One day John Watson received a key in the mail. A perfectly ordinary house key. The envelope was addressed to him, with a return address on the other side of London.
He did not recognize the handwriting. Which was to say that it wasn’t Sherlock’s handwriting, because that was the only handwriting he would have cared about.
John told himself it would be stupid and risky and dangerous to try to figure out what the house key meant on his own. He should tell someone. Lestrade, maybe, who would make it into a police case even if he didn’t make it into an official police case. Mycroft would be even worse about it; it would be a matter of international diplomacy if he asked Mycroft about it.
Not that John had any idea what to do about it anyway. The only thing he could think to do was to go to the return address on the envelope. This was, yes, a stupid and risky and dangerous thing to do, but it felt a bit like the old days, chasing down deductions.
The address was in a shabby part of London that had seen decidedly better days. It wasn’t a slum, but it was on its way down, not up. The house itself was several stories, part of a terrace, and John would have said it was abandoned, it looked derelict and uncared for. He knocked on the door but no one answered it. He considered.
And then had an idea. He took the key and fitted it into the lock on the door, and it opened smoothly and easily, and John found himself in an empty house.
Mycroft Holmes was having a good morning. Truthfully, lately he tended to have good days in general, but this morning had been a particularly good one.
“And now I’m going to be late for the meeting with the Home Secretary,” he said, trying to both catch his breath and care about this.
“Was the Home Secretary going to ravish you?” asked Greg, unrepentantly, rolling out of bed.
“Then tell him you had a better offer.”
The Sherlock-emergency-only mobile chirped with an incoming text on the dresser. Mycroft felt rather than saw Greg go over to it. “You are literally a threat to national security,” Mycroft informed him.
Greg’s face swam back into his vision, all mussed hair and dark eyes. “That’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever said to me,” he grinned at him. He kissed him briefly but thoroughly and left the mobile on his chest as he moved away.
Feeling lethargic and not particularly interested in meeting the Home Secretary, Mycroft glanced at the text. And froze.
“Mycroft?” said Greg, confused, clearly catching his reaction.
Mycroft sat up slowly, staring at the text. “Did you read this text?”
“No. Why? What is it? What does it say?” Greg walked over to stand beside him, looking at the mobile in Mycroft’s hand.
Possible slight miscalculation made. Please check on John.
They were quarreling, which they almost never did. Lestrade felt out-of-practice with it, almost as if he were being a troublesome toddler, and he felt even more so that Mycroft was being a troublesome toddler. Lestrade had phoned John immediately, ascertained that he was in his flat, and told him not to go to work. He had done that willingly, because John, he had assumed, would be more inclined to answer a call from Lestrade than from Mycroft.
But Mycroft and Lestrade were quarreling now over what to do next.
And Sherlock was not returning either calls or texts, which was both worrisome in and of itself and frustrating because what, exactly, needed to be checked on with John was uncertain.
“I can put him under surveillance,” Mycroft suggested.
“If you’re going to put him under surveillance you have to tell him you’re putting him under surveillance. You can’t do it secretly.”
“Why not? He’ll never know.”
Lestrade felt like this was one of the lessons he sometimes had to have with Mycroft. Just Because You Can Do Something Because You Are the British Government Doesn’t Mean You Should Do Something was the overarching theme of these lessons. Mycroft seemed to be particularly unable to take these lessons to heart. “Because you can’t just spy on our friends, Mycroft, without their knowledge.”
“Why not?” asked Mycroft again.
“Because it’s…rude,” said Lestrade, helplessly.
“We’re not at a garden party. And if we were at a garden party, I don’t think you would be the maven of etiquette, anyway.”
Lestrade frowned and let that pass. Mycroft was vicious with words when they quarreled. At first, Lestrade had gotten goaded into meeting him blow for blow, and that had been a terrible idea. Lestrade had learned it was much better to ignore the jabs. They were Mycroft’s most effective weapon, and ignoring them helped defuse the argument. “You’re not going to spy on him secretly. I won’t let you. I will immediately go and tell him what you’re doing.”
“Well, what’s your suggestion?”
“Tell him what?”
“That Sherlock is alive, has apparently done something not good, and that somehow, for some reason, as a result, John would seem to be in danger.”
Mycroft shook his head. “Absolutely not.”
“Because I think Sherlock should have to tell John he’s alive. In fact, this whole thing could be an elaborate ruse designed to force us to be the ones to take the brunt of delivering the news.”
“You’re not going to take that risk,” Lestrade informed him, calmly.
“Because I’m not dealing with your guilt if you turn out to be wrong about that. And because you’re Mycroft Holmes—stop behaving like a coward.”
Mycroft brought his thumb up to his mouth and worried absently at the nail, which was something he very seldom did. He said, abruptly, turning back to Lestrade, “What if you do it for me?”
“No.” Lestrade shook his head.
“John likes you more than he…Well, he doesn’t like me at all,” Mycroft pointed out.
“Which is exactly how I would like to keep things.”
“That sounded meaner than I intended, but you know what I mean. Listen, this is really your story to tell, all of it. And I know you know it.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I know that look on your face.”
Mycroft’s frown deepened.
“Go. Tell John. Set him up with surveillance. I’ll be extra nice to you when you get home.” Lestrade turned, looking for his badge in the pile of belongings heaped on his dresser.
“Where are you going?” Mycroft asked.
There was a long moment of silence. An unsettled silence, and Lestrade, locating his badge, turned to glance at Mycroft, who looked out of his element by the French door that led to the balcony off the bedroom. His expression was inscrutable, which was not a good sign, because Lestrade had come to know what most of his expressions meant, but this one was…hesitant.
“I’d rather you didn’t go,” Mycroft said, finally.
Fear, thought Lestrade, that’s what the expression was. Why it was inscrutable to him. He had never seen Mycroft afraid before. Lestrade fought a wave of instinctive fear in response, paused, and tried to consider what to say. “I’m sure I’ll be fine,” he decided, finally. “Sherlock didn’t say anything about me—”
“Sherlock wouldn’t think about you. Sherlock isn’t in love with you. But you were his friend and you’re my…And if I were them, that would make you doubly appealing as a target. And I’d rather you didn’t go.”
Lestrade knew that Mycroft was struggling to maintain this level of politeness, that it went against his desire to simply forbid him to leave the house until everything was resolved. “I’ll let you put surveillance on me,” Lestrade offered, to meet him halfway. He hated surveillance, hated the presence of it and the constant pinprick of unease at being watched. It had been one of their earliest quarrels, Lestrade’s insistence that he didn’t need to be followed at every moment of the day, that he would continue to come home safe and sound every evening. But that had been a casual quarrel, a secondary quarrel, compared to this one.
“What good would that do? So they’d take out the sniper after the sniper took you out.”
Lestrade leaned heavily against the dresser, still holding his badge, thinking. Because Mycroft had a point. About all of it. He looked across at Mycroft, who looked fearful and uncertain and never looked either of those things. “Fine,” he agreed. “I’ll stay home today.”
Mycroft closed his eyes briefly in obvious relief, then opened them, crossed the room, and kissed Lestrade fiercely. “Thank you,” he said, clearly meaning it.
“It isn’t a permanent solution,” Lestrade warned him. “Just for today. We need to figure something else out.”
Lestrade could tell that Mycroft, having won this round, had already decided he would win whatever other rounds needed to be fought over this. He still had him pinned against the dresser, an arm on either side, but he was barely paying attention to him anymore. He gave his ghost of a shrug. “Sherlock will get back in touch. We’ll figure out what’s going on.”
“And the surveillance isn’t going to be enough for John,” Lestrade pointed out.
Mycroft looked as if his thoughts had moved on to other things. Lestrade watched him backtrack to what Lestrade had just said.
“You’re right, the surveillance isn’t going to protect any of us,” Lestrade continued.
“I suppose,” allowed Mycroft, “I could make sure John’s flat is secure—”
“You should invite John to stay with us.”
Mycroft looked startled, straightening a bit, putting some space between them. “What?”
“This house is a fortress. The only place safer than this would be Buckingham Palace.”
“It’s just until Sherlock gets hold of us, and we can figure out a better game plan. But for now it’s the best we can do. And you have, like, thirty-two spare bedrooms or something ridiculous.” Lestrade needlessly adjusted Mycroft’s perfect tie.
“Not thirty-two,” said Mycroft.
“You have some absurd number of spare bedrooms.”
Mycroft looked as if he were trying to make up his mind whether or not to say something. Lestrade waited, watching him patiently, and eventually Mycroft ventured, carefully, “I don’t really like to have…people in my house.”
“I know,” said Lestrade.
“You do?” blinked Mycroft.
“Did you really think you were keeping that a secret, Mycroft?”
“I…” Mycroft considered. “No, I suppose not.”
Lestrade actually did understand this about Mycroft, the intense privacy with which he lived his life. Mycroft had a Public Image. It was not that he was completely different behind the closed doors of his life, because Lestrade always thought that he remained undeniably Mycroft Holmes, but there were subtle differences, a slight relaxation to him. He laughed in this house and flirted in it. Sometimes his hair was tousled and uncombed. Sometimes he stretched on the floor by the fire and read poetry out loud, from a wide and varied list of poets he liked, stretching over centuries. Sometimes he was exhausted and procrastinated pressing international problems. Sometimes he shut off his work mobile and made Lestrade talk to him about light, frivolous things for hours—plots of movies and television shows, stories of uni or police station antics—and lied about having had something else urgent to deal with when he finally turned the work mobile back on.
And, aside from losing the ability to forget about being Mycroft Holmes, British Government, Lestrade knew also that Mycroft dreaded the idea of guests in his rooms, asking questions about his things, or, possibly worse, even looking at his things. Lestrade was well aware that it was perfectly okay for him to leave a glass on the antique sideboard and put his feet up on the arm of the expensive leather couch, that Mycroft didn’t even notice anymore, that it was all the package he’d decided to allow into his life because he was in love with him. That had not been a decision Mycroft had made lightly, and Lestrade knew it would not be easy to have people other than him putting things out of place.
“Please,” he said, and played a card he seldom played with Mycroft. “For me, hmm?”
Mycroft sighed heavily.
“He’s our friend,” continued Lestrade. “This is what people do for their friends.”
“My life was much easier before I had friends,” Mycroft told him.
“Easier, possibly. Better, no. I’ll make sure he’s nice to you.”
Mycroft looked offended. “I’m not worried that he won’t be nice to me. Please don’t be absurd.”
Lestrade smiled a bit. “Thank you.”
“You don’t get to go to work, though, for as long as John’s living here. If it’s not safe for John, then it’s not safe for you.”
“I’ll agree to that.” Lestrade settled his hands on Mycroft’s lapel, pulling him a bit closer for a kiss. “And in exchange,” he said against Mycroft’s mouth, “you also have to ask Mrs. Hudson to stay.”
“Greg,” said Mycroft.
John ended his call with Lestrade and considered his flat. Then he walked into his bedroom and carefully packed a suitcase with some clothing. The last thing he added was the envelope with the key to the empty house. He retrieved his gun, made sure it was loaded, and settled it at the small of his back.
Then he waited, until Mycroft Holmes’s very proper knock sounded on his door.
John looked through the peephole, just to make sure, then opened the door.
Mycroft looked as impeccable as always. He stood in the doorway, leaning casually on his umbrella, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. He smiled, and John thought that he really planned on breaking this news while smiling.
John said, “Sherlock’s alive, isn’t he?”
Mycroft looked surprised. “Oh,” he said, which was so uncharacteristic a thing for precise Mycroft to say that John was reminded of the day he’d confronted him about giving Moriarty the information. Had Mycroft known, even then, what was being planned? “Who told you?” asked Mycroft, suspiciously.
John stared at him, smug in his stupid suit, and thought of him coming to Baker Street to assure him that Sherlock would want him to take the detecting money. Oh, yes, Mycroft had been sure, because he’d probably bloody spoken to Sherlock that bloody day. And then he had taken the bloody violin. And somewhere, for eight months, one week, three days, and twenty hours or so, Sherlock Holmes had been blithely playing his violin. And Mycroft had known, all along, the whole time John had been doing silly things like following the advice of websites on how to be happy, the whole time, and John, without really knowing he intended to do it, punched Mycroft in the face.
Mycroft clearly hadn’t been expecting anything like that. He reeled backward, off balance, and the shock on his face, as he lifted his hand up to the trickle of blood on his cheek, was immensely satisfying…
…For the three-tenths of a second it took before a special ops team broke through the front door and barreled up the stairs.