Until Sherlock’s near-fatal overdose almost four years into their acquaintance, Gregory Lestrade only ever had occasion to meet Sherlock’s brother in person twice.
The first time was after Sherlock’s first “case,” wherein he had shown up, obviously high, fired off several suspicious sounding (at the time, when no one knew what Sherlock Holmes could do) deductions about the murder case that only the murderer could haven known. Lestrade had promptly arrested the young man on suspicion of murder and was in the process of leaving his interview with Sherlock (whose hands, with their long, delicate fingers, were twitching endlessly, as if he was craving a fag, a pen, something to keep his hands occupied) when he walked straight into a wall covered in fine wool named Mycroft Holmes.
“Sorry, who?” Lestrade asked.
The tall man smiled thinly. “Mycroft Holmes, Inspector. I believe you are currently interrogating my younger brother, whom you consider, quite wrongly, to be the prime suspect in the Swigart case.”
“How did you know about that case? It just happened!”
“Inspector, I will tell you you have it all wrong. My brother has given you the key to the case, but that key is not him, but what he has told you. May I suggest you follow the leads he’s given you?”
The man, with an umbrella dangling from one elbow, politely sidestepped Lestrade and rested his hand on the doorknob of the room in which his younger brother waited. “Oh, and Inspector?” he said, not even looking over his shoulder, “I believe you’ll find the paperwork for my brother’s immediate release on your desk. Good day.”
The knob turned and the man stepped into the tiny room. Lestrade gaped like a landed fish for a few moments before he remembered himself and reached for the doorknob. A cool female voice floated out of the shadows to his left and said, “Your desk, Inspector. The paperwork?”
“Sod the paperwork! Who the hell are you? Who the hell is he?”
The woman stepped forward and gave him a smirk before she glanced back down at her mobile. “He is not someone you want to cross, Inspector.”
“Lestrade!” That would be the DCI, bellowing across the floor at him. Again.
“Sir?” As tempted as he was to shout back, Lestrade waited until he was in front of his superior’s desk before addressing his boss with a raised eyebrow.
“Why am I getting calls from the Home Office asking when a Sherlock Holmes, who they proclaim is innocent of the murder charge you’re pinning on him, will be released? They’re asking for the paperwork.”
Lestrade groaned softly. “I’ll get right on it, sir.” He spun on his heel and stalked over to his desk, where, in pride of place, was the small stack of papers, already filled out, that would free Sherlock Holmes. All they needed was his signature, which he provided after a moment of biting his lip.
Hell with it, he thought as he scrawled his name on the forms. If they’re wrong and I’m right then at least I’ll have something to hang over them later. As soon as his pen left the paper, the woman with the mobile was back again, smoothly gathering the pile of forms up and tucking them into a file folder that she made appear from nowhere.
“Thank you, Inspector,” she said as she closed the folder and met his eyes for the first time. “And you’re wrong, I’m afraid.” Smirk firmly in place, she walked away, pausing five steps later to throw over her shoulder, “Mr Holmes will be in touch soon.”
She was already in the elevator before Lestrade realised she hadn’t said which Holmes she meant.
Forty-five minutes later, his mobile buzzed with a new text from an unknown number.
I would appreciate it if you would indulge my brother’s whims and allow him to assist you on cases that, as he puts it, are apparently enough to stump you and your team. You would not have to pay him; I will take care of that in exchange for your overlooking his unorthodox methods. He has agreed to get clean in order to undertake this venture.
Lestrade huffed a disbelieving laugh. Christ, the toff uses proper punctuation in his bloody texts, he thought as he laboriously typed a response. Before he got out more than a few words, the mobile buzzed again.
Your assistance in this matter would be greatly appreciated.
Fine but the minute he shows up high again at a crime scene the deals off
Done. My thanks, Inspector.
And after that, their only communication for three years was through texts. On occasion, the woman who had taken the forms from him (Anthea, he learned after the fourth or fifth visit,) would drop off a folder or two for him, but there was no face-to-face contact with Mycroft at all.
Or it seemed that way, anyway. Every once in a while, and then more and more frequently, Lestrade would notice a CCTV camera following him, or he would see a black car hovering just at the corner of his vision. At first, it spooked him a bit, but then Mycroft’s texts began detailing what he was wearing, or what he had just had for lunch, and instead of feeling watched, Lestrade felt…protected. Guarded.
Mycroft’s surveillance came in handy one cool October night when Lestrade had been tailing a suspect on his own and had been stabbed in an alley. Sirens were blaring far sooner than they should’ve given the time Lestrade placed the call for assistance, and when he saw the CCTV camera (perched like a bird in the corner of the alley where Lestrade slumped as he put pressure on the nasty cut in his side) light blink once, he nodded back and hid his smile.
What Lestrade didn’t see was the raven that followed his ambulance and then sat outside his window all night long in a silent vigil.
When he was released from hospital with stitches and enough gauze padding to choke a mummy, he went straight home, intent on collapsing into his bed and not moving for a few days. He stumbled in through the door, tugging his coat off carefully, wincing a bit as he twisted and tugged on the stitches. He made it into his bedroom and collapsed more than sat on the bed to kick off his shoes, socks, trousers, shirt, and watch before he carefully lowered himself down and sighed a little in relief. The bag containing his medication was dropped on his bedside cabinet. He set an alarm to wake up to take his painkillers and then dropped off into deep, dreamless sleep.
The alarm went off three hours later and Lestrade groaned wholeheartedly before he remembered that all he had to do was take his meds and then he could go back to sleep⎯there was no need to get all the way up and go in to work. He half sat and groped for the bag, fumbling it open and tipping out the bottle. It took him a moment to twist off the stubborn cap and tap out two pills into his palm. Screwing the cap back on, he went to sit the bottle back on the cabinet when something caught his eye. Hand frozen in midair, Lestrade stared at the long black feather that was resting innocuously next to the now-empty bag. That feather had not been there when he’d fallen asleep. His first reaction was to snatch it up and toss it in the bin, but something deep in his guts stayed his hand. Instead of brushing it off on to the floor, he carefully sat the bottle down and then reached one finger out and gave the feather a tentative brush along its edges. The barbs were smooth and almost cool to the touch. He picked it up and laid back down, carefully examining the feather from every angle, looking for a clue. Finding none, and fighting off sleep, he sat it back on the cabinet before sleep overcame him again. keep it safe, his inner voice whispered, and so he did.
Mycroft, who had watched with bated breath this entire tableau from the grate outside the window, let out a soft trill. He waited until Gregory’s eyes closed and his chest rose slowly and evenly before he took flight. The surveillance team would keep an eye on Gregory for now; Mycroft had a vital meeting with the Prime Minister to attend.
When Mycroft changed back just outside 10 Downing Street, his mobile chimed.
Losing feathers, brother mine?
Mycroft’s mouth twisted into something between a grimace and a smile.
And where are your two you’ve lost, dear brother?
He slipped the mobile into his jacket pocket and slipped in through Downing Street’s side entrance. Perhaps Gregory would like a quiet night out after all he’d been through in the past two days. Now, how to invite him without it seeming like he was abducting the man? Subtlety in getting what he wanted when it came to his personal life was not something Mycroft excelled in, and it often showed when he had been younger and less restrained. But now, now he could wait⎯he had learned from his brother the virtue of patience after seeing Sherlock become its exact antithesis. Even still, he had to be careful with his approach⎯Gregory was like a starling: easily spooked by care and compassion. To make it even more complicated, Gregory had no idea Mycroft was interested in him. In fact, Mycroft himself was not sure why his interest, which had lain dormant for so many years, was piqued by a greying Detective Inspector. He would have to plan his way forward with all the precision of a tricky negotiation between two perpetually warring countries. Fortunately, bringing those negotiations to fruition was his job⎯and he was very, very good at it. He smiled brightly as the Prime Minister rose from his chair. Yes, this would be worth the wait, he thought as he greeted the other man.
An hour later, he was getting into his car when Anthea sent him a text:
He kept the feather. It’s on top of the bureau.
Mycroft smiled again. Yes, he is definitely worth the wait.