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The Least of All Possible Mistakes

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George has an extremely quiet weekend filled with watching Antiques Roadshow, eating vegetables, and sleeping more than six hours a night, which is why it’s so infuriating when on Tuesday the following week her team sends Anderson in as a sacrificial messenger.

"You have to go to the doctor," he tells her, wearing a face mask and gloves.

"I’m fine," George says, after she coughs for half a minute.

"That is a wet hack," Anderson tells her. "That is a chest infection. Go away."

George tries to say, "You go away," but it dissolves into a series of screamingly painful coughs. The only good thing is the way Anderson recoils from her like she's a plague victim and scampers out of her office. In the next five minutes, Sally emails her four times, subject lined, "you sound awful, go to the doctor!" and "seriously, that’s vile, get out of here," and "at this point you’re just menacing us with disease," and finally, "fine, I’m telling Margaret."

She ends up hunched over in reception at her GP’s, surrounded by cross mothers and their even crosser children. It’s apparently high season for disease, so she waits for ages, until the sweet oblivion of death sounds like a viable, nay, preferred option.

Then someone clears their throat overhead, and it’s only through supreme effort that George manages to look up at — John Watson.

"You," she mumbles. And coughs.

"You," he replies, and goes ahead and checks her pupils, right there in the waiting room. "Right — you sound like you have a chest infection."

George doubles over, seized by another coughing fit, and John’s left talking in a quiet voice over her head. He loops one of his arms into her own and heps her out of the chair, and George has barely reached for her purse when he picks it up for her.

"Yeah, come on, I’ve got you," John says, and George lets herself go weak against him as he hauls her into one of the surgery’s exam rooms and settles her onto the bench, paper crackling underneath her bunched up coat. "I suspect you’ve got a touch of bronchitis."

George gives up dignity and collapses onto her side, face half-mashed into the paper and groaning, "I can’t go on — just shoot me like one of those racehorses."

John laughs, and George hears cloth rustling before strong arms are helping her back up. He’s saying, "Bear with me for a minute," before he’s put a hand between her shoulder blades, leaning her forward until George’s face is pressed into his shoulder, breathing in shallow, desperate pants.

"I’m going to open your shirt a bit so I can listen to your lungs, all right?" John tells her, his voice an easy reassurance close to her ear.

"You’re a good doctor," George croaks, wrung out.

She feels John grin against her temple as he says, "Warning: room temp latex hands," and then he’s pulling at the buttons on her shirt with obvious expertise, for which George would tease him under almost any other circumstance. John’s gloved fingertips make her shiver a little when they stroke over chest, but the stethoscope is the worst. John says, "All right, deep breath in — and out."

It takes three tries before she manages it, and George growls, "If you make me do that again, I will arrest you," and John just laughs, pulling the stethoscope away and saying to her mildly:

"I’m sure Sherlock would break me out shortly," and asking her a number of questions that George attempts to answer and only mostly succeeds. At the end of it, John declares, "Right, that’s that. I think some antibiotics, and you’ll be right as rain."

It’s a measure of how tragic she must look that she spends half an age trying to button her own shirt before he takes over for her, closing her coat more tightly around her before he snaps off his gloves and goes to the ancient computer in the room to type up her prescription.

"I’d recommend you get a taxi home," John tells her as he hands over prescription. "You’re in no fit state to navigate public transit."

George clutches at the paper and says, "Shit. I drove."

John stares at her for a beat. "I am surrounded by ridiculous people."

In another life, George would have taken a cab and called Tom to get the car, because even if George had always been a bit of a loner, the institution of marriage was that of binding companionship and Tom was always a sympathetic nurse on the rare occasions she was ill. Now, George is trying to figure out if she can blackmail Anderson to drag himself out of Clapham, go to Islington to get her car keys, and then go get her car off of the narrow backstreet near the surgery she’d parked (probably somewhat illegally), or if she wants to chance calling her Mum — who will be equal parts distressed and cross.

"It’s fine," George says, "I’ll — "

John puts a hand on her shoulder. "You will sit right there," he instructs.

George is ready for an argument, but John just consults his wristwatch and clipboard before striding out the door of the exam room, white coat flapping, and George can imagine how that sort of determined competency would have gotten him easily laid — and that’s without the tragically attractive combat history in Afghanistan, even. Recognizing it’s mildly creepy to be speculating on her doctor’s sexual history, especially when her doctor is her nemesis stroke pet consulting detective’s friend stroke flatmate stroke something involving nipple clamps and gags, according to Sally, George abandons her efforts to sit upright and crumples down onto her side again.

John returns some time later, white lab coat traded in for his beaten-in leather jacket and bag, and he says, "Hand over your keys, there’s a girl," despite George mumbling, "I’m older than you." It’s not her best attempt at authority, she knows, and it’s not until he’s steering her out of the surgery that she realizes what’s happening.

"Oh," George starts, "you don’t need to."

"I know people like you," John answers. "People like you ignore their illnesses until they collapse or drive their cars into trees. Anyway, you’re Sherlock’s favorite copper at Scotland Yard — he’d be shattered if anything happened to you."

George smiles at him blearily. "Meaning Sherlock hates me the least," she manages, before going off on another coughing jag, but John smiles back at that, genuine.

"Maybe just point me at where your car is," he suggests.

It’s a bit touch-and-go for a bit, but they find George’s Golf eventually, and John shoves her in with the ease of someone who’s used to managing physically uncooperative people, gets her belted into the passenger seat as she coughs pathetically. The directions she gives to her house are half-hearted and slightly confused, but John seems to understand her well enough to get her home, driving with the same unflappable confidence he seems to do everything.

Why is John too good and responsible to drop me off at the front door and leave? George thinks despairingly as helps her up the stairs, settling her on her unmade bed and asking, "Can you get undressed or shall I help you?"

"Spare me Sherlock’s jealous fit," George scrapes out in between coughs.

Laughing, John reaches for — oh, God — her prescription, tucked safely in his pocket, and says, "All right, sit tight here for a bit, I’ll just pop out and be right back."

George’s protest is mostly mumbles in between coughs, and John only looks at her with a vague amusement-cum-fondness before darting out the bedroom door and presumably out to the chemist’s.

It’s only the instinctive knowledge that if she’s not changed into sleeping clothes by the time he returns, John will forcibly assist her that drives George to discard her coat and scarf and gloves and trousers. The button-up and jumper are tossed over an armchair near the foot of her bed. She swaps it all in for her nearest nightgown, shivering into it and scrabbling weakly at the covers until she’s tucked up in the fetal position underneath, hair still trapped in a ponytail in an uncomfortable knot against the back of her head, sinking into the pillows like an anchor.

She must fall asleep, because the next thing she knows, John's waking her up to force feed her antibiotics and make her drink a glass of water.

"I’m fine," she lies after, in between coughing, "you can go home. It’s okay."

"Convincing, truly, BAFTA-level there," he chides her. "Go back to sleep."

It’s not like there’s much else she can do, the entire wall of accumulated tiredness from this week and the last adding up to hold her under, and George has that strange sensation of all of her limbs detaching as she slips back into unconsciousness.

In the morning, she feels weak and still-miserable but less like she’s about to die where she stands, and it’s sufficiently motivating that she manages to clean her teeth and shower. After that, the distant ache of hunger comes into play, and George throws on a dressing gown and heads for the kitchen, taking each step with too much care on her still-weak legs and leaning heavily on the bannister.

On the landing, she sees John through the squalor of her living room, standing peacefully by her electric kettle and yawning in the mid-morning sun of her kitchen, barefoot on the tile.

"Oh, God," George says reflexively. "I’m so sorry."

John looks up at her, startled and sleep-wrinkled, and they both stare for a beat before he breaks first — giggling, and asks, "Tea?"

"Yes," George says, painfully glad for their shared English vocabulary, "yes."

It’s over said tea and the chocolate croissants she keeps permanently stocked in her cupboard and another dose of antibiotics for her that George says, "Thank you — you really didn’t have to stay."

John cocks an eyebrow. "Sleeping on your couch to make sure you didn’t die unsupervised was hardly trying."

"Still," George says, feeling her face coloring, worrying her dressing gown more tightly around herself. "You didn’t need to. Thanks. Really."

John’s studious attention is nothing near as paranoia-inducing as Sherlock’s, but it’s unsettling all the same. George is nothing if not used to being stared at, being appraised, ignoring leering and catcalls and vile degradations — all part and parcel of the joy of being female while cop, after all — but it’s not armor she wears at home, normally, discarded like her coat and shoes in the front hall.

What’s more, she can’t help the strange and not entirely new feeling that’s crawling up her spine, a sort of rueful awareness that sitting in a nightdress and barefoot like this with John will leave at least one other man upset. Mycroft is an unknown quantity in these things, and the less said about Sherlock's possessive tantrums the better. Jesus Christ, George feels embarrassed just thinking about it.

"You’re right, I think," John says suddenly, and pausing, he doubles back around to add some context. "About Sherlock being a great man. I think — I think he’s good, too, underneath all of it."

George smiles, can’t help herself, because she’s always believed it, or maybe she’s always just wanted it so much she’s believed it in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

The first active case she’d ever let Sherlock work was the kidnapping of a young mother, and the only evidence was the ten-year-old daughter the attacker had discarded. She’d allowed him the text files, and when that hadn’t been enough, she’d coughed up some photographs, and the fight Sherlock had instigated later that day, storming into her office like a vengeful god, was apparently still the stuff of New Scotland Yard legend. It had been in her first year as a DI, newly kicked up the ladder and appointed to Serious Crimes. George is only overprotective of little girls because she knows what the world does to them.

George doesn’t carry a gun in the ordinary course of business, and she’s a full foot shorter than Sherlock in flat shoes. She hadn’t excelled at hand-to-hand at the academy and she’s not even that scrappy, but George knows she can be dangerous, and on that first case, she'd slammed him into the wall outside the morgue and let him know so.

"But she’s already dead," Sherlock had argued. "Surely you don’t think — "

"I think I will stab you with a scalpel if you don’t pretend to be normal this once and treat her with the utmost respect and gentleness," George had snarled.

He’d only stared at her, interested, for a moment, and said, "Noted."

The medical examiners had already gone over Mary Power, combed her for evidence and taken samples, but Sherlock had done it all over again, with quick fingers and professional detachment while George had stood at Mary’s feet and fretted. She had been thinking about the brutal, ugly perimortem bruising they’d found, the darkening handprints around her fragile neck, the way she was putting Mary through an exam again so they could find a mother who would probably rather be dead once she learned her daughter's fate.

And then Sherlock had done something extraordinary and wholly unexpected: he’d started humming.

"What the fuck is that?" George had asked flatly.

"Flight of the Bumblebee," Sherlock had told her — distracted, checking Mary’s face now, peering at her eyebrows through his tiny magnifying glass.

"I — what?" she’d asked, ready to throw him out of the room and pepperspray him in the hallway for added effect, and then he’d come back with:

"She has calluses on her fingers from a stringed instrument, but they aren’t set or thick enough for her to be a longtime player. New then, and there’s not a matching mark under her chin for a violin or viola, and it’s unlikely a little girl would play the bass — so, cello," Sherlock had told her. "Every child learning a new instrument has that song, a composer, that one that’s a touch beyond their capability only for speed and not dexterity. Mine was Mendelssohn, of course — "

"Of course yours was Mendelssohn," George had said, feeling stunned.

" — but I suspect something more pedestrian for Miss Power, and — " he had indicated the inside of her wrist, the fading transfer tattoo of a cheerful bee, YEAH!!! written around him in dark blue biro " — I think Flight of the Bumblebee is as good a deduction as any."

So she’d spent the afternoon in the morgue with Sherlock and Mary and he’d hummed classical music as the moments had passed, and the only reason for it George had ever been able to guess at was simple kindness, something good at the core he couldn’t ignore even though he wanted to.

Six years later, she’s seen Sherlock do a number of other things like that: tiny moments of extemporaneous kindness, unpredictable, without pattern. So maybe Mycroft is right, that George has grown to love Sherlock like a particularly ugly possession, but he’d won that, clawed that devotion out of her in little threads and pieces, and George feels a moment of strange and dizzying levity to be sharing her breakfast table with somebody else in the know — another person Sherlock has gotten his talons into.

"I wouldn’t tolerate him if he wasn’t," George says finally, and tipping her head to the side, she adds, "Nor, I suspect, would you."

John grins back at her, cheeky, and looks like he’s about to say something that is equal parts despicable and charming when his phone rings to shatter the moment.

"‘Scuse me," John says fumbles the mobile out of his pocket only to blink at it twice before saying, "Er — I think it’s for you."

George asks, "What?"

"Look for yourself," John invites, and passes over his mobile.

This is Anthea. Give the phone to DI Lestrade, the phone screen — cracked already from hard living — says. George is still gawping at it when a follow-up comes through. This is Anthea. I thought I told you not to fall in love with anyone while he was gone.

"Oh, Jesus Christ," George says.

"Why is Anthea looking for you?" John asks reasonably, an absolutely shit-eating smile on his previously attractive face. Now it looks very attractive for punching.

George decides to ignore him, since "none of your fucking business," isn’t as compelling when she’s being forced to text Mycroft’s PA via John’s phone to say, Why the hell are you texting Dr Watson’s phone? GL

This is Anthea. You’ve missed two calls and seven texts and three separate noise complaints were called in about 221B Baker Street last night. It was suspicious.

George glances up at John. "Mycroft’s PA says there were three noise complaints filed about your flat last night," she tells him sweetly, watching all the color go out of John’s face.

"Oh hell," John swears, and rouses himself from the breakfast table in search of his coat.

She sees him to the door, thanks him again, and then runs upstairs to unearth her phone from the mountain of clothes she’d left lying around the night before to find that she has actually missed twelve calls and forty-five text messages, but that the balance excluding Mycroft were all from Sherlock.

"Stop panicking," she says when Sherlock picks up, as George holds the mobile to her ear, curling up under the covers again and feeling drowsy already from the day’s exertions. "I’ve just sent him home safely to you."

"And why was he gone all night?" Sherlock rants at her. She can just imagine the red spots of fury on his usually ghost-pale cheeks, and it gives her a frisson of childish delight to know she’s located such a delicious weak spot.

Telling Sherlock the truth would be boring, for which she’s constantly being mocked, so George takes the initiative to disclose, "Well obviously John and I were having extremely acrobatic unprotected sex over every surface of my house last night, Sherlock," but she’s not sure how much of it he hears over his own anguished noises and then probably some elaborate drama before he hangs up on her with a malevolent beep.

Sorry I missed you. Not feeling well and crashed out. John drove me home from the surgery and was kind enough to stay the night so I didn’t drown in my own vomit unsupervised. Hope you (two) are well GL, she sends to Mycroft, because she never knows if she’s interrupting something, and texts at least are easy to ignore if needed.

This is Anthea. He’s sulking and worried, is the reply, a heartbeat later, followed by, This is also Anthea. Please take more care with yourself. The rest of today’s negotiations are likely to be extremely bloody.

"Oh, God," George says to her bedroom window, lying on her side, "I genuinely can’t tell if she means that literally."

***

She must fall asleep again, because she wakes up to the orange-pink light at the end of day, twilight creeping into the frames of her windows, her cell phone chirping by her ear for her attention.

"Mm — hello?" she asks, eyes still mostly closed, rolling onto her back in the bed and feeling her body ache in protest even as her throat feels a hundred times better, breath coming easy now.

"May I come in?" Mycroft asks. "Are you well enough to come to the door, or may I pick the lock without your being too offended by it?"

George smiles, eyes coming all the way open. "I thought you’d still be in location undisclosed."

"That’s what airplanes are for," he tells her patiently, and less patiently, "The door?"

"Come in — just don’t scuff the lock," she yawns.

He makes an offended noise at that and ends the call.

George thinks about getting up, about changing, about making herself presentable at least, but all of that seems so exhausting she decides to close her eyes for a bit, phone a warm weight in her palm, listing sideways across the pillow next to her cheek.

She’s not sure how much time passes, but she wakes up when she feels a weight on the edge of her bed, settled close, and someone carding her fringe away from her eyes, fingertips soft against her temples.

"It’s time for another dose, Georgiana," Mycroft says, a hush in the darkness.

Mostly, when she opens her eyes, she the liminal profile of him sitting on her bed, edged in faint orange from the sodium lights outside her window, the curtains drawn to keep in the dark. It takes a minute for her night vision to start kicking in, and she sees Mycroft’s face is fond and a bit tired at the edges, down to his waistcoat, shirtsleeves rolled up, hair falling into his face, and she feels a surge of delayed longing for him, missing him like her body’s only just realized his absence now that he’s here.

"Hello," she whispers, throat still aching.

When he smiles, a little of the tiredness falls away, at least, and his thumb makes a study of her cheek as he replies, "Hello to you, too," before asking, "Do you think you can sit up and eat, or would you rather sleep some more?"

George blinks three times, trying to collect her brain into some order, before deciding, "Food. I think I might actually be starving."

"What do you fancy, then?" Mycroft asks, still petting her like a favored cat.

"Surprise me," George orders, and stretches out underneath Mycroft’s large palm, until it’s stroking down her neck and in the hollow of her throat — warm, heavy and calloused in places: the lingering marks of string instruments and guns and fountain pens.

"As you wish," he says, leaning close to press a kiss to her hairline, and George takes the opportunity to breath him in, the office paper and ink and textile smell of him, and feel herself humming contentedly at the touch his mouth on her skin, shameless.

Her hall is bright outside her bedroom, and there’s the sound of quiet enterprise coming up the stairwell, water running and the stove being lit. George allows herself another few minutes languishing in bed after Mycroft leaves her there before she pushes herself up and then onto her feet, reaching hazily for her dressing gown again and starting out of the room, not bothering to belt it. She brushes her teeth and washes her face, and in the mirror George looks tired and pale, but there's a smile on her face.

There’s a black town car parked like a sleeping cat in front of her house, she can see from the hall window in at the foot of the stairs, and the fireplace is lit and crackling away, the living room suffused with warmth, the television on low: the BBC news report. The worst of the clutter of post and papers has been sorted away, and Mycroft’s jacket and coat are laid neatly on the armchair tucked in the bay window, looking out onto the street between the closed-up blinds.

In the kitchen, Anthea is sitting at the table, thumbs flying away on her BlackBerry while Mycroft is unboxing something that looks vastly more complex than George’s regular order of Chinese takeaway or curry.

"Anthea," George says, her voice still touch hoarse from coughing.

She glances up at George through perfectly mascaraed lashes to say, "Very bloody."

"That is enough out of you," Mycroft says, shirty. "You may go home now."

George presses a hand to her mouth to disguise her smile when Anthea asks, perfectly placid and entirely too innocent, "Shall I leave the car? Will you be needing transport again later this evening?" and Mycroft goes a little red around the edges.

"You can go, Anthea," George says, and surprises herself by adding, "And you can take the car with you."

"Very exciting, sir," Anthea says mildly, at which point Mycroft’s tolerance of being very subtly teased must hit its breaking point because he sighs, aggrieved, and Anthea vanishes with a tap-tap-tap of excruciatingly gorgeous shoes.

Mycroft, in the wake, is making that hilariously put-out face again, and George goes up to him to straighten his waistcoat — any excuse to lay hands on him — and remind him, "If you have her killed, who will murder all those gossips at the water cooler for you?"

"Surely you have access to weapons," Mycroft says reasonably, his hands settling underneath the dressing gown at her hips.

"Haven’t you heard the joke about British police? Stop, or I’ll say stop again?" George asks, leaning in so she can press a close-mouthed kiss to him, to properly say hello. "Hi — thank you for rushing home."

His hands go tighter on her, hot through the thin, slippy fabric of the nightgown, and he catches her in another kiss, one that comes with a sting of teeth on her lower lip, at once tender and the kind of of thing that telegraphs jealous possession. George has never thought she’d enjoy that, this emotional knife-play, but apparently she does, because she bites him back, and says, hoarse for a different reason now:

"Were you jealous?"

Mycroft makes a rumbling noise against her mouth, which she files away for later, wants to hear while her ear is pressed against his chest.

"Concerned," he returns. "Not without due cause."

"It’s true," George says solemnly. "Because nothing is more amorous than a chest infection — which by the way, you’re going to catch from me at this rate."

Mycroft does that thing he does, where he cants his head slightly and looks at her with wide, beguilingly gray and blue eyes. There’re a thousand calculations going on in his head right now, and George thinks that if they could open his skull, it would probably look like the inside of a marvelously complex grandfather clock, the movement priceless and terrifyingly delicate, precise to a millisecond.

"Jealousy," Mycroft says, in a low, rolling voice, "is hardly rational, is it, Georgiana?"

She’s smiling too hard for it to be an effective reproach, but she says, "I thought you were always rational, you Holmes boys."

He just knits her in more tightly, closing the inches between them, until she’s pressed tightly enough against him to feel the buttons on his vest, the solid weight of him, and George decides to slide her hands around his sides — to slip underneath the waistcoat along the fine weave of his shirt, warm and near the skin.

"We know how to be," Mycroft allows, still watching her like a kestrel, looking for something, and George isn’t sure what. "And in the back of my rational mind, I had no doubt you were fine in Dr. Watson’s care, that you would take your medicine and rest, but —"

And here he leans in, head dipping lower, mouth brushing over the corner of her eye, near the fragile skin next to her ear, at that soft and vulnerable spot where her jaw joins her neck until George is shivering, over-sensitized, feeling her breath catch and her breasts tighten and knowing they’re pressed up so close he knows it, too.

" — but I’m wholly irrational about you, Georgiana," he whispers to her, murmurs it into the shell of her ear. "I’m petty and quick to anger when it comes to you. I can’t think properly when you’re fringing my thoughts, and I fear, increasingly, that —"

George is gasping, "Christ," because she can feel herself go hot from the inside out, spontaneously combusting in his grasp, heart shaking apart in her chest. She knows she’s clutching at the back of his shirt now, holding herself up just barely.

" — I’m liable to burn London to ashes on account of you," he confesses, and closes his mouth over the skin of her collarbone — teeth grazing.

George wants to say, "fuck dinner," and lay waste to the kitchen table, to laugh into Mycroft’s mouth and strip him out of his waistcoat and posh tailored trousers, to rough him up and have him — mark him. But the flesh is so out of it the spirit’s only half willing, and she just sighs into him, lets him find his way back to her lips and kiss her again, twice more, and lingeringly, a third, before he steers her to the living room sofa like he hasn’t just made all the muscles of her seize in wondering shock.

Dinner is risotto from a place George knows doesn’t do takeaway and a number of cups of hot water with lemon and honey, her feet tucked in Mycroft’s lap as he reads through a stack of files he produces from his briefcase. It’s a beat-up thing with marks and lines, fine workmanship and obviously loved, and George feels unreasonably comforted by Mycroft’s fondness for heirlooms, antiques, old and imperfect things that are important to him nonetheless.

By the time Mycroft is halfway through his pile of papers, George is exhausted again, cheek pressed against the back of the settee and watching his profile framed in the warm light of the kitchen, dressing gown wrapped around herself carefully. She feels like a child, overtired and delirious with happiness, wanting to stay up as long as she can and soak in it, let the skin of her fingers crinkle in it.

"You should be back in bed," comes Mycroft’s voice, suddenly hovering just overhead.

"I’m fine," George lies petulantly, voice faded. "It’s okay."

He laughs, and it’s a sound that curls around her. "Georgiana, if you don’t get up voluntarily, I will be forced to carry you."

The little bit of dignity George is clinging to is just enough to motivate her into an upright and standing position, and even though she pouts crossly about it, she lets herself get herded upstairs and tucked back into bed. Mycroft hangs her dressing gown on the back of her closet door, exactly where it belongs.

The bed feels huge and soft and wonderful, and George just has the presence of mind to say, "If you sleep on the couch, I will set your umbrella on fire," before drifting off.

***

Mycroft doesn’t sleep on the couch.

The next morning, George has enough time to clean her teeth and climb back under the sheets to press her ear to his chest, listen to his heartbeat change as he wakes up.

This time, it’s Mycroft that blinks awake slowly to say, "Hello," and George who gets to card her hands through his hair and say, "Hi."

"You look better," Mycroft says, voice breaking with sleep, and George has to lean in and kiss him on the shoulder for that, through his t-shirt. She has no fucking clue where he’d even gotten that and she hopes to God it’s not Tom’s. "You weren’t coughing much last night."

She lies down on his chest, chin on her hands, pressed together across the butterfly cage of his ribs. "Did I wake you?"

"I wouldn’t know what uninterrupted sleep was, anyway," Mycroft dissembles, and settles a hand in her hair.

George steals a glance at her bedside clock: 6:45 a.m. Outside the thin bedroom curtains, it’s the gray light of early dawn, silent except for distant cars — the sort of moment when anything can happen.

"What time do you have to get to work?" she asks.

"Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs likes for its midlevel cogs to be at their desks by 9 a.m. to do the work of the nation," Mycroft tells her, but with that crooked smile that means that he can get to work whenever he fucking wants, his hands stroking up her thighs.

She grins and throws a leg over him, settling across his hips, saying, "Good," before she reaches for the rucked-up hem of her nightdress.

***

Officially, she’s off ill and near dying for the three days leading into a weekend, which was factually disinteresting except for the part where she’d apparently infected half of traffic as well. Unofficially, she’s off ill and near dying for the first two days, spends the hours of 6:50 a.m. to whenthefuckever on Friday morning having the slowest, most maddening intercourse of her life, that doesn’t actually hit any level of climactic friction until she ends up pinning Mycroft to the bed and taking it from him by force. She’d feel bad about the bruises but he seems to like them, if the steady stream of text messages she gets the rest of the day when she’s camped out in post-coital languor on her sofa and Mycroft is presumably organizing the Arab Spring is any indication.

George is a competent if not particularly gifted cook, but she can roast chicken and mash potatoes, so she makes dinner and keeps it warm in the oven, idly reading over her work email until Mycroft breaks into her house again — like a vampire who’s received an invitation before and doesn’t understand the social niceties of needing one every time.

"I’m a police officer," she scolds him, but she does it in between kissing him at the kitchen sink so she’s not sure if it’s effective this way, "you can’t keep housebreaking."

"You’re ill, I wouldn’t want you to exert yourself getting the door," he says, up to his elbows in suds from the dishes, and George just doesn’t have the heart to do more than pinch him where she knows she left a bruise.

She eats green tea ice cream out of the carton for dessert, and carefully doesn’t ask Mycroft if he’d like some because she’d prefer not to see that momentary longing and then abrupt self-denial on his face. They end up watching Would I Lie To You on the sofa because George is fascinated by Mycroft’s dissections of everybody’s tells in between haranguing her to drink more water or remember to take her antibiotics.

"Wow," George says, after Mycroft tells her how David Mitchell gets a slight twitch in his left eye every time he lies, "you and Sherlock must be intolerable playing poker."

"We were forbidden very young," Mycroft says with genuine wistfulness. "Mummy said we were awful creatures, always ruining her country house parties."

With equal gravitas, George reports, "I understand. My Mum said the same thing about me and her and my dad’s piss-ups at the local — " which is as far as she gets before Mycroft pushes her down along the sofa.

Even though George is still aching a bit from this morning, they’re operating on three times speed later that night, which she asks him breathlessly about and gets for her troubles an answer of, "I was cataloguing you earlier," before he disappears down her belly, pressing wet kisses into the creases of her thigh.

"I elect to find that arousing and not creepy," she says around the high-pitched flutter of a gasp, bursting forth from her throat, and endures another few moments of Mycroft's data gathering before she fists a hand in his hair and drags him back up to her mouth.

Saturday, George suspects Mycroft is actually supposed to be working, but he’s a grown up and knows best what he can and can’t ignore, so she lets herself stay in bed with him all day until she’s sore in every sense of the word. Dinner’s at Isarn, dressed down with their heads leaning in close, cloistered off together in mutual satisfaction at one another’s company.

"I do, actually, have a meeting tomorrow that I cannot reschedule or ignore," Mycroft sighs at her, later that night, studying the lines on her left palm for reasons about which George finds herself strangely incurious.

She moves her fingers around so he has to trap them all over again. "Too bad," she says, "guess I’ll just have to call Dr. Watson to come look in on me again."

"I have no idea why I like you," Mycroft tells her.

George sends him home at half-eleven, because staggering home for an early morning shower and fresh clothes is for people in their twenties, changes her much-abused sheets, and sleeps until noon the next day. She’s doing laundry in the hazy afternoon sun, listening to the Cabin Pressure Christmas special, when her mother drops in with groceries and gossip, and they huddle around the kitchen table and talk for ages about Gloria Patterson and her thirty year-old boyfriend with voyeuristic delight.

"You look well rested," her mother decides, poking at George’s cheek affectionately.

"I am well rested," George answers, smiling too much.

"And happy," Gillian goes on, happily suspicious. "This have anything to do with that nice young man of yours?"

George hides her expression behind her mug and says, "Maybe," but that’s enough for her mother right now, who just puts another three biscuits on George’s plate and goes back to her story about the carbon monoxide alarm, the interfering but well-meaning neighbors, and the terrifying lingerie Gloria had been wearing.

***

Even if George wasn’t grinning like an idiot when she rocks up to work the next day, she’d be fucked because of the Yard grapevine: a terrifyingly effective network of transmissions that works faster than email, as far as George is concerned.

"I heard a man called you in ill on Tuesday night," Edith says, cornering George in the break room and smiling like a lunatic.

"Jesus, really?" George complains, going hot. "Isn’t that a gross violation of HR?"

"And I also heard that a different man called you in sick for Thursday and Friday," Edith continues, gleeful.

George stirs a spoonful of sugar into her tea and flees for her office, where Sally meets her at the door with a number of pending cases and asks, "Is he handsome?"

"You’re fired, Sally," George tells her.

"Did he nurse you while you were ill?" Sally goes on. "Were you feverish and shaking in his strong, reassuring arms?"

She ends up locking her office door for the morning and taping up a sign that says "BUGGER OFF" on her glass walls (fucking glass walls) so she can actually get caught up. George is aware she’s only putting off the inevitable, but still.

Mycroft’s Sunday meeting leaks into all day Monday, which George finds out when Anthea decides her new, secondary job description is to keep George appraised of all of her employer’s non-official secrets movements, such as:

This is Anthea. He just got distracted staring at the water cooler.

This is Anthea. He is asking me to text you to let you know he won’t be free tonight, but would you like dinner on Tuesday.

This is Anthea. He is rearranging everything so he will be free on Tuesday.

This is Anthea. He is now telling me I am no longer allowed to text you without explicit permission.

It’s the happiest George has ever been doing asinine paperwork, and her good mood spills over when she gets a package mid-afternoon: a clutch of little wildflowers, clearly hand-picked and wilting from travel — but still smelling of sunshine and soil, cheerfully orange and pink and powder blue, and George puts them in her Metropolitan Police mug on her desk and stares at them the rest of the day. She guesses she deserves all the pronounced and schoolboy "oooooo"s coming from the bullpen at large.

Her good mood stays all day, stubborn even through Sherlock’s utterly baffling text of:

FOR FUCK’S SAKE, LESTRADE.

DELETED.
SH

***

George would be out of practice dating even if she wasn’t seeing probably the world’s most improbable man, but Mycroft seems genuinely disinterested in proscribed behaviors, and George stops trying to inspect whatever they are to one another through the lens of ordinary relationships. Instead, she makes him take her on a walking tour of London so he can tell her the entire history of their city and send her cups of steaming-hot tea via his functioning dumbwaiter at his stupidly enormous five-story house on Lyall Street, a stone’s throw from Belgravia Square and Buckingham Palace.

"I have no idea why you find that thing so amusing," he sighs, from where he’s sitting incongruously on the floor of his bedroom surrounded by papers, because she’s sitting in the middle of the bed surrounded by her own, and neither are supposed to see what the other is working on: Official Secrets Act and Pending Investigation.

"Mycroft — you have a dumbwaiter," George says, because she doesn’t see how that requires any further explanation.

At some point, when enough of her favorite shirts and scuffed, department store shoes have made their way into Mycroft’s literal "dressing area" that it seems inevitable her mother will realize George’s house looks only half-lived-in, she resigns herself to planning a meeting. Left to her own devices, George would never introduce romantic partners to her mother at all out of sheer awkwardness, but Anthea — who can reliably be found in Mycroft’s kitchen most mornings making tea and eating marmite and cheese sandwiches for breakfast — is vastly unsympathetic about the whole thing.

"It’s not like I’ve met Mycroft’s mother," George justifies to herself while Mycroft is having a shouting match with Sherlock in his office over God knows what. "Probably, if I introduce them, he’ll feel pressured and break it off."

Anthea rolls her eyes. "Mycroft’s mother has a dossier on you an inch thick," she reports. "Separately, he’s put you on his car insurance so you can take the Aston Martin."

And then obviously George can’t introduce her mother because George needs to take Mycroft and the Aston Martin out for the weekend into the South Downs to drive recklessly and bully him into having sex with her in the backseat.

All of George’s good intentions for full disclosure are ultimately worthless, since one weekend when Mycroft is lying on her living room couch reading one of her romance novels with a morbidly fascinated look on his face, her mother bursts in shrieking:

"Ben asked me to marry him!"

He clips the coffee table going down off the sofa, and then George is left in the enviable position of introducing Mycroft and her mother while icing his head and simultaneously trying to admire Gillian’s giant, hideous engagement ring. But her mother seems too happy to be annoyed with George for keeping secrets, and then too entirely pleased by Mycroft’s best behavior to be anything but overjoyed with him. It turns into one of those silly and impossibly perfect days despite the goose egg on Mycroft’s head and George’s latent guilt and that unavoidable touch of sadness at the memory of her father.

"Tell me what he was like," George whispers, later that night, tucked away in her bedroom listening to the traffic outside and feeling strange and young.

"Your father?" Mycroft asks, running a hand down her back patiently, stroking her like a cat. "Shouldn’t you be telling me?"

She shakes her head. "What can you tell about him — from me?"

He makes a considering noise. "You must have learned your steadiness from him," he says, voice raspy from exhaustion, from a long day of flattering George's mother over afternoon tea and listening to Gillian's wedding plans while George was quiet and overfull with her own feelings. "You’re not given to doubt, and likely you learned that by example from him. He wasn’t a reader, but he liked reading to you — you still like being read to. He was constantly, quietly worried you would be unhappy, which is why you’re so determinedly fine all the time now. You like doing things for people — you bring me tea and paracetamol and interrupt me when you think I’m upset — and that must be a relic of being well-loved and knowing it."

George is quiet for a long time, feeling her eyes going damp. "I am happy for her," she says, because she is. Her mother’s been lonely for such a long time, her father’s been dead a decade. "I really am."

"I know," he says, and gathers her up close enough that she can hide against his shoulder. "You’re fine, just as you are."

It’s a short engagement and a big wedding at Dr. Undershaw’s cottage in the country, George’s entire horrifying extended family pouring into the tiny space — tent lit up in the back yard during the last of the summer warmth — absolutely everyone gasping with curiosity about Mycroft. And since he’s probably been trained by fucking Smiley in the art of never giving anything away, he manages to slither away unmolested every time, cruelly leaving George to field the worst of the inquiries: where does he work? what does he do? how did you meet? have you met his family? is he rich? The answers to which are either top secret, too horrible to share with normal people, or gauche. The idea of having to backtrack and clarify that it was all the affectionate kidnappings that had won her over and not the money is equally awful, so George just smiles her awkward teenager smile and drinks heavily.

She wears dove gray to match her mother and walks Gillian up the aisle, and by the time she folds her mother’s hand into Ben’s, George's eyes are swimming. She chokes out, "You better take care of her," and Dr. Undershaw kisses her cheek — warm, grateful — and whispers back, "I will always do my best."

The happy couple set off immediately from the reception for their honeymoon in Thailand and George cries all the way back to London in the passenger seat of Mycroft’s car. She can’t really pin down why. She’s so happy her mother is happy and crushingly sad at the same time, and she lets herself get bundled up in a pair of Mycroft’s pajamas and put to bed without protest.

He makes her tea the next morning, with whole milk and three sugars, because apparently a woman deserves whole milk when she’s just married off her mother.

***

It’s a frigid, miserable Tuesday when Baker Street blows up.

George hears about it from Mycroft, who she’d left sulking in the bathroom trying to convince himself he doesn’t need a root canal. He shouts her name and says, "There’s been an explosion at Baker Street," from up the stairs. She forgets to put on a bra and ends up wearing her least comfortable pair of shoes but they’re out the door and in her car in less than five minutes.

The scene is a train wreck, but the PCs on hand assure her no one’s hurt. Mycroft barely looks at the disaster area of Baker Street before going to check on his brother, and George pops in on Mrs. Hudson both because she’s worried and because she suspects Holmeses can’t actually express affection for one another when observed.

"My poor windows," Mrs. Hudson says, fluttering around her kitchen in a jumper and three housecoats to keep out the cold. "And poor Sherlock — he’ll be freezing tonight."

Probably Mycroft will have the windows fixed for him by midmorning unless Sherlock is bratty about his concern, in which case, Mrs. Hudson’s windows will be fixed by midmorning and Sherlock’s windows in about two weeks. There’s a telling but muffled shout from upstairs, and George feels a moment of sympathy for John, always collateral damage in petty arguments between brothers.

She gives Mycroft and Sherlock another two minutes to repress all of their feelings and be settled safely on opposite couches before pressing a kiss and her business card — mobile number scrawled on the back — onto Mrs. Hudson and running upstairs.

Sherlock’s still in his pajamas and dressing gown, plaster in his hair, but he’s already faffing around his violin, and the minute she comes up the last step, he points his bow at her and says, "You are not wearing a bra."

"Sherlock," Mycroft starts, and George stalks over him to say, "Yes, thank you for that brilliant bloody deduction you twat," and stalks over to him, saying, "Stay still."

He sets away his violin and submits to her inspection, but probably only so he can glare up at her through his eyelashes and ask, "Why aren’t you wearing a bra?"

"To torture you," she mumbles, running her fingers along his scalp looking for bumps, because the EMTs outside had told her the lunatic in 221B had categorically refused medical attention. She doesn’t find any obvious signs of trauma on his scalp — just a few tiny cuts, unavoidable from broken glass, really, he’s lucky that’s all he got — so she tips his face up to her so she can check his eyes.

"Your breasts don’t scare me," Sherlock retorts, and in the background, Mycroft makes a noise George would find hilarious under almost any other circumstance.

She frowns down at Sherlock. "Are you seeing double?" she demands. "Why didn’t you let the medics look you over?"

He ignores her question, musing, "You spent the night at home, and yet you don’t smell like your usual shampoo and — oh my God," he cuts himself off, face going colorless with shock and his eyes round like dinner plates.

"Oh, shit," George says, glancing around for a bin, a box, a bowl, anything.

"I — Mycroft," Sherlock gasps, genuine horror in his voice, staring past George at his brother and getting steadily paler. This has to be some kind of delayed stress reaction.

"If you have to throw up, just throw up," George counsels Sherlock. "I promise I will only make fun of you for two months. Three months. Definitely less than a year."

Sherlock’s nauseated white face keeps turning between George and his brother, and it slowly morphs into an expression of exquisite betrayal on top of his obvious fury.

"How could — you were touching my hair, just now," Sherlock moans. "With your hands that — it’s too horrible to countenance."

"My touching your hair is not making you throw up," George snaps, and behind her, Mycroft says, "Georgiana, I believe Sherlock’s just realized we’re — "

"Don’t," Sherlock interrupts, pleading, "don’t say it, I beg you."

" — in a relationship," Mycroft finishes in a purr, and George doesn’t have time to give him a properly dirty dirty look for that before she sighs:

"You cannot have just realized that."

"Really, Sherlock, do grow up," Mycroft tells him, but smugly.

Sherlock moans, "Deleted — I’m deleting this immediately," and George yells, "Is that what that was about? Bloody hell, Sherlock, how many times have you deleted this already? Stop it!" all over the sound of footsteps thundering up the stairs and John calling, "Sherlock? Sherlock — are you all right? I saw the — oh. Hi."

"John," Mycroft says evenly, unmoved from his spot on the armchair.

"George — Mycroft," John says with a start, and goes straight for Sherlock, who moans and drops his head into John’s steady, seeking hands with a soul-wrenching exhaustion telegraphed in all the lines of his body. George would be impressed if she hadn’t watched him do that at Montague Street with a Real Doll he was keeping for an experiment (he claimed) when she’d stopped by to confiscate a crate of 5 Hour Energy shots from him, once. "Jesus, Sherlock! What happened?"

"Quickly, John, gouge out my eyes," Sherlock begs. "I’ve seen terrible things."

"And that’s the end of my concern for you, then," George tells him, because Sherlock with enough energy for theatrics is Sherlock fine enough. She retrieves her phone — six missed calls, from Sally and Dan from bomb tech; not a gas leak, then — and swoops in to give Mycroft a quick kiss before saying, "Must run."

He hums agreement and says, "Here," before tucking a pair of gloves into her coat pocket, fingers lingering long enough to catch hers for a squeeze. It’s hard to stay annoyed after that, and George leaves the flat grinning at the echoes of Sherlock’s tantrum, Mycroft saying, "I’ll allow you to delete this — on one condition," and heads for the Yard to sort out the detecting end of this fiasco.

British Gas and the bomb squad agrees find a lockbox at the epicenter of the explosion: solid enough to have survived the blast if half-crushed from the force. British Gas seems worryingly gratified it’s not their fuck up, and bombs gets busy breaking out an ocean of industrial tools the open the damn thing somewhere safe — AKA: somewhere no one cares if they blow up — AKA: Croydon. George gets sucked into a discussion with their Home Office liaison about increasing on-street police presence and how to gently elevate the public’s safety on the off chance is the opening salvo in a terrorist attack without generating any panic. It eats most of the day until Dan from bombs calls her to say:

"Hey, we finished x-raying the box, you won’t fucking believe what’s in here, mate."