The car pulled up shortly and Mycroft stepped out of it.
“That was quick,” said Lestrade.
“Sitting on my doorstep made you easy for me to find,” remarked Mycroft, and walked past him and into the house.
Lestrade followed him, into the drawing room, where their latest chess game sat stalled in the middlegame.
“Care for a drink?” Mycroft asked, walking over to the end table.
“No, I’m not having a Scotch with you.”
“Really? You were the original proponent of morning Scotch drinking.”
“I would have figured this out, so much sooner, if you hadn’t—”
“What makes you think you’ve figured anything out?” asked Mycroft, heavily, pouring a Scotch for himself.
Lestrade laughed without humor. “Oh, I know I’ve figured it out. So stop, would you? Stop, for once, treating me like an idiot.”
Mycroft looked at him over his Scotch. “I never treated you like an idiot.”
“Really? This whole time? All the chess games? What was all that?”
“You think I play chess with people I think are stupid?” asked Mycroft.
“I think you distracted me with—”
“I threw you off the scent ages ago, Greg,” Mycroft snapped. “Ages ago. If I’d left you alone, you’d have forgotten all about the theory. I didn’t leave you alone. You are not the idiot in this scenario.”
“What are you talking about?”
“How did you figure it out?”
“You told me I was reasonably clever, asking you about the violin.”
Mycroft gave that ghost of a shrug he had. “You were.”
“But the first time I was here, the very first time, I was talking about Colin and his theories and how they were clever and you said—”
“What’s clever about being wrong,” Mycroft realized, and closed his eyes briefly. “That’s what I said.”
“Exactly. What’s clever about being wrong. Which meant I had to be right about the violin. Why would Mycroft Holmes want that violin? If the person it belonged to was dead? I’ll admit, that touching speech you made was a very good counter, a veritable Traxler Counter-Attack.”
“Nice reference,” said Mycroft.
“What else? Was that really all it took? One slip of the tongue on my part?”
“Well, there was Molly’s behavior. She was nervous around me. And at first I attributed that to grief, but she was so determined I believe she was okay, that there was nothing notable about anything going on in her morgue. I dismissed it at the time, but I shouldn’t have. She avoided talking to John, the day it all happened, wouldn’t answer any of his questions. It seemed out-of-character, John would have been a wreck, and Molly avoided him. And then there was how quickly everything moved. Molly signed everything and released the body to you, in a span of hours. There were all these pieces, just sitting there, and I never thought to put them together, because I was busy trusting you.”
Mycroft tipped his head and considered him, and then sat down. “Well,” he said. “What do you propose to do with this information now that you have it?”
Lestrade stared at him. “That’s all you have to say for yourself?”
“What else do you want me to say?”
“You could apologize.”
Mycroft’s face hardened. “For what? For saving my brother’s life? I don’t consider that to merit an apology.”
“For not telling me!”
“Why would I have told you? The more people who knew, the more likely it was to get out. Molly was already a risk, but we couldn’t have done it without her. We needed her to falsify the death certificate and the coroner’s report.”
“Which was easy enough to convince her to do, because she’s in love with Sherlock.”
“I assume it was easy. Sherlock took care of that. I didn’t get a call from him until after that was settled. ‘Mycroft, it appears I have to fake my death. Can you handle the necessary paperwork and free up some funds for me?’ A delightful call to receive, as you can imagine.”
“I could have helped,” Lestrade pointed out, angrily. “I would have been happy to help.”
“You were right, so early on. You remember, don’t you? About the stories in the press, and why I wouldn’t correct them.”
“John,” recalled Lestrade. “You did it to protect John.”
Mycroft looked at him. “It wasn’t just John.”
For a moment Lestrade didn’t process what he was saying. Then he did, and found himself sitting. “Wait a second—”
“It was you, it was John, it was Mrs. Hudson. All three of you. Would be killed if Sherlock didn’t jump off the building. Tell me how we would have involved you, when you were part of the threat. You wouldn’t have gone along with the plan, not to help save yourself, not someone like you. To save John, yes, in a heartbeat, but to save yourself, you would have gone in search of the sniper, you would have tried anything to find another solution. I can tell you. We looked for one. There wasn’t one. Involving you would only have added a layer of complexity to the situation we didn’t need. If one is going to engage in a conspiracy, the first rule is to involve as few people as necessary.”
Lestrade listened, turning the words over in his head. “But…why me? John and Mrs. Hudson make sense, but—”
“Because you were his friend. Haven’t you insisted upon that, this whole time? He thought well of you; he trusted you; he would have asked you for help. The point was to separate him from his support systems.”
“Moriarty was under the impression I wasn’t in the habit of helping my brother.” Mycroft sipped his Scotch. “I may have given him that impression. I knew what was coming, eventually, someday. It had been brought to my attention that there were those who already suspected Sherlock was a vulnerable point for me. I thought it best if I could create some distance…”
“This is why John blames you,” Lestrade realized.
“Yes. That particular aspect went quite according to plan. You were the part that didn’t go to according to plan. Sherlock warned me you would be the problematic one. Mrs. Hudson would be the easiest, of course. And John is clever, but John trusted Sherlock so implicitly, it would never really occur to him that Sherlock could do something like this to him. But you, your mind never stops turning stones over. You’re a bit like Sherlock in that respect. Less brilliant, of course, it must be said, and more charming, but you never stop asking questions, ever. And then I went and took the violin. I wasn’t lying, you know. I did buy the violin for Sherlock. It was the only successful gift I’ve ever given him. And it was a brush of sentimentality on my part, that he should have the violin with him. It was, it turns out, a fatal mistake. Because you noticed and immediately began asking questions.”
“But you got me to stop,” Lestrade pointed out.
“For a little while, yes. But then I—uncharacteristically, it must be said—made another monumental mistake. You see, I liked you. I told myself it would be fine, to invite you over, drink some Scotch, play some chess. How dangerous could it be? I keep secrets for a living. All I had to do was keep this one secret from this one person: you. Sherlock said I wouldn’t be able to do it.” Mycroft sipped his Scotch speculatively. “I do hate to admit when he’s right.”
Lestrade sat in the chair and tried to think. He felt as if the world had tipped underneath him, that he was maintaining his balance only precariously, that if he moved he might fall off entirely. He felt almost numb with fury, and truthfully he was no longer sure exactly what he was furious about, just that it was there, pulsing through him, and it was the only thing keeping him from spinning wildly off into space.
“So now,” said Mycroft.
Lestrade looked up to find him watching him closely, and Lestrade felt annoyed and confused and exhausted.
“You know I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Keep the secret,” guessed Lestrade, wearily.
Lestrade sighed. His headache was back. For a little while, the rush of the anger had drowned it out. He thought of the way John had looked the first time he’d seen him after it all had happened, swallowed by sadness, small in his empty flat. But John had seemed better lately…Maybe it wasn’t…But it would require him to look John in the eye and lie, day in and day out, every time he saw him—John, who was one of the nicest people he’d ever met—but it was for his own good, wasn’t it? If Mycroft was to be believed, it was. And why would Mycroft lie about that? Hadn’t he himself reached the same conclusion, that John was being protected by Sherlock’s death? Real or not?
“I don’t know,” he said, because his head pounded, and the world was dizzy, and he couldn’t make this decision on the spur of the moment like this.
“Did you sleep last night?” asked Mycroft.
Lestrade looked up suspiciously. “Do you have me followed?”
Mycroft looked annoyed. “No. Why do you always think that?”
“Because you always know where I am.”
“No, I don’t. I can find you, when I wish to find you. I’ve never followed you. Don’t you think, if I were having you followed, you wouldn’t have blindsided me this morning?”
That was a good point. Especially because Mycroft did look genuinely blindsided. Mycroft honestly looked as exhausted as Lestrade felt.
“I need to sleep,” he announced, and stood.
Mycroft followed suit. “There are bedrooms upstairs.”
Lestrade shook his head, heading toward the front hall. “No. I’m going home and I’m…I don’t know what I’m doing, honestly.” He paused by the front door, looking back at him. “Don’t…‘find’ me, or whatever it is that you do. I need to…I need to take a breath.”
“Yes,” said Mycroft, gravely, seriously. There was a look in his eyes that Lestrade couldn’t read, like he was waiting for Lestrade to do or say something else. Or maybe waiting for himself to do or say something else. Lestrade couldn’t tell and decided he didn’t want to tell. He had reached his limits of trying to puzzle out Mycroft Holmes. He was sick to death of the puzzle of Mycroft Holmes.
He opened the front door, and Mycroft said, behind him, sounding frustrated, “Greg.”
He looked back at him expectantly, and then paused, taken by the sight of Mycroft Holmes clearly torn and undecided about something. Lestrade narrowed his eyes, but, of all the possibilities he considered in that split second, what he definitely did not expect was for Mycroft, in a swift and fluid movement, to nudge him to the side of the doorway, press him against the wall, and kiss him.
His thoughts moved sluggishly, stalled into place, trying to make sense of the sudden discovery that Mycroft Holmes was kissing him, that Mycroft Holmes was actually a surprisingly good kisser. His brain stuttered to a stop and then whirred back into action, clicked into a plan of attack, and, not entirely with Lestrade’s conscious approval, kissed back.
He really had no idea how long that went on for. He knew only that eventually, at some point, Mycroft pulled back, and Lestrade was gasping for air, and the dizzy off-kilterness of his world had transformed into a pleasant hum that really wasn’t so bad, and he seemed less tired than he had supposed.
“I stopped playing chess with you a long time ago,” Mycroft told him, close enough that Lestrade felt the vibrations of his voice through his chest.
“Oh,” managed Lestrade, confused, trying to figure out what exactly had happened to his life.
Mycroft’s nose rubbed against his. “Right around the time I started playing chess with you,” he continued, a soft breath against his mouth.
“I…” said Lestrade, wondering what he was going to say.
Mycroft stepped back and said, briskly, “I thought you should know.”
Lestrade blinked at him. The door next to them was still standing open, and sunlight was spilling into the front hall, illuminating the remarkable sight of Mycroft Holmes, rumpled, for a brief moment before Mycroft straightened his tie and walked out of the house.
Lestrade managed to straighten himself from the wall he was leaning against and found himself looking at Mycroft’s curious butler.
“I’m going home,” he decided.