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With Practice

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When he wakes up, the light in the room is bright, and Mycroft is still beside him, is still wrapped around him. And Mycroft still smells like a bottle of rosé. His mouth is slightly open and when Lestrade shifts, so does Mycroft, and it reveals a small slick of saliva on Lestrade’s shoulder. Even though his own brain feels more than a little foggy, that makes him grin. He reaches, strokes Mycroft’s hair back from his forehead where it’s all stuck in strange directions, and at that, Mycroft’s eyelids screw down tighter for a moment before he blinks. As soon as his eyes open, though, he braces himself, his hand going stiff where it crosses Lestrade’s chest.


Mycroft makes an uncertain sound, like he doesn’t know, and he takes a few deep breaths before opening one eye again. “Maybe not as much as I feared?” He still doesn’t seem certain, and Lestrade cannot help but crane his neck, kiss his forehead.

He strokes Mycroft’s back and is just glad that his mum’s evil plan didn’t end with Mycroft vomiting into the toilet. By most people’s standards, Mycroft hadn’t really had that much to drink—which was probably a bottle over the course of the two hours Jeanne had him cornered—but it’s more than Lestrade’s ever seen him drink. He pets, and Mycroft tucks closer, goes still again.

They both doze a little more, and then he has to get up. Mycroft lets go only reluctantly, curls his arms around Lestrade’s pillow. He pulls on his flannel bottoms and yesterday’s t-shirt and sneaks out to the main hallway through the lav, and the kitchen is quiet, though it smells beautifully of coffee. The door to the yard is standing open, too, which means his mum and da are probably out in the garden already. A quick glance at the livingroom shows Corrie and Betsy still sacked out on the sofa after being up every bit as late as the rest of them were. He gets two glasses of water and sneaks back to their room through the lav, closes the closet door behind himself.

Mycroft’s eyes are open properly now, and he’s stretching, his arms over his head, his pointed toes hanging off the end of the bed. Mycroft’s eyes close as his back arches in the fullness of the stretch. He sighs, relaxing back into the mattress, before he holds his hand out for one of the glasses.

Lestrade puts it into his hand and then has to simply stand there for a moment more because he’d forgotten, when he woke up, that they’d sort of just collapsed together at the end of the night, Mycroft’s pyjamas still folded neatly in one of the drawers. And now, there’s just the cocoa-coloured tongue of sheet between his legs, the corner of it pointing to his sternum. All Lestrade can do is watch the working of Mycroft’s throat as he drinks.

“I was going to ask if you wanted to sleep more.” Lestrade tightens his grip on his own glass to keep from simply leaping on him.

Mycroft shakes his head. “Awake now.” Awake enough now to tug the sheet a little higher on his body. He glances at the clock, and it’s somehow still before eight. His jaw works, his tongue making a faintly sticky sound against the roof of his mouth, and Lestrade had the same experience ten minutes ago. He wipes the corner of his lips with the back of his hand, and he steals a mortified glance at Lestrade. “Please tell me I haven’t drooled on anything.” He shoves himself up, inspects his pillow. He looks so distraught that Lestrade is doubly glad that he’d been Mycroft’s pillow all night.

He rubs his shoulder and Mycroft cringes a little. He has to laugh. “You haven’t drooled on anything that isn’t easily washed.” Stepping in close to the bed, he runs his fingers though Mycroft’s hair again. The mousse he must put in it—it’s the only kind of product he can think of that makes any sense with the hair-dryer, though he’s still never seen him in the act—has made his hair particularly ridiculous this morning. The mousse, and the sleep, and certainly not the frenzied, messy snogging last night.

Mycroft leans into the touch a little, curling his arm around Lestrade’s waist. He sighs, makes that sticky sound with his mouth again. “I think I could run myself through a washing machine this morning.” He scrubs his hand over his face one more time. Lestrade’s familiar with the feeling: much better than a proper hangover, but still that foggy, faintly sweaty sensation. Maybe a bit of a headache.

“I recommend the shower, actually.” His parents installed one of those water-saving showerheads that makes it seem like rain, which is really quite wonderful while on holiday. For home, for after-work, he prefers one like Mycroft’s, one that can generate enough water pressure that it feels like Shiatsu or something. Not that he’s had all that many after-work showers at Mycroft’s, but he can imagine it.

Mycroft does grin at that, and he reaches one arm toward the bureau as he turns his eyes toward Lestrade. The reach exaggerates, but that’s all. He doesn’t move otherwise.

Lestrade shakes his head and goes to get his pyjamas. “You’re a terrible Jedi.”

He snorts. “I’m no Jedi.”

“Fancy yourself Han, then?” Everybody wanted to be Han Solo. He hands Mycroft his pyjamas, and he makes no pretensions about not-watching while Mycroft puts them on. Mycroft might be getting dressed to walk through a closet and to the shower, but he’s also not hiding under the sheet while he does it.

Mycroft shakes his head as he does up his buttons. “Lucas adhered too closely to Campbell's archetype. The whole trilogy was predictable. Mostly, I wanted to be The Doctor.” He stands, stretches again, and Lestrade is certain his own shoulders aren’t even capable of that. “The ability to travel all of time…” Anything else gets lost in another yawn. Mycroft shakes his head, as though trying to get that to stop.

“But you already have some Jedi mind-tricks.” Imagining Mycroft with a TARDIS and a sonic screwdriver—it’s just too much raw power.

Mycroft gives him a disbelieving look, and he turns toward the lav. He pauses, looks intently at Lestrade. “Can you tell what I’m thinking now? Because if I could use the Force, it would work.”

Lestrade knows what he wants him to be thinking, but he’s not going to assume. “That out in the kitchen is the cup of tea you’re looking for?” He can do that, would be glad to. And while it steeps is more than time enough to make himself two espressos.

The fond look on Mycroft’s face is as palpable as if he’d touched him, but that’s not it. Mycroft just tips his head toward the shower, holds out his hand.

“Really?” He’s already got his fingers laced with Mycroft’s, though.

Mycroft’s chest rises and falls, and he nods minutely. “Yes.”

Then they’re at the door to the toilet, and Mycroft pauses. Lestrade laughs, pushes him into the room, closes the door behind him. “Open the door again when you want me.” Mycroft is free to take a few minutes for himself to take a piss and brush his teeth.

Lestrade spends those few minutes watching the quiet backyard. If he presses close to the glass, he can hear his parents outside, probably at the patio table. They spend most mornings out there; at least the mornings where his father isn’t making something for Nan and Luc’s guests. They do most of it themselves, but there’s a special package deal on the website that involves his da’s pain au chocolate bread pudding and chocolat chaud and so on. It’s as close to retired as his father will ever be.

But then there’s the quiet click of the door opening, and Lestrade checks that the bedroom door is locked, too. It’s not likely that anyone will surprise them, the girls being as old as they are now, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

He doesn’t quite skip on his way into the lav, but it’s a near thing. Mycroft is already behind the curtain, the room filling with warm steam, and Lestrade strips off quickly, though he hesitates before touching the curtain. Then Mycroft flicks a bit of water at him.

“I haven’t changed my mind. And this is an old house that must surely have a limited supply of hot water.” The edge of the curtain is nudged back, though he still can’t see any of Mycroft. When he steps into the bath, though, Mycroft doesn’t give him much chance to look, only pulls him right under the spray, kisses him.

Lestrade tries very, very hard to keep the sound quiet, but all of Mycroft’s water-slicked skin against him at once is glorious, and he pushes his fingers through Mycroft’s wet hair. Mycroft’s head tips back into his touch, and Lestrade licks at the rivulets of water coursing down his neck. He’s trying not to bite, knows that whatever marks he leaves on Mycroft will persist a lot longer than they do on him, but Mycroft doesn’t make it easy. Not the way his thigh pushes between Lestrade’s, the way he does bite at the crest of Lestrade’s shoulder. Mycroft sucks hard on his lower lip, and Lestrade rakes his fingertips down the center of Mycroft’s back. His resultant gasp is a humid puff against Lestrade’s ear, is followed by a whisper of his name, a sharp arch of his hips.

Lestrade folds himself to his knees, there on the shower floor. Drops of water hit Mycroft’s shoulders and fragment, misting Lestrade’s eyes, but he keeps them open as best he can because watching Mycroft understand what he’s about to do is the best part. His skin is flushed with the hot water, his eyes hooded, downcast. Mycroft’s hand threads through his hair, just touching, just gentle, and Lestrade keeps his mouth an inch from Mycroft’s prick, looking up until Mycroft draws him in, until the thick smoothness of Mycroft’s prick is in his mouth. Against the heat of the water, his skin nearly feels cool. He steadies himself with one hand on Mycroft’s hip, uses the other to stroke the length of his leg, the firm curve of his arse, and Mycroft spreads his legs a little more, until his feet are spread the width of the bathtub. It’s too tempting. Lestrade lets his hand drift over Mycroft’s thigh, down to the root of his prick, and he rubs there a moment with his thumb, cups his heavy bollocks in his palm. Mycroft rocks forward, his breath a soft hiss in his teeth, and he strokes Lestrade’s hair a little frantically. And that will either stop altogether or get more frantic in a moment: Lestrade lets his fingertips wander more, massaging his perineum, which makes Mycroft’s fingers clutch in the best kind of way, before he ghosts one fingertip over the tight ring of muscle. Mycroft tenses, and Lestrade looks up, holds his gaze, waits until Mycroft’s chin dips slightly. It could be an assent to more, further, but he only presses himself in closer, flattening his tongue on Mycroft’s shaft while he pets, gently, at the soft ridges of skin. This isn’t the time to try penetration—and not only because there’s no lube in the shower—if Mycroft’s even interested in that, but just this much might give him an idea of whether he would consider trying.

He strokes, and Mycroft starts to relax into the touch, the slow circles he makes with both fingertip and tongue, and Lestrade rubs his other hand up and down Mycroft’s lean leg. Mycroft rocks his hips extravagantly once, pressing back against Lestrade’s fingertip and forward into his mouth, and Lestrade gives voice to a broken moan as Mycroft pushes in deep. Mycroft’s fingers tighten in his hair more, and his short nails scratch softly. The moan blunts around the way Mycroft’s prick fills the space where the sound originates, and he does his best to lick around the quiet vibration, the force of feeling that is tangible as skin, that is just under his tongue, that is caught and quieted where their bodies meet.

When Mycroft’s jaw tightens, his lip caught hard between his teeth, Lestrade pulls back, works Mycroft’s spit-slick prick in his fist. Mycroft makes a little sound at the tighter grip—in a few days, maybe, Lestrade will be able to have him where he doesn’t have to worry about being quiet, in his own bed, and that thought almost makes his own eyes roll back. But Mycroft’s looking a bit strangely at him at the change, and then Lestrade can feel him stiffen a little all over, and Mycroft’s fingers scrabble on his wet shoulder, uncertain if he’s pushing him back or pulling him closer. But Lestrade keeps his fist where it is, his whole body close, and he closes his eyes when the first pulse of Mycroft’s spend stripes his cheek, his mouth, opens them again as he leans back a little, takes the rest across his neck, his shoulder, the top of his chest.

He glances up at Mycroft, whose eyes are wide, his breath a slow—careful, controlled—rise and fall. And Mycroft’s hand trails shakily from his hair to his cheek, sweeping his thumb along the edge of Lestrade’s mouth. Maybe neither of them breathes as Lestrade turns his head to lick his skin clean. Mycroft stares a little more before he pulls Lestrade up, right against his side, pressing them together until their mouths meet. Even as they kiss, Mycroft’s hands are everywhere on his body, cupping his cheek, his chin, slipping through the slick come on his neck, his collarbone, not so much wiping it away as spreading the mess, rubbing it in.

Lestrade rests his forehead against Mycroft’s cheek, shielding his eyes from the water, holding Mycroft around the waist as Mycroft continues, his touch deliberate, reverent.

“That feels amazing.” The words smudge against Mycroft’s jaw, and maybe Mycroft can’t even hear them but he doesn’t stop, either, only slows his hand when the semen turns tacky under the spray.

Mycroft tips his chin up, kisses him with surprising heat. When he pulls back, though, Mycroft’s a little hesitant to meet his eyes. But he does it.

“I feel like I should beg pardon for that.” His voice is apologetic, but his hands are still firm on Lestrade’s hip, his shoulder, and though Lestrade’s still hard, though his blood thrums with want, there’s something languid and peaceful in his bones.

“Hn-nn.” Which is no kind of answer. He tries again. “No.” He swallows. “No, I—I really liked that, every bit of it.” He slides his hand across the base of Mycroft’s spine, back and forth. He’s never explained that to anyone, definitely not to someone who didn’t already know what the appeal might be. And it isn’t like it’s been with other men, where there’s always been something sly and knowing on both sides, the byplay of shame and lust, the revel in the mess, the evidence, the identity of it. This is about him and Mycroft and nothing else because Mycroft doesn’t acknowledge any of the else. This is about wanting Mycroft everywhere, even in his pores, and, no matter how he knows he’s tried to not-see it, about Mycroft wanting that much for himself, too. Yes, he went to his knees with this in mind because Mycroft likes to watch, because Mycroft’s as much a voyeur sexually as he is professionally, but it wasn’t going to end with Mycroft simply getting off because sex with Mycroft is never “simply” anything, and he knew that when he began. Lestrade only hitches himself closer, rests his cheek on Mycroft’s shoulder. “You really are the perfect height.”

Mycroft kisses him again, bites softly at his stubbled chin, and his smile is gentle. “I am pleased that you think so.” His fingertips return to Lestrade’s clavicle. “Since I made a mess of you, would you permit me to wash you?” His other hand, though, slips lower across his hip. “Or—”

The decision is easy, and he surprises both himself and Mycroft. He reaches behind Mycroft for the small jar on the shelf, puts it in Mycroft’s hand, and he stays where he is, draped against his side.

Mycroft just massages the green tea scrub into his skin, and Lestrade isn’t going to say it out loud, but it might actually be the best thing he’s ever encountered for getting come out of his chest hair. And regardless of everything else, it all feels really good, the hot water and the slight rasp under Mycroft’s palm stroking him neck to knee, and it smells—well. It smells like Mycroft. When Mycroft reaches for the shampoo, Lestrade knows he makes another luxuriant sound. And while Mycroft is working the lather through his hair, Lestrade sucks a series of slightly pinked marks across the top of Mycroft’s shoulder, not hard, not using his teeth at all, but something to keep contact.

Mycroft turns him so Lestrade’s back is against his chest, his head tipped back to rest on Mycroft’s shoulder while he rinses the suds away. And then Mycroft is kissing him again, and they stand there until the water loses its steam. Mycroft shoos him. “Go on,” he says, “before it’s not even warm anymore.”

The water will be properly cold in two minutes whether Lestrade is there, but he suspects it has a lot to do with Mycroft’s desire for privacy for his own washing. Lestrade does as told, wraps in a towel and dries himself. The whole room is thick with steam, and he wipes at the mirror to clear it.

He secures the towel around his waist, takes Mycroft’s from the rack, and waits. The water turns off, and Mycroft’s hand reaches around the curtain for the towel that’s no longer there.


Lestrade closes his fingers around Mycroft’s wrist, tugs gently. “Come on.”

Mycroft huffs a little, but it’s become a nearly fond sound, too. And he pushes the curtain back and lets Lestrade slide the towel first over his hair and then to wrap him close in the terrycloth, to rub each of his limbs dry. It’s more awkward than it seems like it should be, but it’s not like he’s an expert at this, and Mycroft endures it with good humor.

“If you give me the opportunity to practice, I will get better at this.” He strokes down the middle of Mycroft’s back, where two tries have still seen him miss a few drops of water clinging to his back. “It worked for penalty shots and sabayon.” Maybe he lingers a bit over the slight indents at the base of his spine. Maybe he kisses away another damp place below his ear, where his hair curls wetly, askew. Maybe Mycroft tilts into his touch from time to time, his eyes closing slowly at the long, slow strokes of hand and cloth. Even if it takes Lestrade a lot longer than it should—and that would probably be rather unpleasant in his own apartment, where the interior temperature is significantly cooler except for the hottest weeks of the year—it gives him a wonderful opportunity to steal a close look at the freckles across his shoulderblades, at the small mole beneath his left arm, at the backs of Mycroft’s thighs, which are dusted, too, with fine, light freckles. In most of six months, he’s never really seen that. It makes his breath catch in his throat.

Mycroft cranes his head to peer over his shoulder, the towel now draped around his shoulders like a cape. He looks faintly confused, the expression so clearly rare.

And nonsensical. Maybe the wine’s done more to Mycroft’s head than he thought. “Sabayon? A light custard—”

Mycroft cuts him off with a shake of the head. “I know that.” And he turns his attention to the little fixes of drying himself that Lestrade wasn’t going to do for fear of mauling him a bit—the inner shell of his ears, so on—the towel held close around himself.

Lestrade takes Mycroft’s pyjamas from the hook on the back of the door. He steals Mycroft’s towel, but before Mycroft can protest, he threads Mycroft’s right arm through one sleeve, his left through the other. And though it’s kind of painful to clothe him instead of unclothe him, he does up the buttons. He crouches at Mycroft’s feet, holds his pyjama bottoms until Mycroft steps into them. Lestrade does have to steal one kiss at the top of his thigh as he slides them up, though.

“With practice,” Lestrade says. Maybe Mycroft’s chin dips a little at that, and he certainly does grin at the way Lestrade rubs up against the sleek material, too, the way he can’t help enjoying at least the feeling of the smooth silk on his own skin. He turns then, goes into the bedroom, to offer him more privacy.

Before he can dig clothes from his bag, though, Mycroft is behind him, tugging him back onto the bed, and when they’re horizontal again, it feels like an excellent idea because the pillow is soft and Mycroft is close and they can probably get away with another hour here, given how still the house feels.

He tosses the towel on the floor, and Mycroft doesn’t protest at all when Lestrade pulls him into service as a blanket. And that is very nice indeed.

But he doesn’t feel like having a nap, and Mycroft’s looking at him in that way that makes it feel like Mycroft can see under his skin. Might as well say it, then. “So how much do I have to hope you forgot about last night?” He can’t even imagine what his mother might have told Mycroft.

Mycroft makes a slight choking sound. “More like what must I hope your mother forgets.” He steals a guilty glance at Lestrade. “And you.”

That makes him smile. “Pretty sure I’m enjoying remembering last night.” It was fun. It was funny. Only a little terrifying. Or maybe it's still a lot terrifying and he's just getting used to it. He settles into his pillow a little more, glances at Mycroft, propped above him. “Even if you do fancy my da.” It’s easier to make it a joke, leave it a joke, especially when they’ll be expected at breakfast sooner or later. He’s not sure who he’s convincing.

“I don’t fancy your father. I fancy you in the future tense.” At Lestrade’s doubtful noise and the little shove at his shoulder, Mycroft shifts a little lower on Lestrade's body. Mycroft nips at his clavicle, soothes the same spots with his tongue. “And, of course, having seen pictures, I fancy you in the past tense.” One hand trails down his side, deliberately lingering in the ticklish spots until Lestrade squirms, until he curls his legs around Mycroft’s waist, presses in with his knees.

“Well,” Lestrade says. “I don’t blame you for that. I’d have fucked me, too.” He flattens his foot on Mycroft’s silk-clad thigh, rubs a little, and Mycroft inches down further, drags his nose and lips along the crease of his thigh, a bit of laughter giving weight to his breath.

“Mm,” he says. “Don’t tempt me.” One hand edges under his arse, and Mycroft squeezes a little before he leaves a soft kiss over a small scar on Lestrade’s stomach. He thinks it’s from chicken pox and not from wrecking his bike in a gravel pit—that mark is on the other side. “But most of all,” Mycroft says, “I fancy you in the present. You. Just as you are. Just now.” And his mouth slips slowly downward, a trail of kisses over the line of mostly-still-dark hair from navel to groin.

Lestrade lets out a shaky breath. “I think you’re trying to distract me from asking any more about last night.” He strokes Mycroft’s hair, the back of his neck, as Mycroft licks the underside of his prick with such deliberate patience.

There’s a slight pause in Mycroft’s movements, and his other hand smoothes up Lestrade’s thigh, over his stomach, to lace their fingers together. Then Mycroft lifts his head, holds his gaze. “I would tell you,” he says. “If you asked.”

Which leaves it to him to decide what he wants to know. He can only nod, and he keeps Mycroft’s hand in his, but he doesn’t voice the question. Mycroft’s fingers tighten slightly, just once, and he lowers his head again. Pleasure is a slow, cresting wave, and he tells himself he is keeping quiet because surely the rest of the house is waking up now. After, too, he pulls Mycroft’s mouth to his own, and there’s no speaking like this.


In time, there’s a little ticking of tiny pebbles on the glass of the French doors, a lot of whistling of the sort that does not come from birds, and Lestrade mumbles into Mycroft’s shoulder. “Make them go away.”

Mycroft tugs the sheet higher, even though there’s no gap in the curtain, even though he’s clothed, and he grins. “That, I think, is out of my jurisdiction.”

“But they’d listen to you.” The girls keep proving that they’d do pretty much anything Mycroft asked.

“Maybe it’s time we rejoined the world.” Mycroft leaves one last kiss in the center of his chest, and then he stands, makes his way into the little closet.

Lestrade lies there for a moment more, and now that Mycroft’s brought it up, all he can think of is coffee. That’s what actually gets him to move, and when he stands, Mycroft leans so he can look around the doorjamb at him.

That’s always nice, too.


Breakfast is actually brunch, Bob showing off his infinite ability to customize eggs Benedict and Jean refusing to give up the preparation of the Hollandaise to any hand but his own. Lestrade is glad that the only thing he has to do is drink his coffee and try to keep a straight face every time Betsy catches him touching Mycroft. Corrie sits on Mycroft’s other side, and she scoots her chair to the left again and again, in the service of making proper room for Anthea, until Mycroft has to move his chair a bit, too—until there’s not an inch between them, really. Betsy snugs her own chair right up to Lestrade’s, so they’re effectively stuck together.

As Jeanne fills teacups, reaching around Lestrade for Mycroft’s, she kisses the top of his head. Lestrade fights the reflexive urge to duck away because it seems like a good idea to try to act like an adult in front of Mycroft. Still. He can hear Betsy stifle a snicker, and then she only asks Lestrade to pass the sugar like the whole lot of them aren’t completely evil, and Marisol’s glance from the other side of the table contains utterly no sympathy.

Jeanne starts more water heating straight away, and Jean steps away from Bob’s side to pull another round of espressos. Before he goes, though, he puts a spoon across the top of the bowl containing the Hollandaise. Bob holds up the hand not engaged in turning the lightly crisping Bayonne ham in its skillet in surrender: no “adjustments.”

Jeanne sips her own tea as she leans against the island. “We need another leaf for the table, love.”

Jean makes a thoughtful hum through the hiss of espresso steam, but Marisol shakes her head, looking directly at him and Mycroft. “I think the size is just right, Maman.” And Betsy and Corrie nod emphatically.

Anthea only drinks her tea, accepts the bowl of yoghurt and peach slices and strawberries that Jeanne hands to her. Marisol asks how she slept, suggests, with a grin, a canasta rematch. Bob makes a sound of semi-coherent disgust. For all that there are two new voices in the room this time, the conversation is strangely the same as it ever was.


He and Mycroft are sharing the newspaper, Mycroft going through all of the rest of it in the time it takes him to work through sports section, when Corrie comes up to them, her FC Barcelona socks pulled up to her knees and her trainers tied neatly.

Without preamble, Corrie looks Mycroft up and down. “Do you even have other shoes?” She pokes at the sole of his left shoe where his ankle is propped on his right knee, pulls a face at the sleek brown leather.

Mycroft blinks, shifts, sits up more properly. “I brought black as well.”

Lestrade can’t help but chime in. “And he’s got darker brown, and black and white wingtips, and a pair of wellies. But not here.” He’s seen all of them in the various closets at Mycroft’s flat. He wants to know under what conditions Mycroft will actually wear the galoshes so he can make it happen.

“But…” She scuffs one sneakered foot on the floor. “You can’t play with any of those.” At Mycroft’s questioning expression, she clarifies: “Tío said we could play some footie today.” Corrie’s expectant eyes shift toward him, and yes, he said that, somewhere in the middle of last night’s cards.

Mycroft looks at him, too, and it might be the closest thing to panic Lestrade’s seen on his face since the night at the pool. Mycroft says, though, with admirable calm, “I’m afraid I haven’t brought anything suitable for such an activity.” Lestrade would be willing to bet that he hasn’t even got shoes for it at home, given the face he’d made about the treadmill he’d had. He imagines the machine, the trainers, the whole lot of it upended in a skip somewhere. And that’s not even thinking about clothing; he’s never seen Mycroft in anything remotely like athletic shorts. Even his yoga trousers are somehow sleek, formal, almost exotic. All at once, it occurs to Lestrade that he hasn’t seen Mycroft’s yoga trousers in his bag or in the drawer with his pyjamas. Which begs the question of what Mycroft may have been wearing or not-wearing the other morning at the hotel. He drags his attention forcibly away from that thought before he gets himself in trouble.

“But everybody—” Corrie starts, but then she stops, looks at Mycroft again as she digests that this person, no, doesn’t travel with athletic gear. She swallows the obvious tragedy of that. She changes tactics. “But then you’ll be left out.” She says it with every bit of earnestness, the absolute conviction that there is nothing worse than being left out of something. She doesn’t know that both Mycroft and Sherlock have been left out of a lot of things, a great deal of it by design. And she doesn’t know, of course—probably can’t quite comprehend, even—that, for all that he loves watching footie, the idea of actually doing the running about after a ball is among Mycroft's personal hells. Corrie is listing out the confirmed players—“me and Betsy and Pépé and Da and Anthea and Tío and if Mycroft plays, Mum will play, though then Gran has to officiate and keep score”—and Lestrade is grateful, at least, that his mum isn’t going to play. She’d done in her right ankle two years ago on a muddy patch in the garden, and while she says it’s fine, it’s not, likely, the best idea to go scrambling through the yard on it. Particularly not since all of them tend to get carried away with this sort of thing.

From the kitchen, Marisol tosses them both a weakly enthusiastic glance. She’d prefer not to play if she doesn’t have to, but she will if necessary. And then no one will be left out.

Mycroft lifts his chin a little, fusses with his tie. “Perhaps your gran and your mother would prefer to manage?”

“Yes” comes the call from the kitchen. Corrie looks pleased because Marisol seems pleased with that.

But it still leaves the question of Mycroft. She chews on her lip. “You could sub in. Da’s not as fast as he used to be. And you could wear something of Tío’s. And play barefoot. Anthea says they used to play without any shoes at all.” She ignores the faintly outraged sound from the kitchen at the impugning of Bob’s fitness.

Lestrade’s attention is split between wondering who “they” are in context to Anthea and trying to decide how to tell Corrie that Mycroft would really prefer not to when Mycroft says it would seem a shame to go to the trouble of having a match with no one to call it.

Corrie’s eyes get wide. “Like—play by play?”

Mycroft nods. “In very nearly any language you like.”

“Only very nearly?” Lestrade shakes his head. “I’m disappointed.”

Mycroft’s face smoothes. “Some languages have no inherent vocabulary for the sport, is all.” He looks seriously at Corrie. “Iñupiaq, for one.”

She nods with equal gravity. Then she’s leaning over the arm of the sofa, her chin just about on his shoulder. “But you’ll really do it? If someone scores, you’ll do the goooooooooooal thing?”

“Wouldn’t be very sporting if I didn’t.”

Corrie half-launches herself up from the sofa, dashes into the kitchen to gather up the rest of her teams. Lestrade stares at Mycroft for a moment; he hadn’t actually expected he was serious. And it wouldn’t be the worst thing on the planet for him to simply say no, to excuse himself from the proceedings. But Mycroft refuses to be observed or commented on: he nudges Lestrade in the direction of the bedroom.

“Despite others’ experience, I wouldn’t advise playing barefoot.” The look on his face says that that isn’t news to him, but he seems surprised that Corrie knows it. “Or in jeans.”

By the time he’s back outside, everyone else is gathered, and Mycroft is perched atop the garden wall, his light fedora on his head.

And, it seems, the sides have been decided. Jeanne’s got her granddaughters and Anthea, and Marisol’s stuck with the rest of them. Lestrade is fairly certain that it doesn’t matter that Bob’s almost a head taller than Anthea, that his own stride is twice as long as Corrie’s, that his father’s been playing, more or less, for five times as many years as Betsy’s been alive.

Betsy and Corrie are already carrying out the goals from the garden shed, much smaller than regulation-size because they play without keepers, and Bob is stretching beside Marisol. He looks like he’s already pulled something.

“Yeah,” Lestrade says. “This is going to be brutal.”

“Shut your face. You do this all the time.” Bob rolls his eyes and rolls his left shoulder, the one that has popped since he dislocated it when they were kids. It’d made Lestrade wary of chain-link fences for years, and now he finds himself scaling more of them than he cares to think about now that he’s well into middle-age.

“Once a fortnight isn’t all the time.” With summer in full swing, match frequency has actually dropped because people are off on holidays. Like now. Like himself. He grins, then sobers again. “And not against this lot.”

Betsy dribbles the football neatly between the two of them, a sharp figure-eight, grinning all the while.

“Show-off,” Bob says.

Then Jean is herding them both toward the center of the yard. “Save your breath,” he says. “Work to be done now.”

The best description is only barely hinged chaos. And it is fantastic. And Mycroft, as promised, narrates it all. He starts, in deference to the home pitch, in French.

Jean actually nets the first goal, an improbable but perfectly executed chip-shot into the upper left-hand corner of the cage. True to his promise, Mycroft’s proclamation of the goal lasts at least thirty seconds, and even though it was against her side, Corrie’s grinning ear to ear.

As Lestrade brings the ball back to the center of the yard, he passes close by the base of the wall on purpose, and Mycroft says, more to him than anyone else, “Ton père est un magnifique buteur.”

Oui.” And he’s always been. “Il déteste passer le ballon, mais.” He raises his voice a little at that, to make sure Jean can hear him. His father only grins a bit, shrugs.

“A lifetime habit.”

“And genetic,” Marisol says, with a significant look at Bob and a glance at Mycroft. "And not confined to football."

Mycroft nods at her as if to say I know all about that. But Anthea makes a sound that’s a lot like a proper snort of laughter.

Cachicamo diciéndole a morrocoy conchudo.”

The girls and Marisol dissolve into giggles. Lestrade knows it’s Spanish, but he’s still lost, and Bob’s forehead’s a little creased, so the vocabulary’s obscure, then.

“I think Tío’s the armadillo, though,” Corrie says. “Mycroft’s more patient, so he has to be more tortoisey.” Betsy appears to agree.

“Oi!” He’s not certain he wants to be an armadillo or tortoise.

Mycroft doesn’t even bother to look annoyed, though. He only sighs a little, shakes his head, continues his call in Spanish. Corrie takes the ball at center, and there’s no more talk, at least not much from the players.

Until Betsy asks if Mycroft can do another language.

He switches to Mandarin for a bit, as Anthea nets their first goal, and Corrie bags another. Then Anthea says Mandarin’s too easy. “Dull,” she says, and Lestrade finds himself looking over his shoulder, looking for Sherlock, because the imitation is spot-on.

Mycroft’s lips purse. And then he switches to something that Lestrade recognizes, sort of, but it’s nothing he can name, particularly not now that they’re a goal down. As he steals the ball from Betsy, he sees her own forehead furrowed in concentration, like she recognizes something.

Then Corrie slide-tackles for the ball, quick and vicious but perfectly clean, and he’s lucky he keeps his feet under him as she goes zipping off with the ball.

Mycroft’s voice changes, goes a little deeper, more forceful, and it’s like he’s punctuating her steps with the phrases. “Ā, upane! ka upane!” Corrie fakes Bob halfway out of his trainers, and Betsy runs a bit of interference on her grandfather that would probably be obstruction if there were a proper referee, but there isn’t one. “Ā, upane, ka upane—” Two more steps, and she shoots. “Whiti te ra!

Corrie goes sliding through the grass on her knees just because she can. As Anthea collects the ball, Betsy whirls toward Mycroft.

“You said you didn’t like rugby!” she says, and that’s why it’s familiar: it’s part of the chant the All-Blacks often do.

“I don’t.” The corner of his mouth turns up. “But Maori—well. The haka is more than a rugby chant.” There is a certain softness in his expression—Lestrade has to turn away, has to turn his attention toward the ball again. Anthea catches his eye, and there’s almost a smile on her face, that enigmatic quirk of the lips that he still can’t read. She could be making fun of him, she could be sympathizing—he’s got utterly no sense of which, and that’s rare.

He does change out for German after that, though, which might be a kind of concession—maybe his vocabulary isn’t quite so intimidatingly expansive in Maori as it is in others.

After another few minutes, though, the ball comes off Bob's foot high, and it clatters on the roof tiles before getting caught between the chimney and the exhaust for the range hood.

Lestrade shoves the side of his head. "Cheap way of getting a time-out." Bob bats at him. They’re on the same team, but that doesn’t mean they can’t mess with each other now.

Jeanne says she's counting the stoppage as injury time. The match isn't ending early on her watch.

Jean says he'll go over to the Robillets' to fetch back the ladder they're currently borrowing. Hopefully they'll be in and the interruption won't be long.

"Or I'll get it." Anthea speaks from beside the garden shed.

"There's an idea." Lestrade cups his hands as though to give her a boost up. He knows that she can pull herself up if she gets a half-decent hold on the edge of the gutter. It's just a matter of hoping the gutter will support her weight without coming loose.

She gives him that indulgent smile of hers. "Thank you, but." And then she takes a few steps back from the wall before dashing forward, leaping into the side of the house, actually, and using that momentum to spring into the side of the shed, back to the house, and finally onto the sloped roof of the shed. From there, she leaps lightly onto the roof of the house. In a trice, she tosses the ball down to Corrie, who catches it with her ankle and bounces it neatly a few times. Then Anthea is back on the ground, as though the twelve feet from the rooftop is only three.

Bob blinks.

Lestrade takes his place opposite Corrie at the sideline. Bob put it out, so the girls have a throw-in.

"If you keep gawking, old man, they're going to score again." Jean claps his elder son on the back and settles back into midfield.


They only play two twenty-minute halves, separated by a seven-minute intermission, but that’s time enough for significant goal damage, especially with their keeperless play. His mum is only a little bit ridiculously smug about the fact that her side was the victorious one, though they managed to keep the goal differential down and only lose by two. One of which came on the heels of Anthea taking his feet out from under him spectacularly without even touching him. He’s still not sure how it happened, if he actually stepped on the ball during the course of it and that’s what put him on his back, or if it’s just more of Anthea being Anthea. Either way, it was fun, and he ended up with grass stains on both sides of his arse, which feels like an accomplishment.

After the play’s over, Mycroft gives her a look, and Anthea just grins, wide and open like Lestrade has never seen. And then Corrie and Betsy are carrying the pieces of the closer-to-regulation goal from the shed, too, slotting together the pieces of pipe, stretching the net over it, so Corrie can get some keeper practice in while Jean still has his trainers on. He and Anthea and Betsy trade shots for a few minutes, penalty style and in a little trio of passing attacks. None of them even look winded.

Bob just flops backward in the grass there at the base of the wall. “That was fun. It’ll probably kill me next year, but that was fun.”

Marisol sits beside him, pets his hair. “Next year, we’ll just have to find more people.” She looks at Mycroft, who has come down from the wall to stand beside Lestrade. Lestrade has the distinct impression that he’s being sniffed—discreetly, of course—and he likes it. He’s not sure what to say about what Marisol says next, which is, to Mycroft, “I hear your brother enjoys running about. And the doctor plays.”

And Bob, damn him, makes a sort of pleasant, agreeable sound before he presses himself further into the grass. “Though, if we end up with at least four on a side, you know Da and the girls will want to take it to the park and play on a regulation pitch.” There’s a little note of terror in that. But that’s his only comment, that and another deep breath that turns into a yawn.

Mycroft can only stare for a minute. He opens his mouth, closes it again, sort of tucks his chin closer to his chest a moment.

Lestrade wants desperately to kiss him because Mycroft Holmes does not know what to say. That is, too, a better reaction than hysteria because Marisol just suggested inviting Sherlock and John to something. It isn't as though their gatherings are ever very large, just family, and the very coalescing of the thought rattles everything in him. Lestrade turns his attention to Mycroft, tries instead to focus on the way Mycroft now has to deal with the idea of asking Sherlock to participate in such an event which is, actually, quite funny. If he doesn’t think about the implications.

Eventually, Mycroft settles for saying, “The question could be posed, though I haven’t seen Sherlock chase after a ball since he was seven.”

It’s as if the mere mention of the name summons the girls because then Corrie sprawls beside Bob, using first the ball and then his ribs as a pillow. Betsy climbs up on the wall where Mycroft had been, and suddenly it’s become a kind of story-time that Mycroft clearly wasn’t expecting. And the story is about Sherlock, which means that it is also, by extension, about Mycroft.

Lestrade decides to help a little. “But he did, for a bit?” That much in itself is surprising. He’s tried picturing Sherlock as a child, and in his mind, Sherlock only becomes a shorter version of exactly what he is now. It seems similar with Mycroft, too. Maybe even moreso.

At the direct question, Mycroft nods, latches on to that. “He has always enjoyed chasing all manner of things. He was never one for proper football, though. He’d change the green—dig holes, stud it with rocks, make divots and replace the turf, pour water in places—and whack the ball about to see what would happen. He’d do the same obstacles until he could reasonably predict the trajectory of the ball and so on—never, ever play billiards with Sherlock for money or promises.”

“Or you.” Anthea sits atop the wall with Betsy.

Mycroft endeavors to ignore that. All it does is make Lestrade want to take him to an American-style pool hall, make him wear the charcoal suit and the hat, and watch Mycroft Holmes hustle pool. And then find a few ways to violate some public decency codes.

Bob says that sounds like its own story, but Anthea says she’s smart enough never to have tried it.

The mention of intelligence precipitates a shift in topic to Mycroft’s linguistic tricks.

“How do you know Maori?” Corrie sits up, scoots closer.

“How do you recognize it?”

Lestrade feels his whole mind perk and focus: Mycroft answering a question with a question.

Corrie and Betsy exchange the Muggle, please expression. Though it’s more like the Uruk, please version when they explain: “DVD extras from The Two Towers.” Obvisly. “And a lot of YouTube.” One of Corrie’s birthday presents last year was finally being able to see the movies because they’re pretty intense, and he had spent one very late night/early morning distracting her from the nightmare she was staunchly pretending not to have had, if Bob or Marisol asked. And then Corrie rolls her eyes. “And actual rugby.” She’s stopped saying duh at the end of things, but she doesn’t have to say it out loud.

At the mention of the films, Mycroft grins. “I’ve only seen the extras with the linguists. And Sir Christopher Lee. I shall have to remedy that.” Christopher Lee, knighted just a few weeks before, who knows rather a lot more about what a person stabbed in the back literally sounds like than most people ought. Mycroft likely has access to the full file on Saruman’s past as a secret agent. As soon as he shifts his posture, Mycroft looks at him, gives a short shake of his head.

Before Lestrade can tell Mycroft he’s no fun at all, Betsy repeats Corrie’s question, which means it can’t be deflected a second time, not in front of everyone. If he doesn’t want to answer, he’ll have to at least say that out loud, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the girls to hear no from him on something.

But Mycroft doesn’t say no. He says, “As New Zealand is a Commonwealth realm, I have spent some time there.” He smiles. “Though I have not seen it since its transformation into Middle Earth.”

The girls’ faces fall.

Jean says, “They make you bother with traffic in Wellington, too?” And Lestrade knows, as he expected would happen, that his father does not believe that Mycroft is some petty bureaucrat. Lestrade wonders if Mycroft wears another face for people who need to believe the lie—something to make him less assured, less sharp, less refined. If that version of Mycroft exists, Lestrade can’t picture it.

Mycroft’s chin tilts just slightly—of course he’s been caught out, but only because he meant to be. Lestrade wonders if this is what it means for Mycroft to try to impress his parents. Not that he had to try at all, not really, but to show his parents the shadow of there being still more to him—for some reason, it feels flattering. And frightening: if he ever meets any of Mycroft’s family, he thinks it unlikely that any amount of trying on his part would impress them. It certainly didn’t impress Sherlock.

“Only sometimes,” Mycroft says to Jean. “It’s a fascinating place, and I had the privilege of meeting some equally fascinating people.”

Lestrade has never heard Mycroft call any grouping of human beings fascinating. Something trips in his memory, and Mycroft gives him the tiniest nod, so slight that if he weren’t waiting for it, he’d probably not see it. And then his mum is looking at him, and there the pieces coalesce: that one person in Mycroft’s past. Who was, apparently, a Maori speaker. And Mycroft told his mum about it. Maybe he should be upset about that—Mycroft told her, and he hasn’t told him. But he’s telling part of it now, in front of everyone.

“And,” Mycroft says to Betsy, “there are some conversations that can only be had in their own language.”

Lestrade thinks Betsy’s eyes are going to sparkle right out of her head. Marisol sees it, too, and Lestrade can only shake his head a little and pretend that the line didn’t work pretty well on him, too. But it’s not just a line designed to dazzle, either. There’s something soft in his voice that isn’t there usually, though it’s gone quickly.

He names his teacher, Ruiha Wairangi, though he is quick to clarify, too, that it wasn’t that he was a formalized student. Lestrade knows what that means: he probably studied the language on his own, and then, after a short period of listening with his ridiculously perfect hearing, was able to converse well enough to learn how to do so expertly.

He clarifies, too, that their acquaintance was not very informal, either. “She was,” he says, “a princess by her heritage, though Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu was the elected Maori monarch at the time.” He straightens a bit, his left hand in his trousers-pocket. “But Ruiha Wairangi was descended from Te Raupahara, whose haka it is that you recognized.”

The story itself is quite mundane: a few conversations, a land-use tour whose real purpose must be such that none of them have high enough security clearance to know because Mycroft isn’t a visiting dignitary who gets toured about, though he plays it that way in telling it. But everything he says about her is past tense.

Corrie asks after that, and Mycroft’s face gentles again.

“She passed away in 2003.”

Corrie looks crestfallen, but Mycroft’s headshake is easy. “She lived more in her life than any six of us. Nothing to be sad about.” He changes the immediate subject to an anecdote about a one-footed kiwi that was the mascot of the consulate, a bird that sat on Ruiha's shoulder when she sat. According to Mycroft, that wasn't all that often, despite her having turned eighty the year he'd met her, in 1997. "It was no easy thing to keep up with her," he says, and he goes on about the glaciers, about Tongariro National Park that would become Emyn Muil, the other places she’d shown him.

Corrie’s at least distracted enough by that, but all Lestrade can think is that he is more and more certain. When the need for snacks becomes more than the girls (and Bob) can ignore, the yard empties, and Lestrade and Mycroft linger a moment by the wall.

Mycroft, of course, already knows what he’s going to say, but he says it anyway.

“That’s the person. The one—royalty, you said it wouldn’t work.” At Mycroft’s nod, Lestrade can only say, “She wasn’t at all like what I expected that person to be like.”

Mycroft gives him a puzzled look.

“I just—so when you said ‘interested,’ you really just meant you were interested in this person. Found her interesting.”

“There's no 'just' about it. She was the most fascinating person I had ever met. I would have gladly spent the rest of my life listening to her.” To a woman fifty years his senior, a woman whose whole life was a world away from his own. There must be something in his expression—Mycroft rolls his eyes a little. “It wasn’t sexual." Then a small shake of his head that seems to be for himself. "She knew so much."

Hero-worship is the only phrase Lestrade can think of to describe the upward cast of Mycroft's eyes. “I just didn’t know.” He can’t imagine what that would be like, but he can’t imagine what most of life must be like for Mycroft. He’s only glad that he gets to see it from this side. He curls his fingers around Mycroft’s, and they start for the door. “I'm glad to know now. Thank you.” He laughs a little. “Probably good that you and I didn’t meet earlier. I couldn’t have lived up to that competition.” He’s laughing, but he’s serious, too. Of all of the things he’s been called, fascinating has never been one of them. He leans in to kiss Mycroft’s cheek. “But at least I’m pretty.”

Mycroft stops him in the lee of the garden, his face solemn. “Gregory." Mycroft's hand cups his jaw, even though he's still sweat-prickled. "I am staggered by your beauty. I see no reason to deny that." Mycroft tips his chin up, looks him in the eye, and maybe that's the most intimidating of Mycroft's abilities: to never look away when he means not to. In another context, it would be chilling. Here, it's looking too long at the sun. "But you fascinate me. Your every aspect. You mustn’t think differently.”

It's hard to breathe. "No one says things like that." This is not the first time he's said as much.

"I just did." Mycroft gives him no time to say anything else, to recover. He takes his hand and pulls him into the house. Lestrade finds himself grateful that Corrie pounces them with ice lollies, and Betsy asks Mycroft to show her how to fill her pen without ending up with purple fingertips.


Mycroft retreats with his mobile to the little office, where Anthea's belongings are but she isn't, to "take care of a few things." The rest of them settle in front of a cricket replay, everything quieting and blissfully lazy.

After a few ends, Marisol nudges the curtain back, peering out into the yard where Anthea and the girls returned after the popsicle break. “I hope they’re letting her be. That young woman could use a proper holiday.” The girls have been shadowing her every step since they came back from the beach. She leans to see the far corner, past the garden, where the little knot of apple trees shades the hammock and a small patch of grass. “Oh,” she says. “Mira.”

Lestrade steps up behind her, and there are the three of them, all asleep in the shade. Betsy’s stretched out on a blanket in the grass, a book whose title he can’t see from here pinned under her palm. Anthea’s lying in the hammock, her legs crossed at the ankle, her arms crossed over her chest; he can see her trainers in the grass at the base of one tree. And Corrie is draped over the tree’s lowest branch, not far above the hammock itself, like some sort of little leopard, her cheek pillowed on her folded arms.

Marisol steps back from the window, pats his arm, as Mycroft comes into the room, an iced coffee in his hand. He'd tried to be skeptical about it, but all defenses fall in the face of his da's coffee. Even the cinnamon-spiked iced cold-brew.

“Have they succeeded in coaxing a bird to hand yet?” Earlier, the wallcreeper that appears to have adopted the garden wall and the house itself as a feeding ground, plucking the insects that dare to creep out from the ivy and the shady places between the stones, seemed nearly convinced to explore Anthea’s unmoving palm. The bird doesn’t even belong at this altitude, his mother said, but there it was, anyway, its wings showing startling bursts of red when unfurled.

The girls had made much of Anthea’s ability to sit completely still for most of an hour, and they’d done fairly admirably in that way themselves. Bob said it made his knees ache just looking at her, crouched like that. Lestrade had to agree, and he said that, only, and not the other thing that comes to mind thinking of Anthea’s stillness: snipers wait like that. Mycroft made no comment at all beyond a vague sense of amusement regarding what they’d do if they did get the bird in hand. Lestrade remembers wondering just how long she could wait like that.

But now, she’s not waiting at all. She’s asleep, and Lestrade is certain that it’s not feigned because she wouldn’t still be lying there if she were awake because she’d know that three people now have come to look. Mycroft looks, and there’s a nearly puzzled expression on his face, and then he smiles faintly before he leaves the room again. Lestrade follows him to the guest room, to their room, and Mycroft is looking outside again, looking more closely at Anthea and the girls. He lets the curtain fall to again, sits on the edge of the bed.

“I have never seen her so—” He pauses, searching for a word, which Lestrade takes as a sign of the actual rarity of the situation. And Mycroft doesn’t finish the sentence at all then. He says, only, “So,” again, the word itself the finality of it. Lestrade is about to say that he’s just amazed that Corrie’s held still that long, that she hasn’t rolled off the branch and landed on her head, when Mycroft’s fingertips catch in one of his belt loops, tug him in close. He curls his arms around Lestrade’s waist, his cheek pressed to his ribs, and Mycroft holds him there for the space of a few breaths.

When he lets go, Lestrade says, “They’re sweet kids.” And he’s always been happier to be with them than not. It's not completely out of the realm of possibility that other people would feel the same way. Even if he, too, is a bit surprised to count Anthea among that number.

But Mycroft shakes his head again. “There’s a whole houseful of people, Gregory. People who, to be perfectly honest, neither of us really know from Adam.” He’s got that faraway look in his eyes. “She should be on red alert.” And it could be a criticism: if she’s napping in the back yard, she’s certainly not doing her job. But it’s not delivered that way. It’s still puzzled.

Lestrade cocks an eyebrow at him. He doesn’t actually believe, for a second, that someone hasn’t been through his whole family’s background already. Otherwise, there’d be no making off with the British Government for a moment, let alone a week. His own life has been rifled long ago, at the first brush with Sherlock, of that he’s certain now. Mycroft has clearly at least looked through the case details of everything he's worked on with Sherlock—though, if Mycroft is to be believed, he, personally, has only looked that far. And he doesn’t mind nearly as much as he thinks he should. Maybe because there’s nothing he can do to change that—already happened—and maybe because he’d want the same for anyone dating Bits or Corrie and oh, God, that’s going to be a circus of having to be the grown-up who attempts to forbid Mycroft Holmes from doing three-generation background checks on fourteen-year-old boys.

“You know more about us than we do.” And that’s not counting the Holmes thing that he does, reading lives from paint scuffs and refrigerator ephemera.

Mycroft shakes his head. “Neither of us have looked at those reports. Well. Anthea looked into 1983-85 briefly.” He glances up.

“Yeah.” Bob’s recreational coke years. He clears his throat. “That’s not exactly common knowledge, even around here.” He was well out of it by the time he met Marisol, and she knows, but their parents don’t. “So.”

“Not a word.” Mycroft’s hands stroke over his sides. “But other than that, someone else reviewed that information. I said I wanted to learn these things from you. I meant it.” His fingertips edge under the hem of Lestrade’s t-shirt, drag over the small of his back. “I didn’t expect her to follow suit.”

That or the light slip of Mycroft’s touch pulls a puff of laughter from his lips. “She doesn’t need to know history to deal with us.” If he thinks about it, she doesn’t even need the butcher’s block full of knives to deal with them, which really doesn’t bear thinking about at all. He turns his attention to Mycroft’s hair instead, letting his fingers follow the curve of his skull.

“No.” Mycroft leans into the pressure, and Lestrade massages gently. Mycroft makes a soft sound, presses his forehead again against Lestrade’s stomach. “That’s the very thing,” Mycroft says. “She isn’t simply ‘dealing’ with any of this.” His arms tighten once more.

Lestrade kisses the top of his head, can’t stop the grin. “You’re being sentimental.”

Mycroft’s chin tips up, and he’s halfway glaring.

“I think it’s cute.”

The glare intensifies.

“Really,” he says. It’s much more than “cute,” but he’s not going to say what it is. Because that would be even more sentimental. He smiles his widest, most winningly. Mycroft huffs against his stomach, turns his face away. And then Mycroft clasps his own wrists behind Lestrade’s back, falls back, hard, twisting as he goes.

Lestrade looks up from where he’s lying in the center of the bed, Mycroft pinning him. He is instantly hard.

“That’s new.” He swallows, arches up an inch or two. Mycroft can’t miss what that’s done to him, and even if they can’t really follow through on it right now—that would be a bad idea for a number of reasons—this is an experiment they can replicate. And they’re going to. Dear Christ, they’re going to.

“Everything’s new.” Mycroft kisses him, just a slight brush of his lips, before he inches back, off the bed. Mycroft slips out of the room with one lingering glance.

Lestrade lies on the bed for a moment, until he calms down, and then he follows Mycroft out to the kitchen.


Because Bob actually managed to wrangle brunch preparation, he’s content now, but that does mean that Lestrade will be commandeered to help with dinner again. He’s decided that, no matter what it entails, it’s preferable to staying at the patio table, anyway, particularly the way the conversation is headed at the moment. It’s currently hinged on his birth: most of a month early.

“Mum, no man wants to hear what a wee, precious bairn his boyfriend was.” Bob shakes his head at Jeanne, who already has the fat family album open in front of Mycroft.

“Thank you,” Lestrade says.

Mycroft props his chin in his hand, his eyes wide and interested. “I do. Tell me everything.”

Lestrade slides down more into his chair. Jeanne is delighted. Everyone else seems faintly surprised.

“He was just a little slip of a thing until he was about fifteen. And then he grew up all at once.” Jeanne flips the album pages forward, which means Mycroft gets to see him scrawny and spotty and then angular and completely fucking insufferable-looking for three years. But his mum keeps paging, and he kind of wants to excuse himself to the loo, steal Mycroft’s car, and drive to Gibraltar. And maybe a little further.

His mum goes on. “And if you’d have asked him, then, he had it all figured out.”

“I did,” Lestrade protests. Most of it still stands, too. You can count on most people to be wankers, but obliviously. The world, at large, isn’t malicious. Just lost. Good music and a good snog improves the lot of it.

Jean snorts, shakes his head from the edge of the doorway, and Mycroft catches his eye, grins a little.

“But,” Jeanne says, “if he was a little difficult as a young man, he was a very easy baby. Greg was like that for a long time, always trying to make things easier for someone.”

“I can’t speak to his early years, of course,” Mycroft says, “but, as a grown man, he certainly does a lot of that, now, too.”

Again, Lestrade can feel his cheeks going hot. He ducks, tries to catch Corrie's eye, but she's looking at Anthea, who is taking in his discomfort with an expression that seems to contain both amusement and sympathy.

"I don’t remember you making much easier for me.” Bob pushes at the back of his chair. “He told the first girl I liked that I thought she was a toad.”

“Not supposed to make things easy on your brother,” Lestrade says. "Her da used to play for Manchester United. That’s unacceptable.” And he'd never liked her. In the background, Corrie says gross.

“I side with Greg in this matter.” Marisol sips at her lemonade, and Bob just shakes his head.

Then Jean is beckoning him to the kitchen, and he has no choice but to let the even more embarrassing bits of his childhood fend for themselves. Regardless of what Mycroft said, he's about to see the limits of his curiosity tested. Of course, Sherlock's sock index and ash catalogue come to mind as he washes his hands, ties on an apron.


“Why are you still wearing that?” Jean punctuates the you with the barest twitch of his knife as he debones the chickens. He works surgically, swiftly, looking and not-looking at the same time.

Lestrade glances at his left hand, his grandfather’s ring on his own finger. He crimps his fingers carefully across the onion he’s chopping, careful to make the dice uniform, small, doesn’t say anything until the cutting board is clean, the onion sizzling in the pan. “Bit soon, isn’t it?” Not quite six months. It feels like longer, though. But Bob and Marisol were together for two years before he officially proposed. And he's not even sure if it's possible to propose to Mycroft Holmes, if he himself ever wants to propose to anyone. He's never really thought much about that.

His father shrugs. "Yes, for a man who is uncertain." The sentence becomes its own question.

His own silence is covered by the sound of the big cast-iron skillets settling on the hob, by the instruction to start on the salad while the onion sweats, by Jean seasoning the chicken. He's been given the space to think about it, and with his father's challenge so clearly laid out, the habit of answering him, at least in the kitchen, takes hold. It isn't a difficult response to give.

"I've never been so certain of anything." At least in terms of how he feels, anyway. He wants Mycroft in his life, regardless of what it would take or mean or cost. Logistics, giving it all a name—that doesn't matter right now.

Jean makes a quiet hum, an acknowledgement, though he doesn't otherwise comment. They continue with the preparation of the meal, chickens crisping in their pans, white wine and grainy mustard and a bit of honey reducing for a sauce.

Lestrade turns to wash the cutting board before they start on the carrots and potatoes, and when he turns away from the sink, there are two glasses sitting on the worktop. His father holds one out to him, and they touch glasses without saying anything.

This is not the end of the open bottle from last night. The first taste is both smooth and complex, and while he isn't the connoisseur of white wine that Mycroft is, this vintage is fruity, faintly floral, and still firmly grounded with earthy undertones. He turns the bottle so he can see the label, and it's a Condrieu from the Rhone.

"This is amazing."

"One should always drink well to good news." His father takes a slow mouthful, his eyes closing slowly at the taste, and Lestrade takes another himself. He forces himself to inhale slowly, and his thumb curls in to touch the gold band on his finger.

For something else to do, Lestrade re-corks the bottle, puts it in the refrigerator to keep cold, and he finds another waiting, for dinner. He looks at his father. "You aren't going to say anything—" No matter what he just said, he is certain, too, that he's not ready for any announcements. Or even what that announcement would be.

Jean shakes his head. "I am not the one with things he has to say." He takes another sip of his wine, and then he pushes the baby carrots toward him, still topped with greens and speckled with earth, and Lestrade sets to washing and trimming while Jean does the same with the potatoes.


Leaving a sleeping Mycroft in bed is no easy task, but there’s something he has to do. He tiptoes into the kitchen, turns on only the small light over the sink, before he opens the freezer, inhales the cold, crisp scent.

"There you are," Mycroft says, just behind him.

Lestrade finds himself very grateful that there is nothing above his head because he startles upright, the chill of the freezer still at his front, the pint container of ice cream cold in his fingertips. His first impulse is to hide it behind his back, but Mycroft is already behind him. He's not even sure why this feels embarrassing. It's ice cream.

He clears his throat. "Midnight snack." Even though midnight has come and gone an hour ago, and Mycroft does take a surreptitious glance at the kitchen clock.

Mycroft makes an amused sound and peers at the container, which his father has labeled specifically with his name. There are half a dozen other flavours, too—dulce de leche and peach and chocolate and strawberry green tea and coffee and another container of pistachio. Mycroft sees that, and he bites down on a smile. "I see," he says. He gets a glass of water, steps back.

"I could share. I'd make an exception for you." He puts the container on the countertop, takes two spoons from the drawer, and prises off the lid. The pale green ice cream is flecked with brighter green points of toasted pistachio, tiny shards of dark caramel. That's new, but he's already imagining the first bite. The real thing is even better than he imagined, and he leans forward, elbows braced on the kitchen island, lets his head hang. His father is a magician, plain and simple. He takes another bite, the bits of nut still crunchy, the flakes of caramel dissolving on his tongue.

"You weren't joking when you said you liked ice cream." Mycroft's voice sounds strangely thick, and when he glances at him, Mycroft's arms are folded across his chest, his glass held tight beside his elbow.

"No, I was not." He scoops the spoon full again. "One of my several vices." There is a reason there is very seldom ice cream in his refrigerator. "It's a good thing my dealer lives in France." And there are a few places in London where the product is good—there are a number of high-quality gelato places dotted across the city. Thankfully, there aren't any between work and home, or he knows he'd have a proper problem.

"Sex, ice cream, and rock and roll?" Mycroft smiles behind his glass.

"Mmm, yes, please. Any order is fine." He offers the container to Mycroft, holds out the other spoon. Mycroft shakes his head, as Lestrade expected he might. He turns his own spoon over on his tongue, licks the sweet cream from it, shaking his own head. "I know you're not used to making bad decisions, but you just made one." He winks. "And I can't promise I'll make the offer again."

“Thank you, but I’m fine.” He’s fine, but his eyes linger on Lestrade’s lips.

Even though it’s properly in the middle of the night, he doesn’t feel tired, and Mycroft certainly doesn’t look like he just woke up. Of course, they’ve both had more sleep than they’re used to for the better part of a week, and Lestrade finds he doesn’t want to go back to bed just yet.

“Come outside with me?” The night air is warm and thick at all of the windows, which means it’s perfect for sitting out. He scoops some ice cream into a bowl, puts the container back in the freezer.

“Now?” Mycroft looks down at himself, at the forest green of his pyjamas.

“Yep.” He takes Mycroft’s hand and pulls him along, through the doors. “You’ve probably never been outside in your pyjamas. It’ll be good for you.”

“I hear that a lot here.” But Mycroft follows, a little glance off toward the edge of a building just visible through the fringe of the chestnut trees growing over the far side of the garden wall. Lestrade wonders, then, how many angles of surveillance are on the house. But Mycroft is ignoring it, and so he will, too.

The back yard isn’t as dark as it could be, the sky faintly speckled with stars and the light from the kitchen still on and the vague streetlight wash coming in around the house. And so it’s easy to cross the yard, the night warm enough that the grass still hasn’t gone dewy. When he holds the hammock for Mycroft, he gets a doubtful look.

“It’ll hold us, I promise.” Last summer, the girls piled on it with Bob and Marisol. To demonstrate, he settles himself into it, holding the bowl of ice cream well out of the way and keeping his other arm spread across the woven rope. “Come on.”

Mycroft sits on the edge and the whole thing swings a bit, and Mycroft clutches at his shin for balance. The only thing to do is to yank him down and let the whole hammock sway, the ropes creaking on the apple trees’ bark.

“Gregory!” Mycroft’s voice is a sharp whisper, and his fingers tighten in the mesh, but then the swing gentles, and Mycroft relaxes some. It takes a lot of inching and shifting until their positions are just right, until they’re comfortable and the swaying has mostly abated, but then, the comfort is complete bliss. The greatest tragedy of his flat is that there’s nowhere to put a hammock.

He rests the bowl of ice cream on his own chest and takes another spoonful. If it’s possible, the ice cream is even better like this, softening a little in the bowl, and after a few bites, he fills the spoon halfway, offers it to Mycroft again.

That, it seems Mycroft will accept, and he curls his fingers around Lestrade’s wrist before taking the spoon into his mouth. And then, when he pulls away, he stares at the cloudy silver, at the bowl, at Lestrade, before he swallows.

“Merciful heavens.”

And Lestrade grins. “I told you.” He takes another mouthful, and now Mycroft consents to being fed, every third bite or so. Somewhere not far off, an owl calls, the wildlife cohabitating with the city's fringe. Then the silence is broken a little comically by the rattle of the spoon on empty porcelain, and he's not too proud to admit to tilting the bowl to get the melted part, the few errant bits of pistachio.

Mycroft’s fingertips touch his cheek. “You look so young.”

Lestrade snorts. “Go on.” He licks the spoon one last time, puts the empty bowl in the grass beneath the hammock. "Just because there's a good chance of me finishing off the rest of that pint before morning..."

“You do,” Mycroft says. “When you’re not thinking about work, when you’re not worried about something. Your face loses twenty years.”

Lestrade can’t help the little puff of laughter. “Are you saying I look old usually?” It’s completely in jest; most of the time, he feels ancient, and he’s just grateful that the majority of his stress manifests itself in his hair, not otherwise. He can’t tell if it’s getting lighter, if the grey is turning more to silver, if the silver’s getting shot through with proper white; he can’t say he really cares. Because Mycroft likes it.

“Not at all—” Mycroft’s hand draws back a moment before it returns to his skin, his earring. “But you just look so youthful.” A quick brush of the lips, a quirk of a grin. “And that’s not simply about the ice cream.” His hand strokes down Lestrade’s forearm. “I only wanted you to know—even if you can’t see it, I feel that way with you.” His face turns rueful and he settles back into the hammock a little more. “Which is amusing, of course, because I’ve never felt that way. Certainly not when I was young.”

"Well, you're a Holmes. Wouldn't be you if you did things the way anyone else does them."

Mycroft makes a dry noise, like Lestrade doesn't know the half of it, and the curiosity about the rest of the Holmes family returns. But even if Mycroft never says another word, ever, about his mother, if Lestrade never gets to see so much as a picture, that doesn't change how he feels about Mycroft. And he's the one with things to say, and this, this is the time to do it.

He shifts, turns away in the hammock for a moment, and Mycroft puts a steadying hand on his hip as he works the ring from his finger. Hopefully, the action is shielded enough by his body, by shadow, that Mycroft can't see what he's doing; it would somehow be unbearable for this to be preempted, telegraphed too soon. And all at once, he's afraid the ring won't fit at all, that Mycroft will give him that look he reserves for the dull, the redundant, the pedestrian. Then Mycroft says something about the garden wall, something Jean must have said about it, but it's become impossible to hear anything but the blood pounding in his ears.

It must be a question, too, because Mycroft says his name twice.

He shifts back over, the ring in his closed fingers. Mycroft peers at him.

"Are you all right?" Mycroft's hand is still at his waist, still steadying him, though he feels anything but steady.

"No," he says, and Mycroft's face creases with concern. He takes Mycroft's right hand in his, puts the ring in his palm, watches Mycroft's eyes widen. He can feel Mycroft's pulse under his fingers, quick and hard, and maybe it would be funny if his own didn't feel the same way.

Lestrade licks his lips. “I’m not asking you to marry me. Not that I wouldn’t. But it’s a little soon for that and we haven't talked and maybe you don't even believe in it—” Because Sherlock surely doesn't, finds the institution useless, and he is not thinking about Sherlock now and he isn’t thinking about the legal differences between civil partnerships versus marriage. This is not about that, and he is grateful that Mycroft doesn’t interrupt to clarify his language. He’s grateful he can say anything at all: his tongue feels thick in his mouth, raw and dry, everything coming out likely too fast. “Just—my grandfather gave me this to give to someone, someone important, someone who couldn’t be anybody else.” He exhales, finds it hard enough to draw breath in. “And you, Mycroft Holmes, are not like anybody else, and you have become, very quickly, the most important.” He feels more winded now than he did at the end of their football match earlier.

Mycroft closes his last three fingers carefully around the ring, uses his thumb and forefinger to slide his own ring from his finger, tips it over to fall loosely over his pinkie. Lestrade finds himself biting his own lip through it, until Mycroft pushes the other ring down over his knuckle, and it settles into the slight indent there easily.

"I am honored," he says, and the weight lifts from Lestrade's chest, though everything still feels stuck, caught fast. Then Mycroft tips his hand so his own ring slips off, into his own fingertips. "I would be yet more honored, Gregory, if you would consent to wearing mine." He holds it out, puts it in Lestrade's palm when he nods, offers it.

Lestrade slides the gold band onto his finger, and it feels different, Mycroft's ring, heavier, differently shaped. He should have looked at his own; after almost seventy years of wearing, it's probably not even perfectly round anymore. He chews a little more at his lip.

"What is it?" Mycroft has his right hand curled around his left, thumb and forefinger rubbing the gold band. It's certain Mycroft can feel each tiny mark, the one larger scratch that Lestrade put there himself, accidentally, of course, at some point he doesn't even remember. He only knows that he noticed it all of a sudden one afternoon, sitting at his desk, twirling the band endlessly to avoid going mad while on the telephone.

"I think I just robbed you." He can't even imagine what a piece of jewelry that Mycroft would wear must cost. And even this feels easier than really talking about the fullness of what they've just done.

Mycroft shakes his head slowly, exasperated in the press of his lips, the tilt of his head. "Being on your finger now is the only thing that has given it any value at all, beyond being melted back into bullion. I sent an aide out to a jeweller. He bought it over lunch. It means nothing at all, until this moment." And now Mycroft takes his hand, kisses the back of his finger, right over the gold. "And that means everything to me. As does this—" He turns his hand until the rings touch, a muffled tick of metal. "This is an heirloom, and precious to you, and all the more precious to me for it."

Mycroft lets go his hand and wraps both arms around him, pulls him in close, kisses his forehead, his cheeks, before his mouth. Though the kiss itself is strangely gentle, soft, his arms are tight around Lestrade's shoulders, firm and grounding and assured. Lestrade tucks his face against the crook of Mycroft's neck and he settles into him. His lips move silently on Mycroft's skin, in French and English and both again and again. Mycroft's fingertip traces the same letters on the back of his neck, and they say nothing because, right now, there is nothing that needs to be uttered.

Eventually, Mycroft's curiosity surfaces again, though they stay as they are, do not separate. "Your grandfather knew?" His thumb rasps the stubbled line of Lestrade's jaw.

“That I’d give his ring to another man, if I ever gave it to anyone?” He nods, and Mycroft can feel it, surely. “That's why he left the ring to me, said he was going to, years before he died." Lestrade was not far past twenty when his grandmother passed, and after his grandfather gave Bob their grandmother's rings, he'd told Lestrade what he intended to do with his own ring. If you need it sooner, if you are certain, you must say. I don't need it anymore. He had come out to his grandparents when Grandmere's health had turned for the worse, and it was almost disappointing how unsurprised they both were. They'd taken it better than his own parents did at first. Lestrade reaches without looking, finds Mycroft's cheek to touch. "My grandfather fought in the second World War. He’d seen enough to decide what mattered to him. All good was good. All evil was evil.” He sweeps his fingertip beneath Mycroft's eye, along the fine bone beneath the skin. "And this, he’d say, was good.” And he is suddenly sad that his father's parents will not get to meet Mycroft. He tucks in a bit closer, and Mycroft's arms cross over his back.

“It is good," Mycroft says.

They stay in the hammock until the sky starts to lighten, and the air is cool and damp with dew. It is more amusing than it probably should be, the way Mycroft walks back to the house on tiptoe to keep his pyjama-cuffs dry. Upstairs, the floorboards creak, and Mycroft excuses himself to the shower. Lestrade takes the container of pistachio ice cream from the freezer again and sits at the island until it is empty. They have to leave later today, and it's really his last chance to indulge excessively. And there is something excessive and indulgent about the whole moment: the expanse of the kitchen all to himself, the still and silent morning, the simple pleasure of melting ice cream on his tongue. Being alone with the idea, with the still-foreign weight of Mycroft's ring on his finger. The surprising calm that follows it.

He's grateful, actually, that the shower cuts off before anyone else enters the room, and by the time he returns to the bedroom, Mycroft is knotting his tie. Lestrade is greeted with a kiss, and Mycroft grins at the taste of pistachio again in his mouth.

"No wonder you're the favourite uncle. Ice cream for breakfast."

"I haven't had coffee yet, so it doesn't count as breakfast."

Mycroft makes a doubtful sound, raises an eyebrow. Lestrade sticks out his tongue and goes to the shower.

When he comes back from the shower, he doesn’t see Mycroft anywhere in the room, and the French doors are still closed. After dressing, he walks out toward the kitchen, softening his steps because he can hear his father’s voice.

“Once gently, once firmly, and twist, like so.” The metallic sound of the aluminum tamper settling back in its holster on the side of the espresso machine.

At the countertop, then, Jean locks the porta-filter into the machine, and then there is the hiss of steam, the rich scent of coffee in the air. When the cup is brewed, he takes a small sip, nods, then offers it to Mycroft. “Taste.”

Lestrade watches from the corner of the hallway, curious to see what Mycroft will do. It’s not often that Mycroft will even share a glass with him; the spoon last night was rare indeed. But Mycroft only says, “Yes, chef,” and does as told.

And he makes that face that Lestrade knows, the why-is-yours-so-much-better-than-mine? face that accompanies his father’s coffee. It’s the same coffee, the same grind, the same machine that they’re all theoretically capable of operating. His father smiles, reaches up to pat Mycroft’s shoulder.

“Practice.” He cleans the filter, refills it with ground coffee, and hands Mycroft the tamper.

Mycroft levels the coffee with the side of his pinky finger, the way Lestrade’s father does. At his own flat, Mycroft does it with a chopstick, but in this kitchen, the chopstick would be considered unnecessary. He can hear the echoes from his youth: You must like washing dishes. I have work for you. Then he tamps it gently once, and again, finishes it with a third, rotating the tamper to polish the pellet of coffee in the filter. Lestrade knows the process, but he hasn’t got the touch for it, or the patience, to get it right. He leans into the wall, continues to watch. Mycroft offers his attempt for critique.

Jean Lestrade takes a sip, cocks his head as he considers. “Press harder.” The coffee pellet needs to be firm enough to force optimal extraction time. He claps Mycroft’s arm. “Use your muscle.”

Mycroft makes a dismissive sound, but he tries again. Lestrade sidles up to the counter and drinks the remainder of the only slightly imperfect cup.

"Whatever is happening here," he says, "I approve."

Jean makes a puff of laughter. "Of course you do." His gaze lingers a moment on Lestrade's hand, and of course he's noticed. He pats Lestrade's shoulder, gives it a gentle squeeze. But he only says, "I promised pain perdu. Slice the bread the way your mother likes." His voice lifts at the end of it, and Jeanne makes a triumphant crow from the doorway, dusting her hands on her garden shirt, sliding off her clogs.

Lestrade knows that means thinner slices, so the ratio of caramelized surface area increases, which is also half the width Bob would cut it because Bob’s version is more like slices of bread pudding, thick and custardy in the center. He only takes out the cutting board and gets to work.

Jeanne crowds Mycroft away from the sink as she washes her hands, points him toward the teapot. "I hear you're a dab hand at that. Go on." And then she goes to rouse Betsy, and, completely unexpectedly, Anthea comes in through the front door, behind Bob and Mari. Anthea has dark grease smudged across her knuckles, and her hair is knotted up and out of the way.

"Da," Bob says. "If you keep putting them to work, they won't come back."

Jean waves that off. "They keep volunteering." He throws a glance at Mycroft, who is clearly timing the tea's steeping to the second.

"I did my part," Lestrade says. "Warned them."

"When the work is different, it doesn't feel like work." Anthea scrubs her hands, too, and Jeanne holds out the towel for her. "You should see a bit better performance now, better petrol efficiency." She shrugs a bit. The best she could do without ordering new parts, without major changes to the Citroën.

"Merci." Jean pours thick, dark drinking chocolate from a small pot at the back of the cooktop, hands the demitasse to Anthea. He turns back to his heating pans before he sees Anthea dip a fingertip into the velvety liquid, bring it to her mouth. But, Lestrade thinks, the upturn at the corner of his mouth says he knows, anyway.

Corrie comes into the house, bearing strawberries, cherries, few peaches, and the earliest of the black raspberries, fat and dark and sweet as sugar itself, as Betsy comes downstairs, finger-combing her wet hair. She still looks half-asleep, and he remembers those days, the teenaged condition of never, ever enough sleep. His Bits is a teenager. He takes a deep breath and goes to stand beside Mycroft, who is not only filling cups but fixing them with milk and sugar.

"I don't think this is real," Mycroft says quietly. As if to reinforce the point, the wallcreeper, just outside, bursts into an extravagant trill.

Lestrade sips his coffee. "This is just how they get you hooked. Then, at Christmas, the transformer will blow, and the whole block will be without power from Christmas Eve until Boxing Day. That was fun." Betsy was four, Corrie just crawling, and the floor was kind of cold for a baby to be crawling about, and she wailed for most of the time she was awake because they'd tried to keep her contained to the space of the rag rug. "Or Mum will decide the garden should be bigger and she'll hand you a shovel. Or Da will decide he doesn't like where the walls are again."

"One wall," Jean says. "One."

"That seems reasonable." Mycroft delivers teacups, and he appears to have done well.

It's over breakfast that the familiar sadness starts to sink in. They're planning to leave in the afternoon so they can get back in time for him to get back to work on Friday morning, and it’s very likely that Mycroft will go directly from his Aston to an office, a somewhere, no matter what time they get back into London. That’s its own little ache; he’s gotten entirely too used to having Mycroft so present in just this one week. And Mycroft having to be not-present—himself, too, because once Friday morning hits, he’ll probably be basically living at the Yard for most of a week because that’s how these things go—is the reality of whatever their situation.

He squeezes Mycroft’s hand, beneath the table, and Mycroft looks almost puzzled for a moment before he returns the slight pressure.

“Now who’s sentimental?” Mycroft’s voice is quiet, but it’s loud enough that Bob can hear it because he laughs, reaches, ruffles Lestrade’s hair with enough force to push his head down a bit.

Lestrade ducks away from Bob’s hand, glares at both of them. “Shut up.”

“Boys,” Jeanne says. And she looks at all three of them over her teacup.

Lestrade can feel Mycroft’s whole posture change beside him, and his blink is almost audible. Lestrade eats a palmful of cherries with as much smugness as he can possibly muster.


Later, Jean asks Mycroft for a spin in the Aston.

“If you do not mind, since you have enough of a drive ahead.”

Mycroft gets up immediately. “I don’t mind in the least.” As they walk outside, Anthea takes out her Blackberry, sends something in a flurry of thumbs. She puts the mobile back in her pocket, returns to the newspaper that she and the girls have spread over the floor. Which means that the A50 and the D4A are about to become inexplicably empty for midday.

The whole exchange happens quickly enough that he can’t really get a word in edgewise. All he can do is pick up his conversation with Marisol again and hope that Mycroft doesn’t mind a second interrogation.

That leaves him alone, too, with everyone else, and he’s not naïve enough to think no one’s noticed. Betsy clearly has. She’s looking at the horoscopes in the newspaper, which she doesn’t generally do, and she asks to see his hand. He offers the right, and she asks for the other one. Up close, the rings are quite different, simply because of age, and Betsy spins it on his finger, nudges it up a bit to see some sort of crease or something between his fingers, or so she says. But she never says a single thing about his fortune or his horoscope or anything. She does get up, go into the kitchen, and she hauls Corrie with her.

They come back, and Corrie keeps shooting him dirty looks, and that makes utterly no sense. He’d been under the completely distinct impression that she adores Mycroft, and it’s the first thing, this whole week, that truly unsettles him. It takes the better part of an hour to get her to pay attention to him because everytime he feels her glaring a hole in the side of his face and turns, she looks away. He has to follow her outside, finds her up in the apple tree again.

“What’d I do?” Standing there, he’s pretty well at eye level with her, but she turns away yet again, faces the rest of the yard.

“It’s none of my business.” Her voice is quiet, hissed, the way she’s taken to talking when she’s trying not to cry. Last year, she’d declared crying stupid, has now resorted to doing whatever she can to keep from doing it. It doesn’t always work, but she tries.

“What isn’t?” In all of his experience with Corrie, she’s pretty convinced that everything’s her business. Betsy might have told her that, though, not to pry, because now, in the last few months, privacy has become her holy grail.

Corrie turns to face him, but she also goes higher into the tree, as far up as she can before the branches get thin enough that they bend under her weight. The one caution the girls have always gotten: it takes a long time for a fruit tree to get big enough to bear fruit. Be gentle with them. But from the screen of sticks and leaves, she says, “You and Mycroft!”

He sits again in the hammock, breathes deep. “I thought you liked Mycroft.” And there’s no question that she quite likes Anthea, and Mycroft is their connection to Anthea, so, if for no other reason than that, he’d expect Corrie to at least want to keep Mycroft—and thus Anthea—around.

“I do.” The word rasps upward in pitch, but not in volume.

All at once, it’s like talking to Sherlock. She clearly knows what’s going on, but she’s not seeing fit to fill in the gaps for him, and, right now, he hasn’t got even a vague sense of why she’s upset. At least not to act this way—it’s the last day they’re together, and everyone will be more than a little melancholy about that, but that has historically meant that the girls hang on him, not ignore him. And not this, and he’s not even sure what this is.

“Help me out, snitch. I’m lost.”

She inhales hard, trying to compose herself, and, on one hand, she’s too young to have to worry about that; if she wants to cry, she should. But he can’t help but be proud of her, too, for trying so hard. “You and Mycroft—you got married and you didn’t invite anyone. You didn’t even tell anyone. You just did it.” Her voice is harsh, accusatory, and it doesn’t matter at all that she’s incorrect in her read of the situation.

“Will you come down, let me explain?” He pats the netting beside himself. “Please?”

She glares at him through the leaves for a while, but eventually, she relents, slithers between the branches to the hammock, but she doesn’t sit beside him. She stays close to the end of it, close to the tree’s trunk, likely to return to the tree if she doesn’t like the explanation.

“We didn’t get married,” he says. Corrie just points at his finger as proof that he’s not telling the truth.

“We traded rings,” he says. “But we’re not married. How could we get married if we were here all night?” Right here, right in the hammock.

She makes a dismissive sniff. “Mycroft could make it happen.” If Mycroft wanted, Mycroft could make anything happen. It’s a little frightening that Corrie’s already picked up on that much, and he’d like to think it’s a case of misplaced faith in Mycroft’s abilities. But they both know that’s not true.

“But he didn’t.” He tries to feel as calm as he’s making his voice. “I promise. If I were going to get married, you’d know. You and Bits and Gran and Pépé and your mum and even your da.”

She still won’t smile, even at the last. She folds herself up more on the hammock’s edge, huffs. “You never even said you were dating anyone before.” Therefore: he really might get married and not say so.

Apparently, that’s going to be a big deal a lot longer than he thought it would be. “I’m sorry I never said. But none of them were as awesome as Mycroft.” He tries a grin.

Corrie gives him a flat look. “Obvisly.

“I just wanted Mycroft to have Grand-père’s ring. And he gave me his because it’d look funny if he wore two rings on the same finger.”

Corrie reaches out, shoves his shoulder. “Or because he’s stupid for you and you don’t even know.”

He takes a deep breath. “Yeah,” he says. “I think I get it now.”

Corrie wraps her arms around her shins, props her chin on her knees, and doesn’t say anything for a bit, only looks at him. “Maybe,” she says. And then she’s quiet again. Eventually, she says, “You promise you won’t get married without telling us?”

“I promise.” He swallows. “But—it’s not like we’re engaged, either, not like your da and mum were. So don’t go planning, all right?” It’s still not possible to think about that in any kind of concrete way, especially not without wanting a paper bag rather a lot.

Regarding that, Corrie seems completely unbothered. She slides down to the center of the hammock, where he’s sitting, and she takes his hand. “It’s really shiny.” With his permission, too, she tugs it off, reads the inside of the ring, which marks it as fourteen-karat gold, but there’s nothing else. He’s actually surprised by the alloy, but it seems to fit the scenario of its procuring: whatever happened to be available in Mycroft’s size in the nearest shop to wherever he was. Corrie looks vaguely disappointed at the lack of information on the ring itself, but she puts it back on his finger, and then she looks completely settled again, like she hasn’t been one wrong answer away from a meltdown for an hour.


“You’re not married.”

He just said that. He can’t help but ask about the firmness of her conclusion now.

She shrugs. “Mycroft wouldn’t marry you with a ring like this.” She slips out of the netting, her bare feet in the grass. And she’s tugging him back into the house because it sounds like his father and Mycroft have returned from their drive.


Sooner than he wants it to be, it’s time to go. He doesn’t want to, but if they don’t leave before dinner, they won’t leave tonight. He knows that for certain. And he has to be back to work on Friday morning.

Jean kisses Anthea’s cheek. "If you need a holiday—" A stern glance at Mycroft. "—you are always welcome here."

"Thank you" is all Anthea says, but she smiles, throws a very fond glance toward the garden wall.

The expression on Corrie's face is such that he's sure she's a breath away from inviting Anthea to New York, but she doesn't voice it. She only looks at Anthea's shoes, and her bottom lip curls in under her teeth as Betsy hugs her, thanks her again for coming, for the birthday present.

Everything is a flurry of hugs and kisses and, from the corner of his eye, he’s pretty sure he sees Marisol clasp both sides of Mycroft’s face after she embraces him, lean in, and kiss him on the mouth. Then Bob does the same, and Mycroft actually blushes.

“Oi!” Lestrade protests, but the appeal goes unacknowledged.

Bob only says, “I thought I should see what all the fuss was about.” Betsy giggles, looks like she’d like to do the same, but she only hugs Mycroft around the waist and then retreats to throw both arms around his neck.

“Best birthday ever,” she whispers in his ear.

Getting everything into the cars and getting themselves extricated takes a few more minutes, too. Corrie has disappeared entirely by the time Lestrade closes the boot on the Aston, and he expects it has a lot to do with her not wanting to cry in front of Anthea. Jean herds everyone back into the house because if he doesn’t, someone else will find something else to say, and one of them will answer, and another hour will elapse and they’ll still be standing in the drive.

He and Mycroft are in the Aston, him organizing albums for the drive and Mycroft taking off his jacket, handing off his cufflinks. Anthea is sitting in the driver’s seat of the Triumph, the door open, doing something on her Blackberry, when Corrie comes through the little gate from the back garden. From the edge of the rearview mirror, he sees Corrie stop in the lee of the blue door, take Anthea’s hand, and kiss the back of it quickly. Then she turns on her heel, dashes back for the garden gate, and she doesn’t go through it; she vaults right over it, her hands braced on the curly steel top.

In the time it takes to get himself to really process what he’s seen, Anthea closes the car door, starts the engine, and the Triumph is pulling out onto the tarmac ahead.

Mycroft, it seems, has seen it, too, because Mycroft sees everything, but he doesn’t say anything. He only follows Anthea at a conservative distance through the residential area.


They’re only a little ways outside of Lyon when he gets a flood of texts, all at once. Four from Sherlock, demanding his return. One from John, just a general apology. Two from Sergeant Donovan, one double-checking that he’ll be back from his holiday on Friday, one pointing out that she distinctly did not kill nor arrest Sherlock twice. Two from Dimmock, one asking after some details from a cold homicide, another, sent right after, saying nevermind. Solved. Holmes. Six more from Sherlock. Another from John, saying that he was taking Sherlock’s mobile from him entirely.

Lestrade stares at his phone. “Why am I getting these all now?” He’d gotten a few messages over the course of the five days from Sally that he’d actually answered—relevant questions about a Jane Doe from last month and one about the box of hands.

Mycroft makes a bland sound. “Nothing very necessary, was there?”

“No, but—” He nudges the volume down on the stereo.

“It was a holiday, Gregory. No work save dire emergencies.” The expression on his face says that he doesn’t much consider even Sally’s texts emergency-based, but they did require answers that Lestrade could provide. A concession.

“Is that what you were doing yesterday? Taking care of emergencies?” He was secreted away for nearly two hours.

Mycroft’s mouth quirks. “I wasn’t directing traffic cone placement in Yockenthwaite.”

Which means that it doesn’t bear thinking about. Lestrade changes the subject. It’s a bit of a detour, but he knows Mycroft will get the connection. “So, everyone noticed.” He reaches, touches Mycroft’s third finger. He’ll tell him about the conversation with Corrie in a while, when he’s had a chance to figure out how to make it not about the very idea of marriage.

“Of course they did.” Mycroft glances at his mirrors, weaves deftly around a line of lorries. “Your family is beautifully observant.” The corner of his mouth curling up. “Are they all like that all of the time?”

Lestrade blinks. “I guess?” It’s just how they are. He’s generally thought of it as everyone being a nosey sod, but then he met Sherlock, who skews the curve a bit. “Sometimes Bob’s kind of strung out with the restaurant, and then him and Da end up arguing management philosophy and they don’t see that Mum has moved the entire rest of the group into another room, and sometimes Betsy gets stuck in a book and you could drop a set of cymbals beside her and she wouldn’t even notice—” He shakes his head. He’s not sure what that has to do with much of anything. “What I’m saying—Sherlock’s going to notice.”


“He’ll probably take it poorly.” Probably even moreso because Lestrade doesn’t quite know how he would explain it. But Sherlock took it poorly at the beginning, and he generally looks like he’s going to be sick when Lestrade talks openly about Mycroft. It’s probably mostly an act, but still.

“He’ll rail and swear and call you an idiot, if that’s what you mean.” Mycroft makes another smooth turn onto the E17, so they can avoid Paris and all that entails. “Maybe more than usual. And then he’ll require your assistance for access to cases, and all will be as it was.”

“And you’ll get off scot-free?” It seems likely. Sherlock does nearly everything he can to avoid actually being in Mycroft’s company, despite the fact that he clearly enjoyed himself at Mycroft’s country house, that one evening while the girls were visiting.

Mycroft rolls his shoulders back, resettles his hand on the wheel. Lestrade reminds himself to insist on driving a bit at least by the time they get to Dijon. “If you mean I’ll be spared Sherlock’s diatribes, yes.” And he doesn’t say anything more.

A few more miles pass, and Mycroft is still quiet, his eyes trained on the horizon. He doesn’t move when Lestrade’s hand lands on his thigh.

“Or,” he says, “I’ll finally get a proper-sized table for my flat, and we’ll have Sherlock and John to dinner, and Sherlock can rail and swear and call us both idiots.” He rubs his fingertips along the inner seam of Mycroft’s trousers, near his knee.

Mycroft glances at him, and his chin dips a fraction of an inch, and his hand comes to rest over Lestrade’s.