“Neville St. Clair,” Bradstreet announced, walking into Lestrade’s office without knocking. “Oh. Wow. Did you get the number of the lorry?”
“Late night,” Lestrade growled, putting his hand up to his face. “What’s that, then?”
“Our victim, Neville St. Clair,” Bradstreet repeated, and dumped a file on Lestrade’s desk. “Sal’s got a kid in to interview. Looks like a junkie.”
“Do we think the kid did it?” Lestrade asked, looking over what little information they had: Neville St. Clair, thirty-two years of age, male, white, perfectly healthy but for the sixteen stab wounds to the chest. No living relatives but more money than anyone would need, presumably inherited from deceased family as no job was listed. Noted for giving quite a bit to the arts, though, especially theatre.
“Doubt it.” Bradstreet stuck his hands in his trouser pockets, made a face. “The kid was snooping around his place, looking for him, I imagine. Probably his dealer back in the day.”
“How old is this kid?” Lestrade asked.
“Won’t say. Looks to be in his mid-twenties, but it’s hard to tell.” Bradstreet grinned at him. “Public school kids all look the same to me.”
“What? No.” Lestrade bit down viciously on his pen. “And you left Sally with him? How much trouble are you trying to get me in?”
Bradstreet shrugged, stepping aside as Lestrade got up. “We reckon if you won’t take a holiday, you’ll have to make to do with a suspension.”
“If you want my job, just say so,” Lestrade called back over his shoulder, and had to grin at Bradstreet’s uproarious laugh. He was going to hate losing him, but promotion was beckoning. Hopefully it would hold off until Sally was ready to step up.
Sally met him in the hall. “He’s a right prick, sir,” she warned, “and sick, too. You might want to get a biohazard suit. I’m just off to get a box of tissues for his highness.”
“Got a name yet?” Lestrade asked as she stomped by.
“Freak!” she called back.
Lestrade peered into the room and saw the kid rolling his eyes at the ceiling. “Apparently having an interest makes one a freak. Good to know,” he said, and then coughed. It was a thick, wet sound.
Lestrade flinched. “That sounds awful.” Under the kid’s unnaturally bright gaze, he eased into the room and sat down opposite him at the small table. “How long have you been coughing like that?”
“Please. This is the Yard, not the surgery.” He was in his twenties, Lestrade judged, maybe closer to thirties, but surely not there yet. His face just wasn’t rugged enough, and his eyes not resigned enough. “I didn’t kill him.”
“Who said anything about killing?” Lestrade asked, leaning forward on the table. The kid was back to staring at the ceiling. He was too pale, especially against the black of his coat and the black of his hair, left in longish, untidy curls. They should probably get a doctor in; Lestrade wasn’t entirely sure he’d make it through the interview.
“You’re all thinking it. It’s so loud I can hear it,” the kid accused. “You’re all in Murders, aren’t you? That’s not difficult to figure out. And he was stabbed. Wonderful. I don’t suppose you’d let me see the scene?”
“Are you daft?” Lestrade asked before he could help himself. “Are you trying to incriminate yourself?”
“How?” the kid demanded, sitting up straight. The movement caused him to cough again, hunching up and putting his arm over his mouth. “How would I be incriminating myself?”
“No one told you he was stabbed,” Lestrade said. He was dead certain no one had. It was unthinkable.
“Your constable spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out if I am right- or left-handed, and to gauge my height--difficult when I’m slouched like this, I know.” The kid wiped his mouth delicately with a hand and glared hard at Lestrade. “She wanted to see if I could have made some sort of physical attack. Not a gun; height wouldn’t matter. Not a punch; she wasn’t interested in the state of my hands. Not a bat or other swung instrument; she was concerned with which hand was used. Conclusion: a knife. Stabbing.”
“Still puts you on very thin ice, kid,” Lestrade said, mind whirling a bit. It made sense, explained, but people didn’t think like that. Not so quickly, anyway; not without a great deal of training and practice. “Look, who are you? What’s your name?”
The kid smiled. It didn’t touch his eyes. “Hugh Boone.”
“Really.” Lestrade took out his notebook and wrote it down, because even the lies people told were important. “Well, Mr. Boone--”
The kid started coughing again, and this time Lestrade saw what he was coughing up: a thick, black liquid--no, not black. It was a very dark purple, so dark that it seemed black, but there was just enough light to see that it wasn’t. And it was flecked with some twists, some filaments of silver, bright as stars in the night.
“Fuck,” Lestrade breathed, and immediately it was mucous, phlegmy and yellow, but Lestrade knew what he had seen. He looked up into the kid’s icy glare and said, “You’re Fae.”
The kid’s eyes got wider, and he sat back, tapping his fingers together.
“Mr. St. Clair is Fae?” Lestrade squinted at him. “No. He was in autopsy. He’s human. Why are you looking for him?”
“Were,” the kid corrected, lips curling into a sneer. “Or, rather, was.”
Lestrade shook his head. “Whatever. Why is a Fae--” Oh. Oh Christ. He shut his eyes. “He chose?”
“You’re clever enough if time isn’t a factor,” the kid mused. He looked at his hands and grimaced, then wiped the blood on his coat--and it was blood, purple and silver, and being coughed out. That couldn’t be good.
“What’s happened to you, then?” Lestrade asked, nodding at the wet patch on the coat. “Didn’t think your kind could get hurt. Not for long, anyway.”
“Well, I suppose mental adjustments must take some time for you.” He sat back and fussed with the coat, muffling another cough.
“Why were you looking for him, Mr. Boone?” Lestrade asked wearily. “What was his Family, and for that matter, what’s yours?”
“It doesn’t matter. He can’t help me now--although you could, if you’d let me see the scene,” the kid said again, and gestured at his chest. “I haven’t got a lot of time, so if you wouldn’t mind--”
“Isn’t there anyone you could ask for help? Fae, I mean,” Lestrade amended. “I know a bloke from the Deepened Family; I’m sure--”
“Shut up,” the kid interrupted. His expression was baleful. “They can’t help me, all right? Your St. Clair could have, possibly, if he hadn’t gone and gotten himself murdered. He might still be able to, if you let me see the scene and figure out who killed him.”
“You can do that,” Lestrade said doubtfully.
The kid’s eyes flared with anger. “Of course I can.”
He got Hugh, as he insisted on being called, out of the Yard to head down to the alley where they’d found St. Clair. Hugh had outright refused to use the car, but had agreed to a taxi after Lestrade had asked him if he planned to travel instead. He wasn’t up to using his abilities much, Lestrade could see, and gnawed on his lip.
“The Deepened Family doesn’t have much to do with humans,” Hugh said, almost conversationally, once they were in the cab. “How do you know this ‘bloke’?”
Well, it had been announced, hadn’t it? “Engaged.”
Hugh stared at him. “To whom? What line?”
Lestrade tried to back away from him. The intensity of his stare was really off-putting. “Does it matter?” He had a sudden idea. “Is that your Family?”
“Meandered,” Hugh snapped. “The Whitehall line. Happy?”
“Ecstatic,” Lestrade said dryly. “The Holmes line.”
Hugh’s mouth tightened. “The elder, then. The younger has been seen going around with a member of the Stricken Family. When and how did this happen?”
“How do you mean?” Lestrade asked. It was like being under a laser. He turned and looked out the window, but he could still feel the kid’s stare.
“There’s always gossip when members of a Family go courting.” Hugh sneered as he used the term. “All the gossip about Mycroft Holmes is that he’s far too physically lazy and intellectually superior to find anyone to suit.”
Intellectually superior, Lestrade could see, and it was rather a case of pot calling kettle. But physically lazy? Surely not; not after the dancing. “Gossip is a terrible barometer of truth.”
“It’s far better than people believe,” Hugh fired back. “Who’s your Family? How did you get mixed up with that sluggard?”
“Am I really hearing you insult my fiance?” Lestrade demanded, finally turning to face the kid. It was at that moment the cab stopped, and Hugh was out the door and whirling about impatiently while Lestrade struggled to get at his wallet.
The alley was still cordoned off, and a Constable at the end squinted hard at Hugh while Lestrade bullied their way in. “It’s my scene,” he told her, pulling the tape up and nodding for Hugh to scramble under. “Thanks so much for your cooperation.”
“What a lot of respect they have for you,” Hugh observed quietly, and almost got a kick.
Back in the alley there was still evidence of the crime, though what could be cleaned up had been and photos were just about done, he’d heard. “They’ll be opening this up again tomorrow,” Lestrade told Hugh quietly.
“Dragged back here, fighting,” Hugh muttered, his coat swirling around him as he darted about. “Two individuals, fairly large. Paid well, I assume, for their pains. I knew he wouldn’t have done it himself. Too risky. Turn your back.”
“I’m sorry?” Lestrade said, eyebrows going up.
Hugh glared at him, half-hunched in the alley. “Turn your back, Inspector. This is going to be difficult enough without you in it as well.”
“Look here, kid,” Lestrade said, and was interrupted by Hugh starting to cough, thick and terrible, nearly falling. Lestrade started forward and halted when Hugh held his hand up, still coughing, but sputtering through it.
“Don’t--get out of the space! I can’t--” It was interrupted by more coughing, and more violent gesticulations. Lestrade did, finally, go back to the mouth of the alley and look out, the sounds of coughing fainter, swallowed up by the noise of the street.
A few minutes later, Hugh staggered out. Lestrade caught him by the collar before he could sway drunkenly up to the tape. “You with me, kid?” he asked, aware of the Constable turning to stare at them again.
“Two steps behind,” Hugh spat, and then actually spat, thick, purple-black blood splatting on the ground. “Called him out, sure enough. Dust all over the alley; you saw that?”
“It’s an alley,” Lestrade said, ushering the kid under the tape and nodding to the Constable. “Let’s find a cab, shall we?”
“Yes, fine. That dust is human ash.”
“What?” Lestrade whipped his head around, meeting Hugh’s amused, superior stare.
“There are no murderers for you to find, I’m afraid,” he said rather airily, and stretched himself to his full, rather impressive height. “Taxi!”
“No, how did you--obviously you used your gift, fine,” Lestrade said hastily, trying to hold onto the kid’s arm. “I won’t ask. But explain. The murderers, two blokes, burnt to ash in the alley?”
Hugh sighed with strained patience. “Lunch, I think. I’ll tell you what I can. But--” He fixed Lestrade with fierce, pale eyes. “You’ll answer my questions, too. Agreed?”
They went to little sandwich shop near Lestrade’s flat, where Hugh insisted on smoking like a bloody chimney and wouldn’t eat a thing. “I don’t eat when I’m thinking,” he said, waving the cigarette at Lestrade. “Takes too much energy.”
It suddenly seemed like minutes, not ten months and six days, since Lestrade had last a cigarette. “Put that damn thing out and talk, will you?”
“Me?” Hugh said, and blinked in exaggerated surprise. “You have my Family and line. Now what are yours?”
Lestrade chewed on a chip, staring back at him. It was childish to want to lie just because Hugh wanted the truth. Of course, he wasn’t giving the truth; not really. Boone was an admitted lie, if the kid was even Hugh--or, hell, Whitehall. Or Meandered.
“It’s a small line, Lestrade,” Hugh mused, sucking on his cigarette thoughtfully. “I haven’t heard of it. From a local Family; you’re obviously very local.” The stress on the word ‘very’ made Lestrade’s teeth itch. “Not much ability to speak of; can’t imagine why Mycroft...” His voice trailed off, and his eyes narrowed. Smoke curled slowly out of his mouth.
“In your own time,” Lestrade said, and snagged a cigarette. “Thanks.”
“Wintered,” Hugh gritted out through clenched teeth. “That snake.”
“Oi!” Lestrade snapped, and grabbed the lighter, too. “Watch it, kid.”
“But he couldn’t have--” Hugh slammed the cigarette down, grinding it out on the table. “How long have you known your fiance?”
“Ten years, give or take,” Lestrade lied easily. They weren’t human cigarettes; nothing people made tasted this smooth. Hugh’s face twisted up further, but would he call out the lie when he was lying through his teeth himself? “St. Clair’s Family.”
“Stricken. How did you meet him?”
Lestrade kept the grin locked firmly inside. “Internet dating site.”
“Lestrade!” Hugh’s voice rang through the tiny shop, and heads started to turn. Lestrade quickly stubbed out the cigarette and waved the smoke away, glaring all the while.
“When you find yourself capable of meeting me halfway, I’ll do my best to accommodate your questions, ‘Hugh’,” he said in a low voice, “but I’ve no taste for gossip. I’ve got a murder on my hands, here.”
“You should be very careful,” Hugh replied. His eyes were lowered. “You’re getting into more trouble than you’re expecting.”
“Two men burnt to ash in an alley,” Lestrade reminded him. “Who did it, and why? You think it’s something to do with St. Clair having been Fae--”
“Having been Stricken,” Hugh corrected. He relaxed back into his seat and took up his cigarette again, turning it this way and that before it lit itself. Lestrade fumbled with the lighter to get his own burning again. “Fire’s their gift. Well, heat.”
“So a member of the Stricken Family murdered the two men who murdered his human cousin?”
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Hugh smiled to himself, eyes hazy. “Contained. No one visits human family who have chosen, unless they’re thinking of choosing, so no one admits to it. Going to meet a cousin, finding him in trouble, murdering the ones who murdered him... Fits with Fae law, and that’s the only law that’ll touch him.”
“You know who killed the two, then.” Lestrade sighed as Hugh shrugged, indicating that yes, he knew, and no, he didn’t deem it necessary to explain to Lestrade. “Christ. I’ll go around you, then, and ask Victor.”
“You can’t possibly know him,” Hugh scoffed, and Lestrade rolled his eyes hard enough to hurt.
“Here I thought you were clever. I met him at the engagement party, the announcement,” Lestrade said with distaste, waving the cigarette. “Lovely do.”
There was a strange expression on the kid’s face: mostly irritation, a pinch of resentment, and something odd about the edges. Lestrade wanted to call it sorrow. “Official, then, is it? Done and dusted?”
“You don’t think that St. Clair was the victim of a robbery gone wrong,” Lestrade said. “You think this Family member had something to do with it. Wanted him dead, but didn’t want it known.” Hugh lifted his eyebrows and looked pleased as Lestrade continued. “Killed the murderers to clean up after himself, but why wouldn’t he get rid of St. Clair’s body the same way?”
Hugh stood up abruptly, stubbing out his cigarette again. “Keep thinking. You might get there in a year or so.”
“You’re leaving?” Lestrade scrambled to get up. “Where are you going?”
Hugh looked around. “I’ll make you deal. Don’t mention me to any Fae, not a one of them, and I’ll answer your questions.”
“When?” Lestrade demanded. Hugh pursed his lips and carefully reached over to pluck the lighter from Lestrade’s hand. “Give me a way to reach you.”
“No,” Hugh said flatly, and turned away to cough into his arm. “I’ll contact you.”
He was gone. The sharp scent of pine and burning tobacco hung in the air. Lestrade closed his eyes.
Mycroft was in his kitchen again, sitting with perfect posture and poise. “Good evening,” he said politely as Lestrade walked in, and it was a testament to the sheer strength of his personality that Lestrade understood how irritated he was.
He emptied his pockets onto a small table in the hall and took off his jacket, watching Mycroft carefully. “Evening,” he replied, and edged toward the refrigerator. “How was your day?”
“Tedious,” Mycroft said, and smiled thinly. “And that was before I found myself waiting for you.”
“It’s--” Lestrade checked the clock. “Just after six.” There was nothing in his refrigerator, except for the odd condiment and some suspicious leftover takeaway.
“You said you were off today.”
Lestrade looked over his shoulder, his face freezing into an expression of incredulity. “I, uh. I had a case.”
“A case,” Mycroft repeated. It reverberated, very much like the cocking of a gun. Lestrade carefully closed the refrigerator door and turned around, realising that it hadn’t been irritation Mycroft was projecting. Mycroft was actually masking his rage, and irritation was leaking around the edges.
“A man was murdered yesterday, and it is my job to find out who did it,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. “You said you weren’t looking to interfere in my professional life.”
Mycroft’s eyes narrowed minutely. “You said you were off today. I expected to find you here.”
“Forgive me for not calling,” Lestrade said with a brittle smile. “Oh, wait, it’s not as if you have a phone. Or any way for me to contact you.”
“You had a case,” Mycroft said again, something ugly colouring his tone. Lestrade’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. It was challenge, and disbelief. Mycroft thought he was lying.
“What are you really asking here?” he burst out. Mycroft stood when Lestrade took a step forward, drawing himself up. “You think I’m lying? What would I be doing out all day if I wasn’t working? What are you asking?”
“Your case,” Mycroft snapped, taking his own step closer. They were in each other’s personal space now, close enough that Lestrade could see the icy flecks of silver in Mycroft’s sea-blue eyes.
“Neville St. Clair, stabbed sixteen times in an alley,” he said quietly, and saw something shift deep in Mycroft’s gaze. “Wallet and ID gone, so we didn’t identify him until this morning. Found an acquaintance to interview; didn’t learn much.” It was true enough, he supposed, and dropped his gaze to stare at Mycroft’s tie. “I shouldn’t even be telling you.”
“Why not?” Mycroft’s voice was very quiet and, when Lestrade looked back up at him, he saw the anger was gone. But there was still a struggle taking place, evident in the tight set of his jaw.
“Well, you’re not an officer,” Lestrade said, and shifted back a step. “I’m not supposed to be discussing this with just random people.”
“I’m your intended,” Mycroft said, and seemed to reach a decision. “The St. Clairs are a line of the Stricken Family.”
Warmth swept through Lestrade at this information, freely given. A smile was even quirking at the edge of his mouth when Mycroft narrowed his gaze on him again and stepped closer, searching Lestrade’s expression and sniffing--Christ, sniffing at him!
“What are you doing?” Lestrade demanded, trying to draw back, but he hit the refrigerator and cursed his kitchen for being so damn small.
“You knew it already,” Mycroft accused, his eyes now searching the rest of Lestrade for details, for clues. Lestrade crossed his arms over his chest again, feeling absurdly exposed. “Who told you? Who was with you?”
Lestrade shook his head. “I can’t--”
“You can’t what?” Mycroft’s voice was loud, and Lestrade flinched before his ears told him something incredible: Mycroft sounded frightened. Under all of that, he sounded scared.
“There’s a witness--no, not a witness, but someone who knows the man--” Lestrade paused, biting his lip. Mycroft was still as stone, watching him without so much as taking a breath. “The, uh, the individual won’t speak with me, unless I keep h--the identity secret. And that’s it,” he said, to Mycroft’s silent, accusatory stare. “A man’s been murdered, and Stricken or no he was a man. A human. And it’s my job to find his murderer.”
“Your informant,” Mycroft said, his voice just above a whisper, “You have to tell me--”
“I can’t,” Lestrade flared. “I promised!”
At that, Mycroft shut his eyes and turned away. Lestrade took a deep, shuddering breath and rubbed his arms.
“You keep your promises, don’t you,” Mycroft said finally. His jaw relaxed slightly. “Just... would you tell me...”
“I can’t tell you who he--” Lestrade closed his eyes briefly. “Who the person is.”
“I understand that.” Mycroft managed a small smile. “Just tell me that it isn’t Victor.”
Lestrade blinked twice, tilting his head. “Victor? Victor Trevor?”
Mycroft’s smile became more honest, and he turned back to the table. “Tea?”
“Wait, what just happened here?” Lestrade stumbled after Mycroft, who was looking down at the table now, his lips pursed thoughtfully. “Mycroft?”
“Hush,” Mycroft chided lightly. “I need to concentrate.” There was a gentle glow over the kitchen table and, as Lestrade watched, it began slowly to resolve into a tea much like the one from yesterday, although the service was black this time, with a gold pattern.
That much Lestrade remembered as well. With concentration, with effort, Fae could imbue those things they created with actual substance. All Fae could create food they could eat, that could sustain them, but pulling together enough energy for food that would nourish a human required great strength of will.
So for a full five minutes, Lestrade watched Mycroft spin tea, sandwiches, and scones from raw elements, just for him.
“Mummy wants to have a proper announcement,” Mycroft said. Without Lestrade having to ask, he passed the small dish of lemon. “Do you have a preference for which evening?”
“We have to do it again?” Lestrade put his cup down. “Christ. Friday?”
“So long?” Mycroft’s tone was mild, but Lestrade was hyper-alert to anything that might set him off again.
“Saturday’s an official day off, and hopefully this case will be finished,” he said, and dunked his scone into his cup just to watch Mycroft flinch. “But I got enough comments today, turning up looking like I hadn’t slept for a week.”
“Really.” Mycroft’s gaze flicked up and down what was visible of Lestrade.
“Though you could help, unofficially,” Lestrade said, relaxing back into the chair. “Tell me something about the Stricken Family. Hell, tell me something about all the Families; you know how little I know.”
“Through no fault of your own,” Mycroft said, and it should have sounded condescending, but it didn’t. He toyed with his own cup, turning it carefully in his hands. “There are twelve Families left native to the British Isles. Wintered, Deepened, and Stricken, you know; Measured and Hidden in the north; Lasting, Restive, Sorrowed, and Crafted in the south. West a ways you’ll find Graced. Wandered and Lost, well, I think you can guess that they might be found anywhere.”
“Measured?” Lestrade repeated. “That was the M one?”
“Yes; you’ve heard of it?” Mycroft lifted one eyebrow.
“No, I just--” Lestrade bit his lip again. “Why are all these names English? And descriptions?”
Mycroft smiled approvingly. “No Family gives out their real name, Lestrade. Most members won’t even know it; usually only pure Fae do. A Family’s true name is too great a weapon. No, we choose our names, every other century or so. Or if something catastrophic should happen; the Stricken Family was Alight not sixty years ago.”
“They are descriptions, though,” Lestrade said. “They mean something.”
“They must.” Mycroft shrugged, an oddly graceful and delicate movement on him. “If they didn’t, they wouldn’t stick. Your Family, for example, has been Wintered for hundreds of years, ever since it almost died out entirely.”
“You’ll tell me how that happened, right?”
Mycroft sighed. “Yours never was a large Family. The gift of truth?” He smiled at Lestrade. “Hardly one to amuse or enthrall Fae. No.” His gaze unfocused, became distant. “Your Family just began to die. And then, to escape it, many began to choose. And so Gregory and Elaine decided to close you off, to keep you from mixing with Fae, because it was from Fae that the danger, the illness, must have come.”
“Gregory and Elaine?” Lestrade leaned closer, over the forgotten scone and tea. “My mother, Elaine?”
“The last pure Fae of your Family,” Mycroft said gently.
Lestrade laughed uneasily and shook his head. “No. Not my mother. I mean, come on. I’m human, right?”
“Almost human,” Mycroft corrected quickly, raising his eyebrow again.
“Fine, yes. Almost,” Lestrade allowed. “But if she was pure, then I shouldn’t be, well.”
“If Fae genetics worked as human genetics did, perhaps you wouldn’t be so human,” Mycroft said. “But a Family’s power depends on how many lines, how many members it has. Your Family was nearly destroyed. And you, you were the proof of it.”
Lestrade closed his eyes against the prickle of moisture.
“The Stricken Family has, in recent years, been experiencing what yours did,” Mycroft continued gently, after a kind pause. “That was my brother’s research. He wanted to discover what happened to your Family, and what is happening to the Stricken Family.”
“And felt that marrying into it was the way to go?” Lestrade said, smiling though he was still blinking hard.
“He becomes, ah, fascinated with his work.” Mycroft frowned at his tea, and thin steam rose from it again. He sipped. “I do think he fell in love with Victor Trevor, or at the very least, became enthralled. Mummy was thrilled. Sherlock had had so little interest in anything Fae; she was worried he’d choose when he was little more than fifty.”
“Why would he do that?”
“The Fae world is dying, Lestrade,” Mycroft said with a surprisingly sweet smile. “Where it isn’t actively doing so, it’s stagnating. My brother requires so much more than a small, dying, changeless world.”
“And you don’t?” Lestrade met Mycroft’s reserved gaze with his chin jutted out in challenge.
“I am trying to save it,” Mycroft said quietly, “just as Sherlock was, and with as little success, I fear.”
The next two days went by quickly for how dull they were. Hugh didn’t contact him; there was no more information to be found about Neville St. Clair or his murderers. Mycroft, after inquiring carefully about his schedule, showed up at his flat at six o’clock precisely each afternoon, which ceased to be infuriating once Lestrade saw him carefully climb out of the pantry.
“You’ve connected the Fae world to my pantry?” Lestrade said, knowing that a wholly inappropriate grin was stretching his mouth.
“It seemed the best option,” Mycroft said airily. “It’s a full-sized door, and one you seldom use.”
Mycroft stayed each afternoon just long enough to make tea and to see Lestrade eat something before he disappeared, citing “research” as an excuse. Lestrade wasn’t sure why he bothered to show up at all.
It was Friday morning when Hugh reappeared, lounging in Lestrade’s office--behind his desk, even--when Lestrade arrived. He was even thinner and paler than before, and there were huge, dark circles under his eyes.
“Christ, kid, what are you doing to yourself?” Lestrade burst out.
Hugh rolled his eyes. “Obviously I’m not doing it to myself.”
“Tell that to them.” Lestrade indicated the rest of New Scotland Yard with a jerk of his chin, fighting with his scarf. “Three people told me that the junkie was waiting in my office. Here, get out of my chair.”
“I’m clean,” Hugh said, and actually grinned when Lestrade stared at him. “I’ve been studying. You humans, busy as bees, aren’t you? This internet, now.” He shook his head, but looked pleased.
“So what is it, then?” Lestrade asked. “Seriously. Get out of my chair.”
“Use that one.” Hugh copied Lestrade, gesturing to the ‘guest’ chair with a jutted chin. “How’s your intended?”
“Fine,” Lestrade said warily, and sat down, wincing at the unfortunate angle of the back and remembering why this one was on the wrong side of the desk. “Why do you want to know?”
“How did you meet?” Hugh asked. Despite his frail appearance, he could still level a hell of a stare.
“Why do you care?” Lestrade asked in return.
“You don’t even get it, do you?” Hugh asked, and laughed: a harsh, painful sound. “You’re so human. Have you spoken to your patriarch lately, or any of your Family?”
Lestrade stiffened. “I’ve been busy--”
“You’re engaged to be married and your Family isn’t around at all?” Hugh squirmed a bit, getting himself more comfortable in the chair. “You’ve been sacrificed. You’re out. However Mycroft winkled you out of the woodwork, you’re stuck with him now. Oh, Gregory must have been furious.” And he laughed again, steepling his fingers and grinning nastily at Lestrade.
“What the hell do you know about it?” Lestrade demanded, standing up and leaning over the desk.
“It’s quite a coup, I have to admit,” Hugh said conversationally, “getting Elaine’s son. Getting any of the Wintered Family at all, really. Mycroft must have really wanted to show his brother up.”
“It wasn’t like that!” Lestrade half-shouted, and then flushed a sickly red. It hadn’t been like that, he was fairly sure. No one knew how desperate Mycroft had been. No one knew that he’d known for days that his brother was gone. They were working from a false set of variables.
But he was, too, wasn’t he? Or, at least, working without knowing all the variables.
“I’m sure it was an epic romance,” Hugh said dryly. “But it remains that the Wintered Family had cut itself off from all Fae contact, in an effort to preserve itself from destruction. Even the Hidden Family marries into other Families; your Family refused to do that. Did you think to wonder why?”
“No,” Lestrade said, standing back. “I didn’t think about it at all.”
“Cut yourself off, didn’t you?” Hugh continued. “After your mother’s death.”
“Shut up,” Lestrade said, but there was very little strength in his voice.
“So it isn’t as if you’ve lost much. Your Family is safe, you belong to Mycroft, and if you should suffer the ailment that almost wiped out your Family ages ago, well, what of it?” Hugh’s eyes were distant. “No. I can’t imagine Gregory would so easily give you up.”
“Who the fuck is Gregory?” Lestrade demanded.
Hugh refocused, eyebrows rising delicately. “Does your patriarch go by a new name?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lestrade fumed, and sat down abruptly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You do know your patriarch,” Hugh said quietly. There was a strangeness lurking around the edges of his expression, and Lestrade thought fast.
“What do you want with that information?” he asked. “My Family’s cut off. You don’t need to know anything about they’re--we’re doing now.”
“You have some useless gift, don’t you?” Hugh said, irritation settling over him. “You can spot a cardsharp, or you always answer truthfully when asked the time, regardless of whether you knew it. What a fall from grace.”
“I need a gift like your mother’s.” Hugh sighed, staring at the ceiling. “I need a judge. I need what the Wintered Family is supposed to be. To force him to speak the truth, or to show everyone what the truth is. But no.” He made a deep sound of disgust. “If I had the time...”
“Don’t you?” Lestrade asked.
Hugh looked at him sharply. “There aren’t years enough left to the earth to get your patriarch to speak to me.”
“But you don’t even have that much, do you?” Lestrade jumped up and walked around the desk, watching Hugh hunch in on himself protectively. “You’re Stricken, aren’t you? You’re suffering from whatever killed my Family, whatever’s working on yours.”
“I told you--”
“You told me a lie and I didn’t much care, and I don’t care now,” Lestrade interrupted. The kid’s face was deathly pale, and close up he could see how his hands trembled faintly. “You have to let someone help you. You are literally dying in front of me. I can see it,” he stressed when Hugh tried to argue. “Are you eating? Are you sleeping? Can you even travel home?”
Something flickered in his expression and Lestrade didn’t wait any longer. “You can stay at mine. Come on.”
“I can’t go to yours!” Hugh said in disgust. “Your intended--”
“There’s an announcement tonight, the official one,” Lestrade said. “For us. You can stay in the bedroom. He won’t see you.”
Hugh’s eyes flickered back and forth as he thought. “You won’t tell him I’m there. And he won’t come looking?”
“It’s all human, isn’t it?” Hugh mused. “Your job, your home.”
“You said it yourself,” Lestrade said lightly, and pulled the kid to his feet. “I’ll even feed you, and let you use my phone. You can use the internet.”
That got him moving.
Hugh was settled into Lestrade’s bed with a bowl of soup and Lestrade’s phone, under strict orders not to answer it should it ring or to read or send any texts. Lestrade was fairly sure he’d regret it, but there was no other way he’d get the kid to stay and to rest. With any luck at all, he might even sleep.
Lestrade went out, got himself some lunch, and returned home to eat and watch some telly. The bedroom was quiet, deathly so, but he didn’t go to check on Hugh. If he was asleep, the last thing Lestrade wanted to do was wake him.
And so it was, between one dull program and another, Lestrade fell asleep himself, dreaming uneasily of that book of Mycroft’s, or rather his brother’s, the one with the picture of the man with a shadow inside of him. In the dream it was burning, fine ash spreading everywhere and covering Mycroft’s study. He couldn’t move to stop it.
“Gregory,” someone said, and prodded his shoulder gently but insistently. Lestrade opened his eyes and sat up abruptly; Mycroft backed away a step, watching him closely.
“What?” Lestrade managed, and rubbed at his face.
“You were having a nightmare, I think,” Mycroft said. His lips quirked. “A hazard of the job, I suppose.”
“It wasn’t...” Lestrade trailed off, raking a hand through his hair. “Ugh. I can’t remember. My mouth tastes terrible.”
Mycroft handed him a small, dark green, porcelain glass. Lestrade peered into it, wrinkling his nose at the very minty smell.
“It will help,” Mycroft said patiently, and Lestrade gave him one dubious look before knocking it back.
He coughed and brought his hand up to his burning nose; it felt like his sinuses were on fire, and his throat and his stomach burned icily. Then it was gone, and he was wide, wide awake and aware.
“That was terrible,” he said, handing the cup back to Mycroft.
“I quite like it,” Mycroft said mildly. The cup disappeared back into ether.
“Are we going then?” Lestrade said, remembering suddenly that Hugh was in his bedroom, and that he didn’t want to be found.
“Ah, momentarily,” Mycroft said, and fidgeted with the umbrella he was holding for whatever reason. “I thought we might have a quick planning session.”
“This is our announcement, you realise,” Mycroft said, shifting his weight. “We aren’t riding my brother’s coattails this time. We are the main event.”
“Everyone staring, I get it,” Lestrade said, getting to his feet. “But we’ll just duck around it, or dance--”
“It’s not a ball this time,” Mycroft interrupted, looking apologetic. “Mummy noticed that you didn’t much enjoy the dancing. We’re to be standing around, receiving the guests, mingling.”
“I’d really rather drive a spike through my throat,” Lestrade said flatly.
“We must decide what we are to tell everyone,” Mycroft said softly, and twisted the umbrella around again. “About how we met, and other sundry details.”
“Did you make tea?” Lestrade asked, and turned Mycroft toward the kitchen with an easy grip on the shoulder. “It’s fine, you know. I’ve done undercover. Doesn’t take me long to think up a story.”
“Really,” Mycroft murmured. He was already focusing his energy on creation, lips tilted up in an understated smile.
Lestrade waited, watching the slow spinning of the new tea service--white and gold, with graceful red leaves, too small to be Canadian though. He knew that they wouldn’t be able to claim their meeting had had anything to do with the Fae world, but how often did Mycroft leave it?
He thought about what Hugh had said; Mycroft’s rumoured laziness, and his own Family’s self-imposed alienation.
“We weren’t always closed off,” Lestrade thought aloud. “Miriam’s father was something else. He could make bells ring, even when there weren’t any.” He remembered a few Christmases from his youth, how Jacob had done entire concerts of carols in ghostly chimes. He hadn’t seen Jacob in years, though; not since before his mum’s death.
“Graced,” Mycroft said, taking a seat. “Their gift is music.”
Sophie and Ian did have an aptitude for it, Lestrade remembered. “That’s why they have some Fae talent, then. They’re not all Wintered.”
“Which is also why you might be considered a greater prize,” Mycroft told him. “You’re pure to your Family, for all that you’re very nearly human.”
Lestrade snorted. “I am--”
“Don’t,” Mycroft said quickly, holding up a hand. Lestrade subsided, glaring at his cup. “Very nearly is all you need admit to, Lestrade.”
“You can call me Greg,” Lestrade said, reaching for a biscuit. Mycroft’s silence made him look up; the red in his cheeks made him look down. “Well, we are engaged, aren’t we?”
“But how did that come to pass?” Mycroft mused. He was fidgeting with his umbrella again.
“Do you come here, to London, for any reason?” Lestrade dunked the biscuit in his tea and smiled to himself at Mycroft’s expression. “Any place will do. It’s just more unlikely, isn’t it, that we would have met someplace Fae?”
“A bookshop, perhaps,” Mycroft offered. “There are some written accounts of events singular to Fae that have, nevertheless, slipped into human consciousness. I’ve collected a few.”
Lestrade smiled, remembering his study. “All right. You were in a bookshop, collecting your account, when I ducked in due to the rain. Possibly I tripped over your umbrella; that would get us talking, right?”
“I would certainly apologise,” Mycroft said, beginning to smile as well.
“And I would find your manner and style irresistible,” Lestrade added, and took a sip of his tea. Red was a good colour on Mycroft, he decided, and bit his lip to keep from laughing. “You would be entirely taken in by my clumsy attempts to flirt with you.”
“Entirely,” Mycroft said, and it sounded like a promise. “How much longer until one of us broached the subject of engagement?”
“Not much longer,” Lestrade said, still gnawing on his lip. “A few months? That would explain why we hadn’t met each other’s Families, and why we don’t know all that much about each other.”
“Three, then,” Mycroft said decisively. He looked down at his umbrella. “I am not one to, ah, rush into things, but--” He stopped, examining the umbrella’s handle as if it were the most interesting thing he’d ever seen.
“I’m sure I was very convincing,” Lestrade said, and allowed himself to grin freely. “And the reason you didn’t say anything was because you didn’t want to show your brother up before his announcement. Maybe during, fine, but not before.”
“Yes,” Mycroft said, relief colouring his voice. He looked at Lestrade again with bright, warm eyes. “Brilliant, Gregory. Greg.”
“Whichever you prefer,” Lestrade said, and put a little more warmth into his voice to add, “Mycroft.”
It was entirely worth it just for the way Mycroft’s ears turned pink.
“Oh god no,” Lestrade said, looking down at the diaphanous silvery material wafting around him. “I need trousers. I’m not going anywhere looking like this.”
“There are trousers, underneath,” Mycroft said.
“No! I mean, what is this?” Lestrade lifted his arm and watched the sleeve flow with the action. “I’m not wearing this daft--whatever it is!”
“Very well,” Mycroft sighed, and slid his hands down Lestrade’s arms once more. It became a relatively simple three piece suit, in a dark, charcoal grey. The only silver that remained was in the tie.
“Really?” Lestrade asked, but Mycroft only smiled, allowing his own suit to change to a deep, lovely shade of blue, the tie in a lighter shade. Lestrade gave up the fight after that.
“You’ll be magnificent when this has all gone silver,” Mycroft said, and set to work on trying to bring order to Lestrade’s hair. Lestrade held still under his ministrations, wondering if red was a good colour on him.
They appeared in Moira’s study, the warm smell of a wood fire lingering in Lestrade’s nostrils. There was, again, the noise of a crowd beyond the double doors, but his attention was drawn the the study itself: curtains drawn, the barest hint of light from the moon, the books and blankets and pillows strewn about on the floor, as if they had been thrown or kicked, and more than once.
“Don’t mention Sherlock to her, please,” Mycroft whispered, taking his arm.
“She hasn’t found anything?” Lestrade whispered back. “No more clues, other than London?”
Mycroft’s expression was hard around the edges. “There is nothing like our own prejudice to keep us from seeing the truth.”
They walked together to the doors and opened them, and Lestrade stared out in the curving hallway, leading to--
“I am not walking down those stairs like something out of a goddamned film,” he declared, flushing bright red.
“It’s Mummy’s estate, you know,” Mycroft said, a small smile curving his lips.
“There’s no other way out of this hallway.”
Lestrade turned to look, but it was true. There was a window behind them, open to a gentle breeze, and that was all.
Mycroft patted his hand. “Just try not to trip.”
Lestrade tried to focus on the lights, on the heat of Mycroft’s body next to his, and of course on his feet, moving in a measured tread down the seemingly endless stairs, but nothing could have blocked out the swell of voices and the sheer breathless weight of all of those eyes, focused on him and Mycroft.
Mycroft, he could see from the corner of his eye, was taking it well; with his chin up and expression calm, he faced down the stares that Lestrade was determinedly avoiding. When they at last reached the last step, his arm slid around Lestrade’s waist, squeezing lightly, and Lestrade looked up at the crowd.
“If I may present to you all my son, Mycroft Holmes, and his intended, Gregory Lestrade of the Wintered Family,” Moira said. She moved to stand next to Lestrade, ghostly perfect in a flowing white gown, as the guests began their approach, all bright eyes and eager faces. It was only Mycroft’s arm at his waist and Moira’s hand on his arm that kept Lestrade from bolting.
“However did you manage to ensnare a Wintered, Mycroft?” someone asked, and from there it was a blur of faces and disturbingly specific questions, and coquettish glances and lingering touches, and Lestrade knew that he was probably hurting Mycroft, clutching his wrist so tightly, but he couldn’t help it.
“He’s absolutely beautiful, Mycroft,” said a woman wearing an explosion of pink silk, and patted Lestrade’s cheek.
“He doesn’t much like being talked about like he isn’t here,” Lestrade snapped, but she’d already moved on and was talking to Moira, and a man with blue-ish skin was introducing himself as a member of the Measured Family and asking after a distant cousin of Lestrade’s, Gwen Hollings.
“Are we done here?” Lestrade hissed desperately as the crowd began to disperse slightly, spreading out around the hall and into other areas of the estate.
Moira laughed, a light, chiming sound. “Certainly, Lestrade. Go on and enjoy the party; I must speak with my son for a moment.”
“But--” Mycroft met Lestrade’s frantic gaze with a conciliatory grimace.
“It won’t take long,” he said quietly. He and Moira disappeared into the study, leaving Lestrade at the foot of the stairs, and at the mercy of the crowd.
“A bookshop, really?” someone asked, and Lestrade turned to meet Victor’s bright, cheery grin.
“A chance in a million,” Lestrade said vaguely, trying to look like he wasn’t staring forlornly at the study doors.
“Oh, come on, give him a break,” Victor said, and laughed. “I’ve never heard him sound so flustered! You’re terrible, you know that? Can’t you dial it back?”
Victor grabbed his arm and pulled him along, very nearly snickering. “He’s always so diplomatic. I mean, that’s just Mycroft. But did you hear him tell Helen off?”
“Helen?” Lestrade searched the blur that was his memory of recent events. “The peacock woman? He told her that her question was inappropriate.”
That just made Victor laugh harder. “Yes, but he sounded irritated! You should be kinder to him; it won’t be easy for him to start telling the truth at his age!”
They walked through a small glass door and out into a small, empty walled garden that was lightly dusted with snow. It was cold enough that their breaths hung in the air, and Lestrade’s eyes stung.
“This isn’t a very popular garden,” Victor explained, and let Lestrade go to rest against the wall, next to the door. He smiled up at the small, distant moon. “I like it, though. It’s quiet.”
“It is that,” Lestrade muttered. Every sound seemed magnified and echoey, chiming in his ears. He rubbed his arms and then huffed on his hands, his skin already feeling cold and dry.
“Sorry,” Victor said, and stepped forward to cup his hands, startling Lestrade--until warmth sprang up between them, from the gentle glow around Victor’s fingers. He smiled at Lestrade in the faint orange light. “Stricken Family. Fire’s our gift.”
“Yeah, I heard,” Lestrade said, very aware of how close they were standing, and very uncomfortable with that awareness. He tried to put some distance between them without losing all of the offered warmth.
“Did you?” Victor asked. “Who from--or from whom, I guess I should say.” He laughed easily and moved closer. Lestrade was aware of their small, almost graceful shuffle; he felt a flicker of unease when he saw how neatly Victor had placed himself between Lestrade and the door.
“Mycroft, of course,” he said lightly. There was a light, chilling breeze at the back of his neck and he shivered. The orange glow got brighter as Victor leaned over their clasped hands.
“Mm, of course,” Victor agreed. “You know, I haven’t met a Wintered in a long time. A very long time.” He breathed on their hands, huffing as Lestrade had done, and the warmth felt almost liquid, sliding over Lestrade’s palms.
“How old are you?” Lestrade asked, trying to pull his hands away.
Victor tutted at him, then leaned close and breathed warmly on his throat. “Nearly three hundred, now.”
“Listen--” Lestrade jerked back and hit the cold, hard trunk of a frozen tree, snow and small icicles raining down around them. The sharp, high note of shattering ice filled his ears. “Back off, all right?”
“Wish I hadn’t lost the taste for your hearts,” Victor said regretfully, and put his hand over Lestrade’s chest. Lestrade drew in a sharp breath as his heart started to beat faster, and faster yet. “So distant. I can’t even reach it. Of course, Sherlock was the same way, at first.”
Lestrade tried to speak, but lightning hot pain raced down his arm from his chest, and his breath caught in his throat.
“You were a brutal group. Actually killed my host once you’d found her,” Victor continued. He moved his hand to put his mouth over Lestrade’s wildly beating heart, breath warm and wet through the suit. “Took me some time to get back. But I always do, you know. One way or another.”
Lestrade managed to make a small, strangled sound as his vision started to fade.
“But Sherlock first, if they can find him, and then I’ll have the rest of the Deepened Family.” Victor stepped back, petting Lestrade’s chest gently. “Don’t worry too much, Gregory Lestrade. You’ll belong to it before long, and I’ll have you, too.” He kissed Lestrade’s cheek. “Forget it for now.”
He was falling, or sliding down. He thought he heard the door open, but his heart was thundering too loudly in his ears.
There was a sudden rushing of air, a terrific wind, and then the bite of snow on his lips.