit so much of the room, so Greg searched around the door then flipped a switch. To his surprise, wall sconces designed to look like old oil lamps began to glow from periodic points around the room.
Under the warm glow of the dim lights Greg inspected the relics placed among the books. They spoke of a love of history or perhaps archaeology. Either way they were well cared for and Greg was afraid to touch them.
“Doesn’t he have a fine collection Gregory?” a voice asked.
Greg whirled around to see Mr. Holmes standing in the door. The man’s ginger hair glinted red and gold in the soft lighting from the wall sconces. His dinner suit was understated but obviously expensive and well-made from the way it sleekly accentuated the clean lines of his body. He stood like a man who expected to be listened to but wished to be underestimated.
He was not smiling.
“I think a room says a lot about a person,” Greg answered.
“Oh?” Mr. Holmes prompted with a raised eyebrow.
“Mycroft studies a lot, then?” Greg stepped away from the bookshelf he was nearly pressed up against and tried nonchalantly glancing around the room despite Mr. Holmes penetrating stare. The organized desk in the corner caught his attention with it’s carefully corralled pencils in a cup and the top clear of debris. “He likes order, too.” He blinked and looked around again. “He was the one who arranged the shelves, not you. The books he favours most are on the lower shelves that he can reach.” Greg stepped forward to touch a particularly worn one. “You can tell which ones he reads the most.” Then he turned back to look at Mr. Holmes again, feeling a little more confident than he had. “His artifacts tend to be placed lower as well, and not at heights for guests to view easily.”
Mr. Holmes was smiling at him. “I do believe that you are right,” the man conceded, “a room can tell one quite a bit about a person.” He blinked slowly, not unlike a large cat. “And what do you suppose your room says about you?”
Greg swallowed sharply and said, “That I’m an uninteresting slob with an unfortunate inclination for The Clash and footy.”
“Why do you think you’re here, Gregory?” Mr. Holmes said suddenly.
Greg startled at the sudden change in the conversation and felt as though the new mood had changed the feeling in the air entirely, making the room seem darker and a little more confining, but was mostly glad that Mr. Holmes had allowed him to prevaricate. “I’m here because you asked me to be,” he said simply.
“You are not a dull boy,” Mr. Holmes replied.
“I’m fairly average,” Greg said with a shrug. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
“Your father isn’t average.”
“I’m not going to meet your son, am I?” Greg asked. “He doesn’t know I’m here, he doesn’t know that I exist. Why am I here, exactly? Why did you invite me here?”
“My son likes to study people,” Mr. Holmes said as though Greg hadn’t spoken. He walked to Mycroft’s bed and sat on it with his elbows on his knees and his clasped hands below his chin. “He is interested in the living and the dead. For a while I despaired of him being an archaeologist, but he has turned out to be someone worse than that.”
Greg blinked, bemused, and stared at Mr. Holmes.
“He is a realist,” the worried father said. “My ten year old son can see the worst in people at a glance. He cannot trust and he is not trusted. I want someone he can have unquestionable faith in.”
“I’m a boy from the village,” Greg said bitterly, frowning in contemplation and dismissal. “He’s away at school. Away,” he emphasized. “I’m not going away. I’m staying here with my family, what good am I?”
“I’m looking at the long term,” Mr. Holmes replied.
And that was the moment that Greg realized that Mr. Holmes knew quite a bit more than he ought about Greg.
“Did I mention? While my son is interested in people, I am interested in things that lean towards the…eccentric.”
“Fairytales,” Greg said flatly.
“Fact,” Mr. Holmes rejoined.
"You have no proof." At least, Greg hoped he didn't.
"Of course not," Mr. Holmes agreed genially. "But I do have information. For instance, I know that you were stricken with stomach cramps until you fulfilled a playground promise to a bully to beat him up the next time he harassed someone you knew. I know that you hesitated because of punishment from your teachers but decided that they were a lesser evil than your own body turning against you. I know that every person you make even the slightest promise to has a tie to your soul until you end your engagement with them. I know that until you set foot into my house and ate my food that you felt such a connection with me and that you continued to do so because you felt obligated to hear my proposition about my son, Mycroft."
"What do you get out of this?" Greg demanded. "We are from two different worlds and I can never exist in yours. I cannot join your son in public school, I cannot marry him and look good on his arm like a pretty dolled up wife. I'm a lad from down the village, what's in it for you?"
"I think the question you should be asking yourself, is what would you get out of an agreement to be loyal to my son."
It was at that moment that Greg realized that Mr. Holmes had him between a rock and a hard place. He was a perfect gentleman, of course. If Greg declined an agreement he would never be contacted again. But he would always remember the offer and know what he had turned down. Greg would be missing out on security from himself and he would always know that Mr. Holmes knew that as well. That was the pinch--knowing that Mr. Holmes would know that Greg had declined to his detriment would worry away at him. He would become resentful of the offer and the missed opportunity. He would never trust fully again--but he would eventually make a stupid mistake and tie himself to someone he wouldn't want to be affiliated with.
A young and precocious boy with a tendency to study artifacts and people was not a bad choice in any sort of situation.
"You should have been in the government," Greg stated.
Mr. Holmes laughed and his eyes changed from being cold and calculating to warm and perceptive. "Who says I'm not?" he asked rhetorically. "If you had been born to a different family, you would have already met Mycroft--if you wish to indulge in 'what ifs.'"
"If I had met Mycroft on my own, I would've never liked him." Greg looked away to glance at the room again, sensing he was on the precipice of capitulation. "He doesn't appear to like footy."
Mr. Holmes twinkled at him. Greg didn't think he had ever seen anything more vaguely frightening to him in his entire life. "Do not," he advised, "judge a book by it's cover."
He pulled a worn, green, canvas-bound book from a shelf and handed it to Greg. Greg opened it and had a laugh startled from him when he realized that the book was a history of football in Britain.
He knew then that he wasn't going to say no.
He shut the book with a snap. "My parents can't know that we're more than friends. I want them to think I can separate from him in the future."
Mr. Holmes nodded amiably. "That can be arranged. Perhaps I can tell them that you promised merely to write to my boy until he finishes school?"
"That'll work," Greg agreed. "They'll want you to give me something in return."
"You're already receiving something," Mr. Holmes pointed out.
"You know that," Greg said, "And I know that. But they do not."
Mr. Holmes blinked and Greg felt a glow of pleasure when he realized that he had taken the older man by surprise. "How much have you hidden from your father?"
"Oh," Greg said dismissively. "Not that much." He wasn't willing to reveal to Mr. Holmes anything that the man might not actually know. He was clever enough not to fall for that trap.
"He knows that you can bind yourself permanently to someone," Mr. Holmes said knowingly, sitting up and letting his fists drop from his chin to his knees. His hands brushed against his trouser legs and Greg wondered if the man had ever participated in any honest labor in his entire life. "Hence why you want to deceive him into thinking that your bonding to my son is temporary."
Bonding. The word rang in Greg's head. He had known that was what he was proposing to do--that was what Mr. Holmes was proposing Greg should do--but he hadn't had a label for it. He had been correct in stating it wouldn't be a marriage, but for Greg it would be tantamount to one. He would never be free to another. "Yes," he agreed, figuring that it would be safe enough to admit to that much.
"But he doesn't know that a bonding would offer you security of your own," Mr. Holmes concluded, watching Greg with knew and curious eyes.
"No," Greg said simply.
"You could accept a stipend at the very least.”
Greg hummed noncommittally. "Perhaps," he equivocated.
"Your family has financial issues," Mr. Holmes noted.
"You're a fool if you think my family will take charity," Greg observed flatly.
"But it's not charity, Gregory," Mr. Holmes chided. "It is a simple trade."
"It is not something they would agree to--or me, actually."
"Then what do you suggest, young master Gregory?"
”I don’t want your money,” Greg said flatly.
Mr. Holmes frowned but said nothing in return.
Greg looked Mr. Holmes up and down and wondered if Mycroft would look like his father when he grew up. He wondered if he looked like his father now. He wondered if he had any brothers and sisters or any friends he hadn't told his parents about. "Shall we?"
Mr. Holmes raised an eyebrow and put his hands on his knees to lever himself into a standing position. "Right now?"
Greg shrugged and looked away. "Why not?"
"Is it as simple as that?"
"As simple as that," Greg repeated. But a moment later, he closed his eyes and dove deep inside of himself. A normal promise was as easy as accidentally telling someone that he would save pudding for them at lunch. Little promises like that extended from his soul with spider-web thin strands wrapping stickily around himself and other people. The hazard with them was that sometimes they stuck to other promises and became hopelessly intertwined. He could see them when he wanted to. First he found them within himself and tweaked them with mental fingers to find out where they went. They spoke to him. You promised, you promised, they whispered while telling him what they were. If he opened his eyes he knew that he could see them stretched out in the air around him like he was a puppet entangled with everyone he had ever met. Then he asked, I want to bind myself to someone.
The little bonds grew silent and his soul sang out, Yes.
He looked around and listened for a few moments then opened his eyes. "I pledge myself," he spoke aloud. "To Mycroft Holmes, a young and honorable boy I will be proud to support for the rest of my life. He will forever have my allegiance and my strength—and in return I accept the gift of security from him. Until the end of time I will be bonded to him and him only for anything he requires of me."
With the last of his words, the last binding promise he would ever make snapped to life between himself and a boy who resided many miles away. If the other promises had been delicate spider threads, this one was a strong tether that jerked at him and killed every other promise he had ever made. As it cinched around his soul and yanked, his vision went dark and he began to fall.
He knew nothing more.
"I'm terribly sorry, Mrs. Lestrade," he heard someone murmur. "When I had realized that your son had wandered away I went to find where he had gone off to. The manor is large and easy to get lost in..."
Greg was in a pair of arms. Judging by their strength and possessiveness he assumed that the man holding him was his father. He was cradled against a broad chest and could feel the rough and starched shirt of the button-up his da was wearing against his cheek.
"Thank you for returning him," his da rumbled. "I apologize for him haring off."
"Oh, it wasn't a problem at all, Mr. Lestrade."
"Thank you for the lovely dinner, Mrs. Holmes," his mother said. "You have a very lovely home."
Greg heard them continue speaking but they subsided to indistinct murmurs that he didn't feel the need to pay attention to. He could feel his bond to Mycroft stretching through the air. It was like wearing chains. Voluntary chains, but a heavy weight he couldn't admit to his da all the same.
His da would never understand.
"Honey," his mother said softly, brushing hair from his forehead. Her gentle hair felt cool and nice against his forehead.
Greg was in bed beneath his covers. He had been tucked in, he assumed, as his arms felt pinned beneath the blankets.
"Mum?" he asked hoarsely.
"We were worried about you," she said, a deep weariness in her voice.
"Is Da here?"
"No, sweetheart. It's just you and me."
Greg kept his eyes shut, ashamed of the secret he was planning on keeping from his parents.
"You made a promise, didn't you."
"A big one?"
"Yes," he said in a small voice.
"My brave boy," she said, her hand petting his hair and coaxing through the strands. “When Mr. Holmes told your da he was going to pay for your school, I thought he’d refuse until he said it was in payment for a promise.”
“Sleep, sweetheart. And remember that we love you.”
Hello, Greg wrote. My name is Gregory Aiden Lestrade and I live in the village below your big house. Well, actually, I live outside the village. But I live just down the hill from you. I can see your manor from the garden. I'm twelve years old and support Arsenal. Do you like football? You didn't have any posters in your room, but you did have some books. I wanted to be surprised when your father pointed one out to me, but what kind of person doesn't like football? Not one I'd like to know, I'm sure. I met your father, Mr. Holmes. He loves you very much, you know. Kind of an intimidating bloke, though, and he's pretty determined to get whatever you need--including me.
I want to say straight off that I'm not writing to you because he's paying me, even though my parents think I am. He wanted to give me money, but I said no. I suspect he’s going to anyway. My father's not much like yours—he’s a builder. My two brothers are too. So when I leave school I'll probably build things with my family. My mum does the garden and takes care of me.
I'm the youngest.
Mr. Holmes says that you don't have many friends. He was surprised when I guessed why. Well, I didn't guess, really, it wasn't hard to figure out (I think Mrs. Holmes was impressed). But he thinks I could be your friend. If you like.
I've never really written a letter before, so I'll sign off here.
It took three drafts and countless sheets of paper for Greg to write a satisfactory letter to Mycroft. He figured that the letter dropped in the post with Mycroft's school address the only thing contained inside was more than enough of a hint encouraging Greg to hurry up and write a letter. It had been a week since the dinner at the Holmes' and he hadn't heard anything from them since, but his connection with Mycroft thrummed in the air like a live thing that never went away. He never got anything hideously important from it--just a few vague impressions and the occasional emotion trickled down the tether connecting them.
Greg sometimes wondered if Mycroft felt the connection at all, but assumed he did not.
The letter ended up being a little longer than he expected it to be, but that probably occurred because he spent hours and hours focusing on it. He simply couldn't concentrate on anything else until he finished writing it. He wrote in pen but didn't bother with joined-up writing. He wasn't very good at it, for one, and, for two, he didn't feel the need to put a window dressing on who he really was.
"This shouldn't work," he murmured. "Who accepts a letter from a stranger?" But, regardless, he folded the letter and shoved it in an envelope before he could second-guess himself and licked the flap shut. He ripped a stamp off the book he asked his mother to buy him and licked and stuck it to the envelope as well. When he was finished he carefully copied Mycroft's address onto its face with his pen. His hand felt stiff and cramped but he knew he needed to get this done and get it in the post as soon as possible. He labeled the return address G. Lestrade then took it to his mother.
All that was left was to wait.
Chapter 2: Book Two: Mycroft
Mycroft Holmes was absolutely not taken aback by the letter that arrived for him at school addressed in juvenile and sloppy handwriting. Surprised, yes—but not taken aback.
The only communiqués he usually received were letters from mummy meticulously written in codes such as How are your studies? (Have you made any progress on that issue of national security we couriered to you?) Are you having any troubles with your classmates? (The mole has been neutralized, please report if any others are discovered) and How is your dear Maths Professor Mr. Daniels? Are his classes enjoyable? (Thank you for reporting his suspicious activities, they have been curtailed and he has been sufficiently threatened into teaching you the proper things you need).
His father didn’t trust the phone or the post and usually showed up at odd times in person—usually at the perfect moment to intimidate Mycroft’s teachers and passive aggressively frighten his classmates. Sometimes his younger brother Sherlock tagged along with him. He was a precocious child—even at three years old (and this was compared to how advanced Mycroft had been at his age) and appeared to evaluate every move their father made on his visits to Mycroft's school.
If his parents needed to send him something of import (such as state secrets or care packages from home) they sent a trusted courier. One of Mycroft's favorite exercises was to determine how many weapons these people carried and what their previous job had been (the most amusing of the lot had been the one who had posed as a mime to gain access to private households and collect sensitive information for the government).
So when he found a letter in his cubby addressed to him in handwriting that suggested the writer had never had to spell the name Mycroft in his entire life (the y and the c were much too straight for someone with the experience writing them next to each other to have written) he stood a moment to glean what he could from the outside of the envelope alone.
He half-expected grimy fingerprints to line the cheap paper, but other than where the boy had accidentally transferred some glue from the back of the stamp to the upper right corner of the crisp rectangle with his pointer finger (or perhaps his thumb—fingerprints were not Mycroft's forte) the cheap paper was clean and unbent by anything other than the mail sorter and the postman.
Mycroft's name and address had been written in a careful and blocky handwriting that suggested the writer had never sent a letter through the post before and had been trying very hard to keep his handwriting legible. It also told Mycroft that the boy had quite deliberately foregone using joined-up-writing for some reason or another that Mycroft couldn't deduce without further information (as he tilted the envelope in his hand he mused, not for the first time, that Americans had the oddest words for some things. Cursive, honestly. What if one's handwriting made it spiky and not curved?).
The address itself had been directly copied from another sheet of paper that had been typed—judging by the letters the boy had attempted to copy from the typeset rather than just writing it the way he had been taught.
The boy's own address had been familiar enough that it had been written in a cramped hand in the upper left corner and was nearly indistinct to Mycroft's keen eyes. Nearly, he thought, because he had a particularly discerning eye when it came to handwriting. How else had he managed to read and break the code Professor Daniels had been using to pass on information that the silly rich boys Mycroft attended school with had been foolish enough to reveal in the classroom?
The name was the part that he left for last, and he was almost disappointed when he realized that (in a peculiarly adult fashion) the boy had simply penned his first initial and last name.
G. Lestrade, it said.
Well, Master Lestrade, he thought, amused, You've caught my attention.
He kept the letter firmly pinched between his thumb and fingers as he left the commons and retreated to his dormitory. The building was relatively empty and quiet as all of the other boys were taking advantage of the rare sunny day to run about outside like heathens and play games in the mud. Mycroft liked it that way because it meant he could ascend the stairs un-harassed and still in possession of his curious letter.
It was quiet upstairs as well so he sat at the small desk next to his bed to open the letter. With a moue of distaste, he slid his metal ruler under the glued down flap and prised it open. He would never understand the logic behind denying students the right to own a letter opener based on its resemblance to a weapon.
He knew a man who could kill with his thumb, accoutrements almost didn't matter.
The envelope gave way with a snick; Mycroft replaced the ruler in its proper place and returned his attention to the letter.
Hello, My name is Gregory Aiden Lestrade...
The handwriting regained its confidence once the boy had written his name. Gregory, Mycroft thought. Father would find a person with such a proper name.
The question was, what did he find this person for?
What Mycroft loved about his skills (and, presumably what the government coveted) was that he could deduce as many things about a person simply from a snippet of their writing as a lover could from a pillow confession (it was also about 100% more accurate). Normally he discovered the information he was searching for in diaries, notes, and letters to other people.
Mycroft had never had someone simply offer information about themselves to him before. It was unprecedented.
I'm twelve years old and support Arsenal. Do you like football? You didn't have any posters in your room, but you did have some books. I wanted to be surprised when your father pointed one out to me, but what kind of person doesn't like football? Not one I'd like to know, I'm sure.
Mycroft had to sit back heavily and almost let the letter fall to the desk. The boy had been in his room. Not only that, but his father had been aware of it—had, in fact, been in there with the boy. This wasn't just unprecedented. This was the beginning of the apocalypse. This boy, who simply laid out his name, location, age, and the fact that he had been freely allowed in a room with state secrets in it was obviously much more than he seemed.
His father hadn't said a word, of course.
With this new information, Mycroft could analyze the details he had gleaned from the envelope in a new light. His address had been copied in such a stilted fashion because his father had typed it out for the boy and the boy, Gregory, was almost reluctant to use it. He felt obligated, in some sort of way, but not because of Mycroft's father (otherwise there would have been quite a bit more resentment in his handwriting). The envelope had been his own, it was far too cheap to have been something his father provided, and the paper he wrote the letter itself on was as well. Which meant that though his father thought Gregory needed a little prompting, he trusted the boy to write the letter as he had been asked.
His father trusted a boy from down the village.
In fact, not only had Gregory not been manipulated into writing Mycroft, he wished to do so—desperately, judging by his obsessively careful treatment of the envelope and address.
There is more to this boy than it seems, Mycroft thought.
Mycroft hadn't been taken aback by the letter arriving—he had received communiqués from much stranger quarters—but he was beginning to be taken aback by the Gregory's manners and words. He called Mycroft's father loving and cheerfully admitted that he had been quite insistent upon procuring Gregory for Mycroft. How peculiar.
The things that didn't add up were that Mycroft's father had allowed Gregory to contact Mycroft without first informing his son, and that he had encouraged him to do so in the first place. Why in the world would he be interested in a village boy? Oh, Mycroft could explain in many ways way he himself would be interested in Gregory. He had an understated intelligence, wasn't too terribly slow at picking up the undercurrents, and seemed to have a talent for cutting right to the heart of the matter and acting as though he'd done nothing amazing at all.
...he thinks I could be your friend. If you like.
Mycroft shuffled back through the letter one more time and tried to glean as many things as he could from it. He observed how the slant to a certain letter meant that Gregory thought he was boringly normal and that he'd do nothing worthwhile with his life, but how a curve to another meant that he had a self-assuredness that most twelve year-olds did not possess. He had pride, judging by his Ps, but it was counterweighted by the modesty spoken of him in his Ns.
Gregory was a mass of contradictions.
But one thing was clear to Mycroft—if he accepted his friendship, he would have a friend for life.
After a few minutes of deliberation, he pulled out his own sheet of paper and laid pen to it.
Gregory, he began. I was quite surprised to receive your letter as my father had visited just a day ago and he had not mentioned meeting you—I presume he had his reasons, however. I was also surprised to learn that you had been to the manor. My father invited you for dinner, did he? For a proposal, I imagine. Mummy and father are always quite worried about me meeting someone at school, and if it means that they will cease pestering me about it I will happily write to you whenever you wish. I rather like to write letters, but boys our age tend to eschew them for football and other things that involve mud. Not that I don't enjoy football, but I can't imagine why you support Arsenal when everyone knows that...
Mycroft would lay aside the mystery as to why Gregory until later. If his father thought he was appropriate and safe, then Mycroft would count him as that as well. He saw no reason not to from the boy's letter.
I want to say straight off, Gregory had written, that I'm not writing to you because he's paying me, even though my parents think I am.
That didn't tell Mycroft why Gregory had written to him, but he would find out. It wouldn't be that hard, he thought. It wouldn’t be hard at all.
No, Greg wrote some days down the line, his pen digging into the paper in frustration. I hadn’t planned on Uni. Don’t see the point, really. I’ll just be a builder like my da. Could do an NVQ, I suppose, but I’ve got plenty of time to decide. Don’t need Uni to learn how to whack a hammer on a nail. What will you be when you grow up? I know you're clever—it’s brilliant, really, having such a clever friend, but what sort of thing could you do with cleverness?
Mycroft deliberated on his response for quite a while. He couldn’t very well tell Gregory that he had already been recruited by the government as some sort of underage analyst who broke codes and kept a close eye on moles. He certainly couldn’t tell Gregory that he knew more about the boy from his handwriting than from his actual written words, and he definitely wasn’t going to say that the amount of information he had gleaned was actually quite pitiful.
Well, to anyone else it would seem a respectable amount. Brilliant, even, if he went by Gregory’s terminology. But Mycroft knew that he was missing something vital about Gregory’s character. His instincts told him it wasn’t horrific or even dangerous (he also doubted Gregory would have made it past his father if it was) but he was rather curious about what the boy was hiding from him.
Obsessed with footy was an understatement, he found. Whenever Gregory felt himself on unequal footing, at a loss as to where the conversation was going, or avoiding a question, he always fell back on Arsenal.
Personally, Mycroft preferred Man U. But each to their own, he supposed.
He found that Gregory quite successfully distracted him, however, and had to fight himself to get back onto the topic of Gregory attending school. Mycroft thought it a waste of a competent mind to simply go into building. He found it horrific that someone as sharp as Gregory would willingly consign themselves to banging on things all day long and never looked forward to anything else.
The boy should at least give himself options.
No friend of mine, Mycroft wrote back, will limit himself in such a way. You’re perfectly capable of attending University in the future. In fact, I recommend it—I don’t say this to everyone I meet, I hope you realise, but you are definitely clever enough for Uni. I won’t drop the subject, I can promise you that. You will take your O-levels and then you’re A-levels and when the time comes, we’ll find the perfect Uni for you.
Hm, Mycroft thought to himself as he looked down on the sheet of paper masquerading as something innocent. Why in the world am I already thinking years ahead when we’ve only written a few times?
But then he glanced across his desk at the increasing stack of letters from Gregory and felt a smile twitch at the corner of his lips. Well, he though as he placed his pen to paper. It couldn’t hurt.
School is boring, Gregory wrote later. I finish everything ahead of everyone else and then I have nothing to do. I hate it when we have to work on everything together because everyone is so slow. Is it like this for you as well, Mycroft?
That was an excellent question, he thought, tapping his pen to his lips and ignoring the growing pile of letters slowly taking over his desk that he should really put somewhere else. Each envelope had the same careful block print pressed into it in pen, as though the person who addressed them didn’t trust the postman to read his handwriting, but the letters had increasingly relaxed handwriting that mirrored Gregory’s feelings like a pool of water.
It wouldn’t hurt, I suppose, he began to write slowly, to think of other things besides school. You’ve got a library, haven’t you? There must be one in the school at the least. If you finish ahead, read a book—find something to study. The trick of it is to always look like you’re busy with something studious…
To Mycroft’s ongoing surprise, their letters go on and on endlessly. They speak of everything—the flowers in Gregory’s garden, his brothers, Mycroft’s studies and the boys in his dorm, footy, teachers, their futures (I’d like to find myself a place with the government, Mycroft confessed one day. A place in which I have respect but not a lot of publicity), and anything else that came to mind.
Gregory began to grow, he noticed. Oh, he knew that the boy was already older than he was, and clever (not as clever as Mycroft, or even his younger brother Sherlock, of course), but he went from being a quiet mummy’s boy to a young man who wrote Mycroft with a self-assurance that leaked into his penmanship and gave him his own unique slant that spread through every word he wrote.
I’d like to go to London, someday, Gregory confessed.
If you go to Uni you can, Mycroft replied. We can go to London together.
After he had written that letter, licked the envelope, and sent it off, he realised that he had told the truth. He wanted to meet Gregory, he wanted to do brilliant things with the other boy, he wanted to see him become a man, or at least meet him when he was one. He wanted to share in his triumphs and commiserate in his defeats, he wanted to advise him through troubles and nudge him in the write direction whenever he began to steer himself wrong. He wanted to be there for Gregory—always.
I think I’d like it if you’d call me Greg, Gregory wrote in a careful sort of handwriting that Mycroft had not seen since some of his earlier letters over a year previous. No one else calls me that. Your father calls me Gregory and my da and everyone else call me Georgie (which I hate) so I think I’d like you to call me Greg.
For the first time in months Gregory was hesitant and his handwriting showed how he expected to be turned down, how he expected Mycroft to draw back or call him foolish.
I would be glad to, Greg, Mycroft penned down. Thank you.
Mycroft tore through school at a speed that amazed his handlers, dismayed his teachers, and made his classmates downright cross with him. The only people who weren’t surprised in the least were his family.
“We’re proud of you,” his mother said.
“Be smart,” his father advised, hawkish eyes pinning him like a butterfly to a board.
“Brother,” Sherlock said with a toothy smile. “Clever.”
And he was.
Many different divisions wanted him. It wasn’t legal to recruit him so young, he knew. It wasn’t moral in the least (not that he or his family cared—a career was a career and if it didn’t rot his brain it was a good career), but it was what he wanted. He wanted something exciting that also gave him a fairly solid chance at a future of being a spider in the middle of a massive web.
Mycroft liked that analogy more than he was truly willing to admit.
“About the boy,” his current handler told him when he turned sixteen and began to prepare to leave school to go oversees. “It has been decided that you must terminate your contact with him.”
The words rang through his head like the tolling of a death bell.
It has been decided that you must terminate your contact with him.
He wasn’t positive they could have picked a worse way to go about informing him of that. Greg wasn’t a boy anymore. He was on the cusp of being a man. He was in the midst of his A-levels, he was working on finding a Uni (This one has a course on Pathology, Mycroft, how brilliant does that sound?) and he was going to London. He was going to London because Mycroft had promised him London—had promised they would meet in London. He had set no dates, no times, no years—but he had more than implied that once Greg had gone away to uni there was more than a chance of them meeting.
…terminate your contact with him.
If he did that, there would be no meeting him. There wouldn’t be a flying chance of hell in him ever getting near Greg. He wouldn’t be allowed to send a letter, call, hell, he wouldn’t even be able to send a carrier pigeon to the boy, let alone meet with him.
But Mycroft had been working to this end for years. Not the end of his relationship with Greg (relationship, his mind murmured, is that what this is?), but his plan to be a spy. To gather information and use it to protect queen and country. To serve the government and do great things for his father to be proud about.
I wanted Greg to be proud of me too, he admitted silently to himself.
“I understand,” he said out loud. “I’ll do that immediately.”
He didn’t just place the letters all willy nilly over the desk anymore. He didn’t even have the same desk—he had a private study in the prefects hall and in the corner of it he had a filing system specifically for all of his correspondence with Gregory Lestrade. Everything from when the boy was twelve up until now, six years later, all of his letters chronologically ordered in a box with a lock on the outside of it.
He didn’t think he could get rid of it, but he knew they wouldn’t let him keep it, either.
He allowed himself to slide the key into the small lock and twist it open so that he could look upon the dozens and dozens of letters he had acquired from the other boy.
Mycroft, they all began with.
Each had a different topic but at the beginning of each letter Greg had written in his confident hand a spiky M and the smaller letters of the rest of Mycroft’s name as though it was the most important thing in the world to him.
For all Mycroft new, he was, but then, for all he knew he wasn’t.
He pulled out the very first letter he had ever received and looked over the juvenile handwriting that had so naively spelled out his address so many years ago and sucked in a painful breath.
It was time to leave his childhood behind.
With the letter sent off, he locked up the box and sent it to his parents. Put it away, he wrote his father. I don’t need it anymore. For all he knew his father had no idea what was in it—he certainly never asked. And he never asked about Greg, either. Although after Mycroft left school and began traveling he did mention him a few times.
“Gregory was by for dinner,” he said over a secure telephone line once, some months after Mycroft had begun his travels. “He asked about you—haven’t you been in contact?”
“I’m sorry,” Mycroft replied, “I’m afraid you’re breaking up.”
He had to leave that part of his life behind.
But every time he visited somewhere new he fancied he could hear Greg’s voice in his head (not that he knew what that sounded like).
“Look at that!” he would say as he pointed at something spectacular, “Have you ever seen anything like it?”
He rather thought Greg would enjoy the pyramids, but then he thought of London and his heart fell. The city was where Greg would be—not Egypt.
But as the years went by he wanted to return to his homeland. There was only so much travel a man could do before he craved a steady and cushy desk job. He felt he had earned it, besides, so he returned to England. To London.
To Greg, his heart whispered.
Only to find out that in his absence his brother had gone off the deep end.
He found this out on the plane over the ocean, of course. It didn’t matter which ocean—they all looked the same. But as he flipped through the papers on his brother he saw words and phrases like decrepit flat on Montague Street, drugs, dropped out of Uni, and National Security Threat that jumped out at him off the page.
“What in the world,” he said with a sigh at the new, and young, personal assistant he had seemed to acquire, “has he gotten himself into?”
“At the moment, sir?” she replied, thumbing at her mobile with a devotion that he supposed any man would wish to have from a wife. “He’s got himself arrested, from what I understand.”
Mycroft blinked tiredly. “He’s what?”
That, of course, was how he met Gregory A. Lestrade.
He had planned on tracking the man down, of course. How could he resist? No more handlers, no more warnings of personal relations being insecure, he could do what he wanted with who he wanted and if he wanted to track down a childhood friend then he was bloody well going to do it.
He didn’t expect that Greg had been the one to arrest Sherlock.
Of course, that wasn’t actually on the records (He must find out how his p.a. found out these things, she was turning out to be an excellent resource already) since Greg had let his brother go almost immediately after taking him into custody. But Greg was a detective. A detective inspector, no less. He had hair that was going silver and a deep voice with a bit of the dialect from their old village still seeping into it and bright eyes that tried to catch everything they could. He had excellent senses, how else had he noticed Mycroft skulking around the corner?
But he couldn’t introduce himself.
He couldn’t do it. Mycroft had been away for years—would Greg even recognise him? Why would he? He seemed to have a successful job using the cleverness that Mycroft had always known that he had had. And he was tired. Mycroft couldn’t remember the last time he had slept.
He resolved to find his new flat, settle into his new job, leisurely take the time to look up Greg’s records and then approach the man at a later date.
He was sure that it wouldn’t take long to banish any bad blood that may have been between them thanks to his precipitous letter.
Only it didn’t go like that at all.
He didn’t go to Uni, Mycroft realised with dismay. In fact, Greg didn’t finish school at all. Everything seemed to go immediately downhill after Mycroft left. Greg’s life fell apart and then he dropped off the grid. He left, perhaps he was looking for Mycroft, perhaps he was hiding, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps—not all the perhaps’ in the world would tell Mycroft what had happened when he had left to travel the world. The only person who could tell him that was Greg, and he had moved on with his life.
So he settled into his job, harassed Sherlock, and pretended Gregory A. Lestrade didn’t exist at all.
After all, he thought to himself, he’s done perfectly fine without me so far.
Greg’s face showed on his computer screen as he inspected the CCTV for traffic violations (or that was what he told himself). He zoomed in until the hawkish tilt of the detective inspector’s face took up half the screen and he had to edit the picture in order to see him through the fuzz. He was focus on something off to the side out of the camera’s sight and Mycroft thought for a moment about saving the photo and secreting it somewhere in his computer’s harddrive. Gregory Lestrade was a handsome man, after all (and my friend he thought deep inside).
“Sir?” his personal assistant knocked on the door frame. “Your two o’clock meeting?”
Mycroft hit delete. The picture went away and after a few more taps of his keyboard a blank screen came up and the photo was gone forever.
“Ah!” he greeted, turning to greet the man who entered the doorway. “How nice to see you, Mr. Murphy.”
There was no need to dwell on the past. Greg probably didn’t even remember him anyway.
Chapter 3: Book Three: Lestrade
You’ve attended school thus far, Mycroft’s letter told him. Would it truly hurt to attempt your A-levels? You have nothing to lose. If you don’t do well—and I think you will—simply taking the exams won’t stop you from being able to get an NVQ in the future if need be.
Mycroft’s logic may have frequently rubbed Greg’s pride the wrong way, but it certainly made sense. Why would he have attended school past his O-levels if he had no intentions of at least attempting his A-levels? It didn't make sense that Greg had stuck around this long if he hadn't been convinced by Mycroft to give Uni a try at least a little. Something in him must have thought that he could do it. Mycroft had called him clever, he didn't think that anyone other than the Holmes and his mum had ever called him clever.
School was boring. The people were boring. He didn't try very hard because there was no point. Nothing was challenging.
Mycroft told him that Uni wouldn't be like that. That he would have to think. That he could study what he wanted to study, that he could make his own choices and do things that interested him. He would have the chance to distinguish himself because of the way he thought—instead of his handsome looks.
So he sucked it up and took the exams.
They weren't that hard for him, really. Looking around at the other blokes and birds his age he wondered why they all had such furrowed brows and stressed looks on their faces. The problems were interesting, they made him think and actually do something useful. The exams were like mental gymnastics for Greg and instead of straining something he felt like he was making himself more flexible and agile.
Maybe you were right, he wrote to Mycroft. That I don't belong here and that I'm actually clever. I look at the other students and how they're struggling and I think, why? These things aren't that hard. Can't they see the answers? I don't see anyone else doing that here. But at Uni I wouldn't be alone, would I? There would be other people who actually want to learn?
Greg was on top of the world. He had a bondmate who wasn't completely horrible—in fact, he wasn't horrible at all. He had a friend who supported him and urged him to do things that were good for him. He had someone he could write to and tell what he honestly thought about things without repercussions. He had Mycroft, the boy who had taken Greg's first bumbling letter seriously and had treated him like someone who mattered. Ever step forward Greg took brought him closer to the younger boy who had been his other half for years. His A-levels, leaving school, starting Uni...They brought him closer the to brilliant boy who was going places in the world and he was going to support that person. He was going to be the boy—the man who Mycroft could turn to at any moment and trust to keep his secrets and tell him when he was going wrong.
Two years was a long time to take exams in order to go to University, but he trusted Mycroft. His bondmate thought he could make it, so it must be true. The pay out would be worth it, Greg thought. So he studied harder than he ever had and even began accumulating applications to various Unis in different places. He felt attracted to London most of all. Mycroft was as well. It was one of the many things they had in common. They wanted to live in the great city and be among people. Among the thick of things. Greg even started deciding what sort of courses he would be interested in.
Things were good.
Until Greg received Mycroft's final letter.
After that there wasn't really a point to doing anything anymore.
Against his teacher's protests he left school many months before the end of his exams and merely told his father, "I don't think I'm cut out for more school."
His mum was skeptical, but his da only clapped him on the shoulder and said, "Georgie, if you want to join the family business that would make me a very happy man."
Greg thought perhaps that Mycroft had a point in telling him that Greg had no business trying to be a builder like his father. Of course, he wasn't willing to admit this to himself until after leaving school and going straight into the family business, but that's just how it went. It came to him suddenly, as well.
After Mycroft's sudden and precipitous letter, their bond had stretched tight between them and the other boy had pretty much dropped off the face of the planet. If Greg hadn't been connected to Mycroft, he might've thought he was dead. Greg's family took it for granted that they were no longer in contact, of course, and mostly felt relieved that the old manor on the hill had been closed up and the lights no longer shined down on them.
Greg suspected that Mrs. Holmes had almost entirely dismissed him from her mind, but he knew that Mr. Holmes had not. He made that quite clear with the men in the suits who occasionally showed up skulking around his father's building sites. They weren't really all that inconspicuous. Perhaps to a man like Greg's father, but not to Greg.
Mycroft had called him clever.
Greg shook his head then leaned his forehead against the cool glass of the rattling van as his father drove down the lane.
"All right, Georgie?"
"Don't call me that," Greg muttered.
"I'm fine," he replied sullenly.
His brothers James and Tristan had started out like this as well. They had left school and began riding to building sites in their da's old beat-up blue van at the crack of dawn. But, as his da said, they were men now (and had been for several years) and were now capable of driving themselves. James, in fact, had moved out years ago to start his own family. He had a son who was turning five that year and a daughter on the way. Tristan still lived in his room down the hall, but Greg suspected that was mostly because their mum was in ill health.
As the sun began to split the horizon, Greg sat and thought that he didn't know what he wanted to do anymore. Mycroft had gotten his hopes up about going to Uni, but with him gone Greg didn't see the point.
He was still there, of course. Greg knew that. He couldn't forget what with his heartstrings being tugged every time Mycroft thought of him. Sometimes it felt warm like Mycroft thought of Greg fondly. Sometimes it felt like a heavy weight that Greg couldn't quite place. He hoped that it was grief, but it could have easily been something like the weight of burden—it certainly seemed as thought that was why Mycroft had shoved Greg away. That he had dropped Greg because he was nothing more than something holding him back.
Other times he felt Mycroft solidly across the bond because he was in trouble and he was being urged to go rescue the boy. He never went, of course, and felt guilty every time he firmly ignored the mental summons.
The van bounced through a rut and Greg's head thumped against the window pane. The impact sent stars blazing behind his closed eyelids but he made not a sound. Nothing hurt worse than what Mycroft had written.
I think it's time to terminate our correspondence, Mycroft had written coldly. I am ascending into an important place in the government and a village boy has no place with a government official.
What Mycroft said was perfectly true, of course. Greg had said something to that effect years ago when Mr. Holmes had first presumed to capture Greg as a prize for his son. He had thought something similar throughout the six years of writing the other boy, and had even mentioned it once or twice to Mycroft himself. Each time the subject had been changed, but Greg had forever remembered the elephant looming in the corner of the room waiting to stomp on him.
Didn't make it hurt any less when Mycroft had finally cut ties with him.
Greg lifted his head and mechanically reached for the seat belt. He vaguely wondered when his da had stopped the van, but it was too early for most brain functions. That was his excuse, anyway, but if he was honest with himself he was mostly just poking at the sore wound Mycroft had left when he had written his callous letter.
I would appreciate if you didn't write me ever again, Mycroft had continued. It would only be a bother to have to deal with disposing of your letters.
Being connected heart and soul to Mycroft didn't make it hurt any less either.
In the silence of the van with only the ticking of the engine in the background and the distant crowing of a cock, Greg and his da sat in the dim light of the cresting dawn and puffed clouds of steam into the air.
"Whatever happened to that boy?" his da asked. "That one you wrote to?" he continued hesitantly.
"We stopped writing," Greg replied curtly, willing himself to leave the van, to let go of the seat belt, to do anything.
"Is your promise to him finished, then?" his da asked hopefully.
Greg didn't answer.
His da sighed. "Well, let's get on, then. Time to work."
Every day was exactly the same. Greg was woken by his da before the sun came up, they ate with his brother by the bright light of the kitchen before mum had woken, then they left for the building site of the day. They worked until late afternoon, breaking only for a packed lunch from home, then they went home, went to bed, woke up in the morning and did it all over again.
The repetitiveness was something Greg thought he had been looking for—some sort of stability in his life. Having Mycroft leave him but not leave him had felt like the Earth cracking and shifting sideways on him. He thought working with his da would give him level ground to stand on.
All it did, however, was give him a surly temper, calluses on his hands, and let his brain rot with disuse. He could design these buildings, he thought, but not without a degree. No one, no matter how clever they were, could just waltz around with pen and paper presuming to draw up buildings to build without a silly little piece of paper proclaiming his capability from a University of some sort. He hadn't even finished his A-levels. To every other stuck-up and pretentious pillock with a degree Greg was nothing but a village boy who just barely knew the right end of a hammer and probably couldn't learn anything else.
He took out his anger on the job. He pounded things, threw them around, shouted when he jammed or stubbed something, and waved his hands wildly throughout the air whenever he lost his patience. He didn't ever remember being so angry before, but he felt plain old resentful.
He had promised everything to Mycroft. Everything that he was belonged to the other boy. His heart, his soul, his life. He hadn't wanted to go to Uni but since Mycroft had convinced him it was the right thing to do, that he was clever enough to go and learn something, he had gotten his hopes up. He had thought, yeah, I'm smart. Mycroft thinks I'm clever. I can get a degree and maybe we can work together. Maybe I can be good enough for him.
I will say that I enjoyed our letters, but they were a child's past time and not meant for an adult's world. You are 18 and therefore considered an adult and I am now working in the adult's world. It's time for us to leave our youthful hobbies behind.
Greg wasn't an adult. He certainly didn't feel like one. He felt like an angry and cranky three year old who was upset his father had left and was raging against everyone in retaliation. Mycroft was two years younger than he, it stung that someone two years younger than he had written him such a letter. It hurt even worse that it was Mycroft—his only friend and best companion. His soul mate.
Despite Mycroft writing that Greg was an adult, he got the feeling that wasn't what the other boy meant at all. Toughen up, the letter read in between the lines. I've moved on and so should you.
Greg couldn't move on. He never could. Mycroft was a part of him. Mycroft could go wherever he liked, do whatever he wanted—leave Greg behind and forget about him. But Greg could never forget about the boy on the other end of the rope cinched tight around his soul. He was always there and always would be.
Greg felt tremendously sad that he had started to gain such hopes for the bond between them. He thought he had been the perfect confidant, the perfect friend and supporter. He thought that Mycroft valued him enough that he would keep him forever—at least for letter writing. He could live without meeting Mycroft. He could live forever without meeting the boy he had accidentally fallen in love with as long as he would keep writing.
Farewell, Mycroft had ended the letter with. He had not signed his name.
The hammer came smashing down on Greg's hand and he howled. His da had to take him to hospital. He got three stitches. He stayed home with his mum while it healed.
Three weeks later she died of a heart attack.
Greg loved his mum dearly. She had been the woman who had sang him to sleep when he was a boy. She hadn't called him Georgie like his da had—like he still did. She had stroked his hair when he was sick and kissed him on the forehead before he left for school and later for work. Until she had gotten too sick to wake up that early. Then she had done the same after work when he returned. Until she could no longer get up from her chair to greet him, until she didn't even have the strength leave her bed. Until her heart finally gave up and she didn't wake up at all.
Greg was 18 when his mum died. He had been out of school nearly six months and the calluses on his hands were no longer peppered with blisters. His arms were stronger than he had ever remembered them being and he almost didn't remember playing footy in school, couldn't remember the last time he had kicked around a ball. Couldn't remember speaking with his former classmates. His anger had been his only constant companion since Mycroft had severed their correspondence.
It was a shock when it simply went out like a dampened fire when his mum died.
He felt...empty. Nothing was important anymore. Not the job with his father, not the beautiful garden in front of their cottage, not the rope tightly wound around his heart connecting him to the infuriating boy who had tossed him aside like day-old rubbish. He felt muffled from the world. Everything was grey and sad and dreary and he wanted to get away. He wanted to get away from the reminders of all the places he had read Mycroft's letters (his room, the garden, the kitchen, the settee). He wanted to get away from the manor on the hill that always seemed to be looking down on him. He wanted to get away from the men in the suits who drifted around the funeral as if keeping an eye on Greg. He wanted to get away from Mr. Holmes himself showing up and shaking Greg's hand in condolence.
"You had a very wonderful mother," was what he said.
Greg wanted to punch him, but Mr. Holmes tightened his grip on Greg's hand and wouldn't let him pull away.
His brothers had moved away into the crowd to accept condolences from friends of the family, but Greg was aware of them moving back towards him, aware that something was wrong.
"I know you don't want charity, but that money is yours and always has been. Don't just let it sit there and rot. Do something with it. Go learn something. Mycroft would appreciate it if you went back to school..."
"Don’t assume anything about Mycroft," Greg snarled as he wrenched his hand away. "I did and look where it got me!"
Funeral goers started to look at them as Greg glared at Mr. Holmes and felt as though there was a tiger clawing at his chest. A hand landed on his shoulder. It was Tristan. James stood at his other shoulder and they all faced Mr. Holmes together. Greg knew he could stay silent and they would lead him away. They were family. They were sons of the seventh son and they would support him in anything. But the anger that had been festering in him hadn't gone entirely out with his mother's death—one last spark was left and it burned brightly when Greg opened his mouth.
"Mycroft is gone, my mum's gone—there's nothing left! Money can't solve it. Money can't solve anything! He's gone but I can still feel him and he wants nothing to do with me and my mum died before I could tell her how much I loved her! Do you have any idea how that feels?"
From across the stunned crowd, Greg could see his da's stunned and pale face.
Feel, his father's lips said soundlessly.
Greg stood stock still as his anger was swept away by the revelation on his da's face.
He knew. He knew that Greg had tied himself to Mycroft. He knew.
"I don't need your bleeding money," Greg said as he looked back at Mr. Holmes. "I don't need you and your family, and I don't need Mycroft. I don't."
Mr. Holmes looked at him with pity and said, "Of course you do."
Those were the last words Greg spoke to Mycroft's father. They were the last words his own da heard from him as well. Greg didn't want to be around to see his da's pinched and disapproving face. He didn't want his da to ask what he was thinking when he decided (at age 12!) to tie himself to a boy two years younger than he. He didn't want his da to point out that he had never met the boy and couldn't possibly know his character. He didn't want his da's face to tell him that he thought Greg had wasted everything by throwing his gift at a perfectly spoiled stranger who didn't know what miraculous thing he had received.
He especially didn't want to see his da's face when he admitted that he had never told Mycroft, that the other boy didn't know and never would. Greg would live with the ache in his heart for the rest of his life despite Mycroft being dead.
And the part that he especially didn't want his da to know?
That he didn't regret one single second.
He left. Greg left the funeral and left his village. He shrugged off his brother's support and fled for their cottage. Taking the stairs two at a time he pounded to his room and packed some clothes and things into a rucksack before simply taking off. He didn't have a license or a car or much of anything. He didn't care. But—despite his shouting match with Mr. Holmes—he stopped at a bank and withdrew as much money as possible from that stupid account Mr. Holmes had left him and simply walked out of town. Along the dual carriageway he caught a ride with a girl in a tiny car who played music that Greg hated but he didn't care.
He was never going back.
London was much different than any other place Greg had ever been. Not that he had been to many places. He had gone to school in his village, not anywhere nice, and the jobs with his father had never taken him farther than an hour or two away so he had never really been to an actual city before. He thought London was wonderful and horrid at the very same time. It was like America—the land of opportunities. Only, with opportunities come the opposite. He quickly learned that keeping cash openly on him was like asking for trouble so he ended up putting the sewing skills his mum had tried to teach him to good use by making extra hems to hide some notes in. He found a flatshare with a bunch of layabout acne splotched boys and ended up buying a padlock for his door within a week once he came home to find his doorknob busted and his things rifled through.
The city smelled. In some places it smelled good but in most places it smelled bad. He could tell why it had once been called the Great Cesspool and he hoped he never had opportunity to fall in the Thames. He thought, perhaps, that he would never recover. The food, on the other hand, was like nothing he had ever experienced before. Indian food, Chinese food, Japanese food...He could find anything he wanted and it always smelled great.
He found a job at a little hole in the wall restaurant that didn't care that his only experience was banging nails into wood and building things and got set to work dishwashing. He didn't care that his calluses sloughed off and his hands nearly went soft—he got free food for his troubles and he felt like food could be the one panacea for his broken heart that he had never tried.
He lived like that in the city for two years.
He didn't call home, he didn't write, he didn't tell anyone where he was, he didn't see men in suits or posh cars looking for him—he was alone and he liked it that way. He liked his grotty flat. He liked his underpaying job. He liked that he found a nice little bank to put his money in under a name he got from a fake i.d. he bought on the streets.
Terry Brooks, it said. But he didn't care what it said. No one called him that, he just used it whenever he had to sign up for things. He didn't want anyone to track him down. He knew Mycroft could, if he wanted, but he didn't think he would. He knew that Mr. Holmes probably wanted to and didn't want to make it any easier for him so he made sure he was off the books at his job and didn't sign anything for his flatshare and used the fake i.d. for the bank and he felt safe. He felt happy. He felt like he was sort of accomplishing something.
He shoved away the thought that this was the place he and Mycroft had always resolved to meet. That this was the city they had both been drawn to. Mycroft was gone. Greg knew that the other boy—he was 18, so he must now be a man—wasn't even in the country anymore. The bond was so thin and stretched that some days he thought he would extend to brittleness and simply snap. He couldn't feel anything in particular from Mycroft anymore. He was simply this thing tied around his heart that made him ache and sob into his pillow at night.
Birds asked him out. He always said no. He didn't see the point. He couldn't give any of his self to anyone other than Mycroft. All that he was he had promised to the other man years ago and he had nothing left. Blokes heard he wasn't interested in women and began to ask him too—just a shag, they reassured him. He turned them down as well. He was empty. Everything was pointless.
He worked, he slept, he worked some more. Occasionally he went to the pub and watched some footy on the telly, but it didn't capture his imagination as much as it had when he was a boy. As the pub exploded with noise when the ref raised a red card he drained his pint and wondered when the game had lost the magic.
He did a lot of that, he found. He left school, he left home, he left his job building things. He was going to leave his job as a dishwasher, too. He couldn't stand his flatmates—he couldn't stand hearing the people they brought home, the fun they had in front of the telly and the invitations they gave him to join them. Even if it was a small and dank place he was going to find himself a flat of his own.
London was never truly dark at night. There were streetlamps everywhere and glowing signs when there weren't. Cars drove up and down every street with their different-colored headlamps and windows glowed with warm lights designed to keep the chill night away.
As Greg walked along the streets he thought that he had never pictured himself being in London alone. He had always thought he would be here with Mycroft—a man he had vaguely supposed would be tall and possessing of ginger hair—and that they would walk the streets together. Mycroft would study people and speak of what he saw and Greg would talk of school and what he was learning and they would watch footy together.
Greg had thought that they would come to London and that he would finally be able to tell Mycroft his secret, that he would finally be able to reveal that they were tied together. That Greg would never leave him.
London was a lonely place. His shoes clopped on the pavement and echoed in the air amidst the clamor of black cabs and music from a club a street over. He wore scruffy jeans and a thin jacket even though he could afford more. He rarely went shopping and hadn't many things. What was the point? Objects didn't equal happiness. Neither did money, as he had told Mr. Holmes. He had enough money in his bank account and coming in from his scummy job that he had been able to get another flat for months. He just hadn't bothered. His shoes were scuffed and he was still outgrowing his things.
He was already taller than his father, he thought, but he wasn't sure as he hadn't been back home since he had left.
A breeze swung across the street and whipped across his face, ruffling his hair and causing him to turn away from it to shelter his eyes. As he did, a lit storefront caught his eye.
It wasn't open. It was much too late for that. He wasn't certain how late it was exactly as he didn't have a watch, but it was dark and the club was in full swing so it wasn't exactly normal business hours. The brightly lit window attracted him into walking closer and peering inside.
It was a jewellery store.
Most of the display contained gaudy and glittering (fake) wedding rings for brides. He knew they were fake, because why would they put valuable commodities in a window where anyone could smash the glass and steal them? The store had an alarm system, he supposed, but an alarm wouldn't stop someone from smashing and grabbing and running like hell. Anything in the window had to be fake and simply for display.
They all glittered in the display lights in a way calculated to attract women into forcing their men to buy something for them. They were flashy and caught the eye.
Except for some of the men's rings. There were some that were jewel encrusted, of course, but there were a few that were not. Including a plain gold band that was nestled in a far corner.
Greg clenched his hands in his warm coat pockets for a moment before withdrawing them and cupping them around his face so that he could see through the window's glare into the display to peer at the ring that had caught his eye. It had no diamonds, no gems, no curlie-cues or engravings or stamps of something or other. It was simply a wide and rather flat band that sat plainly in the corner and quietly announced to the world that it was nothing special, really.
Greg wanted it.
But first he dropped his hands and stepped away from the window to think about that impulse. Did he have enough money to afford it? Probably. Was there a reason that he wanted it? He wasn't sure. He puzzled over it for a few moments, aware that he was catching the attention of a few late-night passers by and nodded decisively to himself.
He wasn't ready to give up entirely, he decided. It might've been the pints that he had drank, or it might have been youthful rashness. But he decided in the moment that he saw the ring and wanted it that he was going to buy it, he was going to wear it and he was going to wait for Mycroft. There was going to be no more moping about feeling sorry about himself and pretending that he was doing something useful. He was going to actually do something useful and move on with life.
Move on with life, Greg thought wryly. That's exactly what Mycroft told me to do.
"Oi," someone called out. "What're you doing there?"
Greg turned around and looked at the police man approaching him. He smiled. "Just looking," he said mildly.
The man had on the dark uniform and tool belt that was customary with officers of the law and had a suspicious squint about his eyes that implied he thought Greg was lying. "Well, don't just stand about," the man said gruffly. "Looks suspicious."
"All right," Lestrade agreed. He took one last look at the ring and resolved to come back for it in the morning. "Good night," he said with a wave as he walked away.
He felt the police man's eyes on him all the way down the block and wondered what it would take to get into the academy to have his job.
He began to whistle as he walked home.
He had the ring engraved on the inside. When he wrote what he wanted on the slip and pushed it across the counter to the jewellerer the man raised his eyebrows and Greg shrugged. "It's a gift," was all he said.
But it wasn't. The ring was purely selfish—he could admit that. It fit his ring finger perfectly and the wide flat band looked good against his skin. It looked like it belonged there, like he belonged to someone. He didn't have to tell anyone who he belonged to, but he would know that it said "Mycroft Holmes" in joined-up writing on the inside of the band. Mycroft's name rested against his skin and relaxed something inside of him that had been wound as tight as a spring since Mycroft had left.
The money he had left he used to pay the deposit on a new flat of his own. He closed his bank account and opened one under his real name. If Mycroft wanted to find him, he would, and if he didn't he didn't. He got a new job at a better restaurant waiting tables and saved up all of his tips in order to pay rent and keep himself from starving. But although his job was good and he was doing better—he didn't feel as though he was drifting through everything with his eyes closed—he knew that he was meant for more.
So he applied to be a constable with the Metropolitan Police.
He wasn't sure if he wanted to walk around London shooing people off for loitering for the rest of his life, but it wasn't like he was doing anything else. It couldn't hurt, he thought.
He made it through training and was put on the streets. He walked those for a while, then decided he would prefer to specialize in criminal investigation and was transferred to the Specialist Crime Division. He almost didn't think of himself as Greg anymore. His supervisors always said "Constable Lestrade," then later "Sergeant Lestrade," and when he was qualified as a plains clothes detective it was "Detective Inspector Lestrade." He couldn't remember when he had started introducing himself as such but it was so common to simply offer his last name that he quit saying his first altogether.
Greg was reserved for Mycroft, anyways.
After a while he removed the ring from his finger and put it on a chain around his neck. He wanted it near him always, but he didn't want to risk losing it while chasing after a suspect. He slept with it on and wore it everywhere, but took it off periodically to polish the gold back to a fine shine. When he came home from a stressful day's work he would loosen his tie, unbutton his collar, and finger the inside of the ring as though rubbing over Mycroft's name would make him appear like a genie.
After his change of heart about life he went home to visit his da, of course. He felt rather like a beaten dog with his tail in between his legs but his family didn't treat him that way. They welcomed him back gladly with shoulder pats and wondrous glances at his new height and build.
"You're not my little Georgie anymore, are you?" his da asked.
"No," Greg replied in his deepened voice. "I'm not."
He visited when he had the time away from the job—which wasn't often. But his da welcomed every visit as it was just he and Tristan in the cottage. His da's hair went silver and he retired from building. James and Tristan took it over. Lestrade was glad that the business wasn't going to be left to rot because he had hared off to the city, but he wasn't overly worried about it. He loved his job.
Lestrade investigated Homicide and Serious Crime and felt like he was finally putting his skills to good use. He was forced to use his brains every day on the job and he had Donovan to do his paperwork for him (when he could get away with it).
Until he met Sherlock Holmes, of course.
Their meeting wasn't exactly fortuitous. In fact, Sherlock was smack dab in the middle of an investigation Lestrade was leading and happened to be their main suspect.
"The murder weapon wasn't an axe, you idiots!" he shouted as Donovan slapped handcuffs on his wrists.
"Oh, really," she retorted. "And how would you know that?"
"Because it's obvious! You're letting the murderer get away while you waste your time with me!"
Lestrade could hear Donovan cinch the cuffs a notch tighter as he stepped closer to see what the hubbub was about.
"Right," she said dubiously. "How about you just come with us back to the met and when you make your statement you can tell us all about how you killed that poor girl."
"Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong! I didn't kill her, a white male with size ten and a half shoes and blond hair did!"
The man Donovan had a hold of by the cuffs was a wild looking one, Lestrade noticed as he looked on. He had crazy black curls that hung limply around his face—drenched in sweat and rain from the miserable London fog descending upon them, no doubt, and blown out blue eyes. A druggie, obviously.
"I'm taking you in anyways," Donovan says. "You're the only suspect we've got."
They had received a report three days before that a young woman had been missing for two days and hadn't returned to her flat or her job. They had found out that her boyfriend had been missing as well and that he had been caught up in a local gang that sold drugs in this area. When they found her body, however, they hadn't found her boyfriend.
"I'm not a suspect!" the crazy man bellowed. "I was investigating the crime scene!"
What Donovan wasn't stopping to consider, Lestrade realized, was that the man she had in her hands had perfectly described the victim's boyfriend.
"Hold on," Lestrade drawled. "You say you were investigating?" He raised an eyebrow. "And what possessed you to do that?"
Behind the man and Donovan their response car's lights were flashing. In the distance Lestrade could hear the siren on the van coming to pick up their suspect and the ambulance for the body. Soon the crime scene would be swarming with constables and forensic scientists. For the moment, it was only himself, his sergeant, and the strung out man they had found looking at the dead woman's shirt collar.
"I smelt the body," the man admitted. "From the next room over."
"Ah," Lestrade said. "And what were you doing in the house?" House was a relative term, he thought. It was actually a place that ought to have been condemned years ago and hadn't a proper front door at all. It was a popular place for squatters—including blokes like the one in front of him who had obviously been up to no good.
"It was a bad batch," the man admitted with scowl. "One minute I was at home on Montague Street, the next I was passed out on the floor in this dump."
It was plausible, Lestrade had to admit.
"All right," Lestrade said slowly. "You have two minutes to tell me everything you noticed about that room and the woman you found or else I'll arrest you for taking illegal substances and not reporting a serious crime."
Lestrade wasn't sure how he did it, but the man straightened up as though he hadn't any cuffs on at all and pronounced, "She wasn't abducted, no matter what you think. She went along with the man willingly. At least a week ago. She had the chance to pack some clothes, the case is up with the body. I took the liberty of looking through it and it was packed properly—and not in the way a man would have done it. Her clothing was in good shape and there was no sign of a struggle. Whoever it was she went with was someone she trusted. I would say brother, but chances are very low that a woman with black hair was related to a man with blond."
"And how do you get to him being blond?" Donovan accused.
The man rolled his eyes in a violent way that made Lestrade wonder if one day they might not roll straight out of his head.
"His hair was on her shirt collar. Obviously not hers. Too coarse to be a cat's and not coarse enough to be a dog's. Too short to be a woman's so a man's. The shoe prints in the room corroborate that."
"There are prints?" Lestrade interrupted.
The man nodded. "He left mud behind that I think you'll find will match the dirt on her shoes. They had been traveling together. But as it was the met that was looking for her, it wasn't for pleasure. I'd assume that he was caught up in something that went wrong and he begged her to come with him, but she decided she didn't want to run anymore so he killed her. Didn't trust her not to turn him in."
Lestrade simply looked at the man for a long moment then said quietly, "if we uncuff you, will you run?"
"No," the man said shortly. "I want to make sure you don't mess this up."
"Fine. Donovan? Release him."
"Let him go," he reasserted. "Right now, I mean it, Sergeant Donovan."
"No need," the man said with a wild grin. The cuffs rattled and a moment later the man had his hands free and in front of him. "You need to teach her not to keep a spare key in reach of a pickpocket. Sherlock Holmes," he said.
Lestrade jolted for a moment, then said gruffly, "Detective Inspector Lestrade. You better not make me regret this."
When all was said and done, Sherlock had been correct. The boyfriend had been ferrying drugs for his gang and had been pocketing money on the side for making sure some of the goods had gone astray. When he had been discovered he had hid with his girlfriend. She had discovered it wasn't as glamorous as she had thought it was and had begged to go home. The boyfriend had panicked and killed her with a hatchet (Donovan held that was a form of an axe, Sherlock disagreed). He confessed to everything once they caught him and took him into interrogation.
As Lestrade escorted Sherlock out of the building the younger man said, "the yard always messes things up."
"So you say," Lestrade said noncommittally."
"I could consult," Sherlock said, as though he were making the offer offhand. Lestrade suspected that if Sherlock hadn't wanted to be caught he never would have been in the room with that body at all. The whole thing had either been a wild chance, or something he had planned to the letter.
It was morning again and Lestrade couldn't remember the last time he had slept, but he wasn't stupid. "Not while you're taking drugs," he asserted.
"They help me think!" Sherlock protested.
"They don't," Lestrade replied. "They make you stupid. What if I hadn't been there? Any other Inspector would have taken you in and you would have been convicted for that poor girl's murder."
"You're just more clever than most," Sherlock said in a high and hopeful voice.
"And flattery won't get you anywhere." Lestrade gazed out into the street and thought a moment, aware of Sherlock buzzing impatiently at his side. "Get clean and I'll think about it."
Sherlock nodded sharply and went to find a cab.
Lestrade stood there, then spoke, "You might as well either leave or come where I can see you. I know you're there."
A man steps from around the corner in a three piece suit that had once been cleanly pressed but now looked rather wrinkled and slept in. A briefcase hung limply from the man's fingers and his ginger hair was swept to the side—like he hadn't seen a mirror in days.
"Pardon me," the man said in a plummy voice. "But I've been out of the country and only just got back. Dear Sherlock always gets into trouble without me."
"Are you his keeper?" Lestrade asked dubiously, looking the man up and down. The man was posh, there was no doubt about that. The only reason why he was in such shape was because of travel, which supported the man's comment about only just returning to the country.
"I haven't been," the man admitted with a guilty frown. "I've been away for years, I confess, and goodness knows what he's been up to while I have. But from now on I'll make sure he doesn't bother you Detective..."
Lestrade raised both eyebrows and said, "Detective Inspector G. Lestrade." He wasn't certain why he added his first initial, but it felt right. For the first time in years his bond to Mycroft thrummed with something he couldn't quite put his finger on but he was actually too distracted by the other man to pay it much attention.
"D.I. Lestrade," the man pronounced carefully. "Thank you for getting Sherlock out of trouble."
Lestrade waved his thanks away. "It wasn't any trouble," he said, "He's a prat, but he's clever. Don't bother keeping him away, if he gets cleaned up I'll happily let him solve things for me."
It was the other man's turn to raise his eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
"Sherlock's smart," Lestrade said, "very clever. And clever people get bored. Bored people do stupid things and Sherlock seems the sort of clever person who would do very stupid things when bored. Why not give him something to do?"
The other man smiled a brittle smile. "Very well, Detective." He bobbed his head. "Did he say where he was living?"
"Montague Street," Lestrade said without censure, wondering why he answered so readily. "Who did you say you were again?"
The man began to walk away and said, "I didn't."
Very shortly after meeting Sherlock, Lestrade realized that Mycroft had returned to Britain. In fact, if he was to belief the short and fat bond tugging at him insistently, Mycroft was in London. The thought of that made his heart leap eagerly, but it settled just as quickly.
Just because Mycroft was back didn't mean he would want anything to do with Lestrade. In fact, what with the decisive letter he had sent so many years before, he had probably put Lestrade out of his mind entirely. Lestrade had a good job, a busy life, a family—Tristan had recently married and had a baby on the way, James had four children, one of whom was attending University. There was no need for him to upset everything he had worked for to throw himself at a man who was most likely very different from the boy he had gotten to know so intimately.
So he ignored the bond's call and went on with life. If Mycroft was going to find him, he would.
Lestrade's announcement that Sherlock was a prat turned out to be an accurate one, but he was also correct in calling him a clever prat. He didn't earn Lestrade any promotions, but he kept him solidly in the place he wanted to be. That was perfectly fine with him. Sherlock was like a wild cannon. No matter how you aimed, the kick always shot the ball off in the wrong direction and after that it ricocheted off anything and everything in its path. He was manic, even off the drugs, and half the time, sometimes more, Lestrade had no idea what the other man was talking about.
Then John came around.
John was like a housewife, Lestrade thought uncharitably. He followed Sherlock around and thought the moon and the sun set on the consulting detective and that he could do no wrong.
Lestrade kept that thought for approximately one night after meeting John. He shot a man for Sherlock. He had known Sherlock for barely 24 hours and had shot a man to protect him. Lestrade wasn't stupid—he knew John was the one to do it (and he didn't mind, truly), but he couldn't believe that such a quiet and unassuming man who wore knit jumpers of all things was actually capable of shooting people and keeping up with Sherlock
Whatever John was—soldier, housewife, sycophant—he very nearly kept Sherlock in line. With him around, the consulting detective actually condescended to explain the facts he had deduced on the scene of a crime. He kept Sherlock from running off without back-up (even if the only back-up Sherlock usually had was John, it was still better than Sherlock haring off alone), and fed him up to keep him from collapsing and being sent to hospital.
Not only that, but John was a nice bloke. He liked footy, he liked going to the pub, and he even occasionally liked going with Lestrade to the pub to watch footy on the telly. He didn't expect anything out of the detective inspector and was quite willing to offer no-strings-attached companionship—when he wasn't caught up with Sherlock.
John was his friend, he supposed, and he really appreciated that.
"You with anyone?" John asked once when they were sitting close enough together at a crowded bar that their elbows were brushing.
"It's complicated," Lestrade replied gruffly.
"I only ask," John continued, "because you have a ring on that chain around your neck, don't you?"
Lestrade flushed and looked down at his pint. His tie was stuffed in his pocket and he had thought he hadn't unbuttoned his shirt enough to show the ring, but obviously living with Sherlock honed a bloke's senses.
"Yeah," he answered slowly, sipping more of his pint.
"Is it a man? Cuz that's fine," John said. "It's all fine."
Lestrade laughed. "You didn't use that line on Sherlock, did you?"
John smiled ruefully and Lestrade laughed harder.
"And yeah," Lestrade said, feeling a little dangerous as he polished off his third pint for the night. "It's a man, sort of. Very complicated."
John nodded. "Here's to complicated men," he announced, and then they clashed glasses.
A month after that Lestrade was involved in a very dangerous situation that involved Sherlock (didn't they all), a hostage situation, and a bomb. Not necessarily in that order. What had actually happened was that in various places across the city small bombs had been placed and detonated. Although they were small, they had gone off in places where the maximum amount of damage would occur. If by damage you meant death. Lestrade was desperate to find the man and stop him before he killed anymore people so he called Sherlock. Of course, in typical Sherlockian fashion, the consulting detective and John took off in some other direction and left Lestrade alone. Somehow, he ended up locked inside a bank with the crazy bomber and a bunch of civilians and no back-up to help him.
"Look mate," Lestrade said in a way he hoped was consolatory. "I'm a police officer, and I think you need some help." He kept his hands in the air and his knees firmly on the floor while trying to remember what they had said in training about hostage situations. Look him in the eye, he reminded himself. Don't look at the others and draw his attention to them. If he panics he'll hit that trigger in his hand and blow us all up.
"Don't m-mo-move!" the man stuttered. "I'll blow you up, I will!"
"I won't move," Lestrade assured him, glad his hands weren't shaking. "Just calm down, all right?"
"I won't calm down!" he shrieked.
"This is stupid!" another man announced.
Lestrade looked over in time to see the man stand.
"Just let us out of here," he said, one of his hands drifting to his pocket.
"Get down on your knees!" the bomber shouted. "Right fucking now!'
"Listen to him," Lestrade warned lowly. "Get back down."
"No! You're just a copper," the man said. "I can leave if I want to."
He started to pull something out of his pocket but before the bomber could react, Lestrade lunged at the man. He didn't want them all to blow up because the idiot shot at the detonator.
Unfortunately, what he actually had in his hand was a knife and when Lestrade tackled him he shoved it into the detective inspector's gut.
"Lestrade!" he heard shouted.
"Nobody move! Police!"
"Lestrade!" he heard closer. "Lestrade?" Broad hands turned him over and Lestrade could see John's worried face above him. "Don't worry, mate," John said, his mouth pinched in a frown that didn't mean anything good as he pressed down on the bloody wound with his hands. "We'll get you to hospital."
Everything slid away.
When he woke, he didn't hurt at first. He didn't feel pain, he felt sorrow. It was an odd feeling and he couldn't place it. What do I have to feel sad about? he asked himself. Have I forgotten something?
"Greg," he heard.
That's weird, he thought he heard someone say his first name. He couldn't remember the last person who had called him that. One of his brothers, perhaps. Or his father. They weren't in the city though, so he must have been hearing things.
"Greg," the other man said again. "Greg."
Lestrade sighed; the mystery could wait until another time.
When he woke the second time, it was to a hissed conversation in the hall. "What do you mean, you didn't know? How could you not know?" That was John, he thought.
"He never speaks of his personal life, John," that was Sherlock, "you know that."
"You don't need someone to tell you to know something!"
"John," Sherlock said, frustrated, "I can't know everything. How was I supposed to know this?"
"You've never seen the ring? It's right there on the ring, wouldn't you know something about your own brother?"
"I assure you," Sherlock said drolly, "If my brother was in a romantic relationship with Lestrade, I would know. This is not what it appears."
Brother, Lestrade thought, then he opened his eyes.
The man who had proclaimed to be Sherlock's keeper was sitting in the visitor's chair next to his bed. He had ginger hair and it was just as mussed as the day he had rushed from the plane to retrieve Sherlock from the New Scotland Yard. He was once again wearing a rumpled suit and appeared to be asleep, his head bent to his chest.
Home his bond insisted.
"Mycroft," Lestrade said hoarsely.
The argument in the hall stopped and Mycroft's head came up.
"Greg," Mycroft murmured.
Lestrade closed his eyes, afraid the other man would see tears pricking at their corners. "You're Sherlock's brother."
"I thought you knew," Mycroft replied softly.
"I don't think I wanted to," Lestrade said.
He opened his eyes, but Mycroft was still there. The bond was singing and the hall was quiet.
"Brother dear, would you and John come in instead of listening at the door?" Mycroft implored.
John stepped through the door frame with a sheepish smile and a chain hanging from his hand. Sherlock came in with a scowl and knit eyebrows.
"Mycroft," he spat.
"Mycroft," John nodded, "Lestrade." He opened his hand. "Would you like this back?"
Lestrade's eyes locked onto the ring John was holding and he nodded. But instead of John approaching and handing it to him, Mycroft stood and took it from John. He plucked it from the doctor's hand and raised it to the light. Lestrade could tell he was seeing the worn bits from where he worried at it and the inscription on the inside and that it was shiny like it was new—he kept fairly good care of it.
"When did you purchase this?" Mycroft asked.
John looked surprised and Sherlock acquired the look of a hound on the scent.
"Oh, I don't know," he said wearily. "About two years after your last letter."
"When you came to London."
"Two years after I came to London, if you want to be specific."
"And when was this?" Sherlock demanded. "You two wrote to each other? What's this? What have you hidden from me, Mycroft?"
"I was twenty when I came to London, Sherlock," Lestrade said tiredly. "Mycroft and I wrote to each other a very long time ago."
John blinked. "You've never met?" he inquired.
Lestrade closed his eyes, aware of how ridiculous it seemed to have a ring engraved with the name of a man he had never met. But a moment later warm fingers lifted his hand and replaced the ring on the finger it belonged on.
"No," Mycroft said softly, "we haven't. Could we discuss this later when Greg isn't recovering?"
Lestrade could hear Sherlock puff up. "If you insist," he said nastily. "But before that, you ought to find out what Lestrade is hiding from you—it appears to be quite important."
With that he flounced out of the room.
Lestrade clenched his hand with the ring into a fist and then released it. Trust Sherlock to point out things he didn't want pointed out.
"I'll visit later, Lestrade," John promised.
"Thank you, John," Lestrade rasped.
He laid there for a minute or two, then he heard the chair scrape across the floor.
"Water?" Mycroft inquired as though asking about the weather.
"Yes, please," Lestrade said.
He opened his eyes, sat up, and accepted the paper cup offered to him. The eyes that watched him closely reminded him of both Sherlock and Mr. Holmes. They were bright and intelligent and missed almost nothing.
"I had thought you had moved on with life," Mycroft observed.
Lestrade laughed bitterly. "Seemed like it, didn't it?" He swallowed the last of the water and handed it back for some more. Mycroft set it on the table next to the pitcher instead.
"You are hiding something," Mycroft said wonderingly. "Whatever could it be?"
Lestrade took a deep breath. Tell him, the bond urged. Don't hide it. Tell him. He let out the breath. "I'm tired," he said instead.
"It must be big," Mycroft commented. "I don't suppose you would have gotten a custom ring for just any boy you wrote to in your youth."
"You were the only one."
Lestrade sighed. "Yes. I only wrote you because your father asked me to."
"Yes," Mycroft said mildly, "you have mentioned."
Lestrade looked away, uncomfortable under the penetrating gaze. Just say it! the bond said.
"My last letter to you was quite devastating to you. You gave up on school, your exams, Uni—even working with your father. You came to London and disappeared into squalor only to reappear in the police force two years later. Around the time you claim to have bought the ring."
"I bought the ring directly before applying," Lestrade confirmed.
"Hm," Mycroft mused.
"It'll sound stupid," Lestrade blurted.
Lestrade took a deep breath before jumping over the figurative cliff. "Did you know that your father studied folk lore? It was quite a hobby for him. To his joy, he discovered that right in the very village he lived in was a seventh son, have you ever heard of one of those?"
"I was aware of my father's interest, yes."
"Did you know that I was that son's son?" He looked back at Mycroft.
"I was aware you lived in the very village I hearkened back to, yes."
"I've got a thing," Lestrade tried. "A thing that's a gift, I suppose," he continued. "Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. When I was a lad it was terrible. Every time I even vaguely promised someone something I was bound to go through with it." Yes, the bond hissed in pleasure. “My word was a binding promise, no matter how trivial it was.” Lestrade let his eyes drift to Mycroft’s face but rather than seeing scorn or disbelief, he only saw polite inquiry. “It was dangerous for me,” he murmured.
“And my father discovered something useful out of your gift,” Mycroft mused.
Lestrade had to blink and look away to hide his instinctual flinch. Useful, Mycroft called it. That didn’t bode too well, he thought. But his ring was heavy on his hand and he fancied he could still feel the warm pressure of Mycroft’s fingers on his so he swallowed his apprehension and continued. “I could have been that way my whole life,” he admitted, “paranoid that I would say something wrong and bind myself to yet another person. But I knew, I knew because my father told me and because well—I knew—that if I found someone, someone I thought I could be with—as a friend, a confidant, as an anything—I could protect myself from ever accidentally making a promise again.”
He didn’t want to look at Mycroft. He wasn’t going to, he couldn’t, but the sterile white walls of the hospital room couldn’t hold his attention so he gradually looked back.
Mycroft was very still. He had the look of something stunned, or perhaps thinking very hard, but Lestrade thought he was mostly surprised. He marveled that Mycroft didn’t look as though he was thinking very hard—merely pondering a light matter—and thought that he and Sherlock were very different in that respect.
Sherlock would have looked as though gears were grinding in his head and creating all sorts of noise and things.
“A permanent promise?” Mycroft asked quietly.
Lestrade looked down at his hands, suddenly feeling vulnerable in his prone position on the hospital bed. The bond between them buzzed with excitement, positive that he was about to reveal to Mycroft the truth.
“What did you promise for your protection?”
Trust the most clever man Lestrade had ever met to get straight to the point.
Lestrade swallowed and murmured hoarsely, “myself.”
If possible, Lestrade felt the room go even more still and quiet than it had been. The only things he could hear were the footsteps and voices of people in the hall and the dull rush of traffic outside on the street. His heart thudded in his chest, his breath rasped, the bond thrummed with happiness and anxiety—and Mycroft was completely silent.
Finally, he asked, “Was it your choice?”
Lestrade swallowed and thought, I can’t tell what he’s thinking, he’s completely closed off. I can’t feel anything through the bond. But I trust…I trust him. He sighed. I trust him.
"I pledge myself," he spoke from his memory "To Mycroft Holmes, a young and honorable boy I will be proud to support for the rest of my life. He will forever have my allegiance and my strength—and in return I accept the gift of security from him. Until the end of time I will be bonded to him and him only for anything he requires of me."
He felt the bond ring with a sound as clear as a bell and after a moment, a deep and profound feeling resonated from Mycroft’s side of the bond. It felt like the sunrise coming over the hills early in the morning when Lestrade was out with his da in the chill air. It felt like when Sherlock figured out a case and lit up so brightly that John was all smug smiles and even Donovan was affected. It felt like hope and joy and trust and love all wrapped up in a package that couldn’t be for Lestrade. It couldn’t be.
Lestrade let his eyes slip shut, but a moment later a large and warm hand fell on both of his own and a thumb caressed his ring.
“I think,” Mycroft said quietly, “That I would also like to have a ring.” He cleared his throat. “To openly declare your importance to me.”
The words fell like balm on the hole that had been in his chest since Mycroft had gone away, and as tears dripped down his cheek the bond said, home.