Greg can hear the telly before he even gets the door to the flat open; John's switched it back to the news, even though he's sitting with his back to the screen and he hardly ever pays attention. They've been running public opinion stories about the Monferrer Global controversy all damn week. Greg snags the remote off the arm of the sofa and turns it down.
"Brought up the post." Greg dumps it on the table and starts sorting it out: him, business, business, John, business, him, him.
"Thanks," John says, without looking up from his laptops. "I got hungry—ate the last of the curry. Sorry."
"It was your curry." Greg drops down into the chair opposite and opens the letter from Carla's solicitor; it's more stupidity over the house. He sighs. Every time. Every damn time, he thinks it's finally settled, but he hasn't been right yet. "Anything from the website?" Greg asks, flipping over to his mobile bill.
"No," John says. "Slow week."
"Yeah." March is always slow, apparently. Having seen it come around twice before doesn't make it less irritating. Greg licks his lips. "Thought about taking that case in Sweden?" he asks.
"No," John says. He still hasn't looked up from his computers. "Have you thought about taking up the superintendent on his offer?"
"No," Greg says.
"You could, if you wanted," John tells him.
"Ferguson's a bastard," Greg says, a little more sharply than usual. "Or have you forgotten?"
"No, I haven't forgotten," John says, very quietly. "I did hit him in the face."
Greg breathes out. "Sorry," he says.
"It was ages ago," John says, shrugging.
It was. That doesn't make it better, any of it. It's been three years since Greg left Carla, after all; it's been thirty-three months since the funeral, thirty-two since the end of the hearing, thirty-one since the move. It's been two and a half years since Greg finished trading in that life for this one and he doesn't want to go back, not exactly, but he still lost his job and his marriage and his kids, five days a week; the world still lost a good man and Greg still lost a friend when John lost more than Greg can bring himself to imagine; and it's over and done with, the lot of it, but that doesn't mean he has no regrets.
Greg watches John. John is still focused on his laptops.
"Working on the index?" Greg asks, as casually as he can.
John swallows, the movement of his throat visible, and he looks up and says, "It's practical," like Greg disagrees.
"I know," Greg says.
"His organizational system was nonexistent," John says.
"I know that too," Greg says, leaning back in his chair. "After the Atcheson case—"
"Right," John says.
Greg shifts. "We need to be able to find things in his records," he says. "Going through and indexing them is perfectly logical."
"Exactly," John says. "There's—it'd be one thing if he'd ever got to the point, spelled out the significance of anything in some reasonable sort of a way, but you know what he was like, you know he didn't—"
John stops. He pushes up to his feet. He heads into the kitchen, turns on the kettle, and Greg exhales and leans forward and reaches for the power bill.
The problem is, it is perfectly reasonable, on some level. They do need Sherlock's data. Sherlock had several tens of thousands of files on his laptop, on topics ranging from the identification of takeaway restaurants from a person's rubbish to the less interesting—but still embarrassing—secrets of diplomatic families, and, true to form, the vast majority of them were no better than half-written and all of them were stored under utterly incomprehensible file names and occasionally they're written in code, because Sherlock always was a bit of a bastard. John started digging through them in a half-hearted sort of way during their first job for the police and then began work seriously on creating an index after the Atcheson case, and yes, it's perfectly reasonable and logical and possibly even necessary but Greg isn't actually an idiot, and the walls in their flat aren't particularly thick, and Greg can hear enough in the night to know that John gets up to work on the index when he can't sleep. That's the problem. The problem is that the index is logical and practical and also a sign of something ruined, patched over but not repaired. They have rather a lot of those, between the two of them.
Greg's mobile buzzes in his pocket, once, twice, and he digs it out to check the number, then glances up at John, hunched in on himself in the kitchen, facing away. Greg flips the phone open and tucks it under his ear. "Greg Lestrade," he says, careful to keep his voice even.
"Is John with you?" Mycroft asks.
"Yes," Greg says, and Mycroft sighs.
"Unfortunate," he says. "I know you're reluctant to work with me—"
"Yes, that's correct," Greg says, and Mycroft says, "Not amusing," and Greg doesn't say anything in reply.
"I have a case that might interest you," Mycroft tells him.
"Hm," Greg says. "Well, I'm not sure that we can help you."
"Let me rephrase that," Mycroft says. "I have a case that requires both your special expertise and connections and a great deal of discretion. I'm prepared to pay you handsomely for your services, and I know for a fact that you and John haven't had a case recently."
"Well, you see, there's a bit of a problem, there," Greg says, watching John's back, unmoving.
"I didn't ask for John's assistance, I asked for yours," Mycroft says, very evenly.
Greg doesn't really have a reply to that one.
"I'll need more information," he says, finally.
"Of course," Mycroft says. "If you aren't engaged at the moment, I'd greatly appreciate it if you came down to the Burlington Cafe to meet me."
Greg hesitates. Usually when Mycroft "requests" his assistance, Greg ends up in his office, or an abandoned warehouse. A cafe is new, but not exactly unwelcome. "All right," he says.
"Half an hour," Mycroft tells him, and the line clicks dead. Greg flips his phone shut and tucks it back in his pocket.
"Case?" John asks from the kitchen.
"Maybe," Greg says. "Doesn't sound like much, though. I'll check it out."
"I don't mind," John says, but just then the kettle clicks, and he pours out for his tea.
"No, no, you were working," Greg says, pushing to his feet and grabbing his jacket. "Um—I was going to stop by Tesco's on the way back—are we low on anything other than milk and bread?"
"We're all right on beans, I think," John says, bringing his tea back over to the table. Greg nods and doesn't say anything. It's not really any of his business if John will eat like a teenager when left to his own devices. He always chips in for whatever Greg cooks or orders in and doesn't have an opinion on much of anything other than how hot curry ought to be (very, very hot), and he always does the washing up when Greg cooks. It makes Greg wonder, a bit, how he and Sherlock ever managed to get on. He doesn't actually know if John can't cook, or simply doesn't, but he does know that Sherlock more or less lived on Chinese takeaway and John won't eat it, not even when Brian and Luke are visiting at the weekend and Greg springs for the good stuff. It doesn't matter. John isn't really Greg's responsibility.
"Milk and bread, then," Greg says, nodding. He'll buy oranges, too. "Good luck with the..." He waves at the laptops.
"Yeah," John says. "Call if you need me."
"I will," Greg says, and heads out.
On the Tube, Greg keeps telling himself he's making a logical decision. Business hasn't been so good that they can afford to turn down a job that will pay, if nothing else. It's a good excuse, if he needs it.
The truth of the matter is that voluntarily meeting with Mycroft has, as always, very little to do with logic, and rather a lot to do with curiosity. Greg met Sherlock almost ten years ago, worked with him closely for seven, has mourned him ever since; but Mycroft remains an enigma. At first, their interactions were largely limited to bizarre violations of Greg's personal dignity and autonomy; then they were largely limited to threats that Greg recognized, even at the time, as the last-ditch desperate efforts of a man accustomed to control faced with the explosive unpredictability of someone else's addiction; since Sherlock's death, Greg has seen Mycroft more but spoken with him less, because John still stands between them. However many endless consecutive Sundays it's been now that Mycroft has dropped by the flat to drink tea across from John's arctic and implacable silence, Greg and Mycroft have still never, not once, in ten years, actually managed to have anything that could be considered a normal conversation; instead, they began with barbed and over-personal discussions of Sherlock's various misbehaviors and degenerated after to talking about the weather. In ten years Mycroft has had Greg kidnapped on six separate occasions, intimidated more times than Greg can count, and once, memorably, arrested by a probationary constable who spent the three months following fetching coffee and writing the most tedious reports Greg could give him before finally caving and requesting a transfer out of Greg's unit, but Greg has also seen Mycroft shift entire titanic bureaucracies to smooth the Met's way, usually while Sherlock sulked like a teenager and John acted as though Sherlock had solved the case all on his own. Greg has three sisters and two boys of his own; being a brother should in no way be a mystery to him, but the oceans-wide and turbulent expanse of Mycroft's double-edged interests and obscured affections continue to baffle him. Greg still owns an extraordinarily well-documented and improbably legal pistol; he's had it for years. He'd expected a request for its return, after the funeral, but it never came.
When Greg arrives, Mycroft is standing outside the cafe, still and placid, watching a group of pigeons try their luck on a young tourist with blue trainers and a cheese Danish. Her mother calls for her, and she runs, and the pigeons scatter, and Mycroft says, "Greg," without looking at him, then turns and gives him a measured smile, precisely trimmed.
"Mycroft." Greg tucks his hands into the pockets of his jacket, and lets Mycroft hold the door for him, even though he knows that Mycroft is doing it just because it makes Greg uncomfortable. Mycroft will have, as always, tea (a splash of milk; no sugar). Greg orders a cup of coffee and a ham sandwich. He still hasn't had lunch.
"How goes the private detective business?" Mycroft asks, stirring his tea.
"Bit slow," Greg admits. "Always seems to be slow in March, for some reason."
"I saw the news about Sally Donovan's promotion," Mycroft says. His voice is mild, but it still makes Greg tense up. He doesn't know why Mycroft would bring it up.
"Yeah," Greg says. He thinks his voice sounds all right. "She's been busy. The Hollister case and all that. Making quite the name for herself."
"Especially impressive considering her age," Mycroft says. "And her record."
Ah. Greg leans back in his seat and crosses his arms. "Is this about my badge?" he asks. Mycroft doesn't answer. Greg sighs. "Don't pretend you don't know that Ferguson is trying to get me back," he says. "I won't believe you."
Mycroft watches him. His expression is unreadable.
"I don't want to go back," Greg says. "I'm—I'm not going to go back. I have a job."
"And John needs you," Mycroft says. He makes it sound like a weapon.
"John's a grown man," Greg says. "If I were to go back to the Met, he'd do all right. But I don't like Ferguson and I don't need to go back, I'm not going to go back, and if you're looking for police sources—"
"I'm not looking for police sources," Mycroft interrupts. It's startling. As far as Greg can remember, he has never seen Mycroft admit to anything being urgent enough to merit an interruption.
Unbalanced, Greg says, "Well, good."
"Robert Adair," Mycroft says. Greg stills. He recognizes the tension in Mycroft's voice: year after year of his voice curling scornfully around my brother; whatever emotion might be seeping through, as always, twisted into something that could be more tidily performed. Mycroft asks, "Have you heard about the case?"
Greg takes a sip of his coffee. "Heard a bit on the news, yeah," he says.
"The media's coverage has been almost entirely pure sensationalism," Mycroft says.
"Usually is," Greg points out, and Mycroft nods. "What's your angle? Personal interest?"
"In a way," Mycroft says. He brushes his thumb over the handle of his cup. One Sunday, one of the first Sundays, not very long after Greg and John moved into the flat on Hastings Street because Greg couldn't stay in a fourth-rate bedsit forever and didn't live in his house anymore and John couldn't stand his sister's flat or Baker Street or leaving London, Mycroft had sat across from Greg and rubbed his thumb over the handle of his cup, just the same, and then said, Sherlock, and John had pushed to his feet and walked away, and closed the door to his bedroom very quietly and politely behind his back. It was the first and only time Mycroft brought him up. Mycroft doesn't have tells, and Greg knows it. If Mycroft is letting anything like that slip through, it is completely and entirely deliberate.
"Supposed to have been some sort of junkie, wasn't he?" Greg says. He wasn't, but Greg can't tell what Mycroft has for him, not like this, and he can't come up with a single reason why Mycroft would take an interest in the murder of a twenty-four-year-old boy of mediocre education and undistinguished parentage.
"He wasn't a junkie," Mycroft says, and sighs, and tilts his chin up, meeting Greg's eyes. "Do you know how he was killed?"
Greg hesitates. "Sounded like a stabbing," he says, finally. It's his best guess. The news made it sound bloody, at any rate, and there was no mention of a gun.
"He wasn't stabbed," Mycroft says. "His throat was cut. With a sword."
Greg stares at him. "In a flat in Kensington?" he asks.
"Yes," Mycroft says. "His throat was cut, with a sword, in a flat in Kensington. If you don't believe me, you can call DI Donovan to confirm."
The waitress chooses this moment to materialize with Greg's sandwich, which is lucky; it gives him a moment to organize and narrow the rapid explosion of questions suddenly crowding up his mind. He takes a bite, chews thoroughly, and swallows. Then he says, "I'm still not clear how this is something you'd get involved in."
"He was a civil servant," Mycroft says, and then his lip twists up, and he asks, "Don't you think we look after our own?"
"Well, if that's all it is, I don't think you need a private detective to find out who killed him," Greg tells him frankly. "Not even one with ties to the police. Throat slittings are messy. There's bound to be forensic evidence. If you want I can call Donovan to make sure she gives it special attention—"
"No," Mycroft says, very quietly, and Greg looks at him, steady.
"Are you going to tell me what this is about or not?" Greg asks. "I can't be much help if you're just going to make me flail about in the dark. I don't have the Met's resources, I can't—"
"You don't have the Met's resources," Mycroft says. "But you also don't have their constraints. That is very much what I need, in this instance."
"Are you going to tell me why?" Greg asks. His patience is starting to feel a bit frayed at the edges. He's starting to remember why it is that they've never had a normal conversation; Mycroft approaches even idle chit-chat like a war of attrition.
Mycroft takes a sip of tea.
Greg eats his sandwich, because he might as well.
Finally Mycroft says, "I know who killed Adair, and I know why, and I know how. But that isn't enough for a conviction."
"Right," Greg says. "If the police can't take care of it, can't, um—can't your assistant just—" He tries to come up with a publicly appropriate way to say shoot him in the head, and can't. He takes another bite instead.
"I'm afraid he's beyond my reach," Mycroft tells him.
Greg chews thoughtfully. "I didn't think anyone was beyond your reach," he says, after he swallows.
"This man is," Mycroft says. His tone doesn't invite questions. "If I leave this to the police, there are enough people willing to look in the wrong direction for the appropriate monetary incentive that it's very likely the case will go nowhere. If I give this to you, I know that you will use the police but not rely on them, and I know that you will genuinely look into it and find what there is to be found, and I know that I can trust you to do it carefully, and quickly." He turns his cup, very slightly, anticlockwise, then says, "I am also relatively certain that you aren't being watched."
"Oh," Greg says. "So—that's a possibility."
"Yes," Mycroft says.
Greg takes a sip of coffee. "And that's why you don't want to give it to your staff," he says.
"Yes," Mycroft says.
"Are we being watched now?" Greg asks.
"It's possible, but unlikely," Mycroft says. "You were a friend of my brother's. It's known that I continue to maintain a congenial relationship with you."
"Is that what you call it?" Greg asks.
Mycroft raises an eyebrow. "Would you not?" he asks.
"I think of it more as a regularly scheduled invasion," Greg says, "raiding us for provisions, and so on," and very much to his surprise, Mycroft's eyes crinkle up at the corners.
"Well, you do make a very fine serving wench," Mycroft tells him, which throws Greg enough that he has to struggle to figure out how to reply. Mycroft clears his throat and leans back. "But that's beside the point," he says. "The essential matter is that you are uniquely able to do this for me. Will you?"
Greg takes a sip of his coffee, then asks, "Pay?"
"Whatever you ask," Mycroft says.
"Whatever I ask?" Greg echoes, laughing.
"Yes," Mycroft says, "I have ties to the family," and Greg stops, and looks at him.
The problem with Mycroft isn't that he's a heartless bastard incapable of indicating when something holds genuine significance for him. The problem is that he's a heartless bastard who goes to such lengths to obscure and misdirect what, precisely, the nature of that significance might be that Greg has learned to trust nothing less than what looks like something unstudied coming from Mycroft Holmes.
"What sort of ties?" Greg asks.
"Business ties," Mycroft says smoothly.
"You won't tell me?" Greg asks.
"I imagine you'll find out," Mycroft says. "But it's important that you look into this thoroughly for the case to hold up in the end. If I lead you, it increases the likelihood that this will evaporate, and a very dangerous man will go free."
"Oh, good," Greg says. "For a bit there I thought it was just because you don't like to share."
"Well," Mycroft says, eyes crinkling up again, and God, that's disturbing. Greg stuffs the last of his sandwich in his mouth and chases it with three lukewarm gulps of coffee.
"Anything you want to give me at all?" Greg asks. "Just as a place to start?"
Mycroft raises an eyebrow at him. "And here I thought you'd spent thirty years with the police," he says, and Greg rolls his eyes and pushes to his feet.
"Thanks for the sandwich," Greg says, "Next time, on me," and leaves before Mycroft has a chance to work out what to say.
It doesn't take Greg too long to get a copy of the case file from Donovan, with the full approval of her superiors behind it. It's idiotic, really, that Ferguson should be falling all over himself to give Greg all the courtesies that got half their unit called up for hearings after Sherlock's death, but it's also useful, so Greg doesn't complain.
On his way home from New Scotland Yard, his phone buzzes in his pocket. It's from Mycroft, who hates to text, a single sentence: I'd greatly appreciate it if you didn't mention my involvement to John, like Greg would be so stupid. John hasn't forgiven much of anyone for much of anything, and Greg knows it; the two of them can only work together and live together and interact in a more or less friendly way because at a certain point, John had to either start pushing away whatever betrayals were small enough to shift, or suffocate completely. The aftermath of Sherlock's death was indiscriminate and explosive, devastating: a year and change of hearings and retrials and special investigations, Greg's team shell-shocked and unbalanced, suddenly on the wrong side, as the truth ground its way out one exhibit at a time, because the police have always had an obligation to investigate that has never been able to afford exceptions. They cleared Greg and Donovan and Dimmock and the lot of them, eventually; they very nearly managed to clear Sherlock in the end; but there were still weeks and months where John was torn up and drifting, uncertain and grieving, with Greg unshaven and disgraced, out of work, half-homeless. There's a kinship in that sort of overlapping misery, but Mycroft never paid for his misdeeds where other people could see, instead going out of his way to seem untouched and untouchable all along. Two weeks into Greg's hearing, at the pub, John had said, I have a case—one of his old clients—if you're bored, and Greg had felt a confused and confusing rush of guilt and grief and dread and said, Yeah, all right, because he'd thought he owed it to John and Sherlock both; not long after, Mycroft had offered John comfort and sympathy and the open arms of family, and John had just stared at him, impassive and blank, and said nothing, which more or less set the tone for every interaction they've had since.
John's watching telly when Greg gets back, sitting upright at the edge of the sofa with his hands folded in his lap and his mouth firm and determined. Greg wonders if he used to listen to mission briefings like that. They're still on about the handling of the Monferrer Global TB vaccine, like anyone is surprised by pharmaceutical companies making a killing on something that ought to be saving lives. John looks like he takes it personally. Greg just tunes it out and settles down at the table to start flipping through the case file.
The crime scene photos are... bad. That part, Greg doesn't miss much; most of what he works on with John is bloodless, missing jewelry and philandering spouses and small and private frauds. It's boring, but it pays, and neither of them is Sherlock Holmes, and every month or two, they'll get a case with enough actual heft to keep both of them from losing their minds. But a young man, not quite three years out of uni, with his throat slit in his family's flat, is awful in a way that is both mundane and familiar: there is a person who is dead, and there is a person who killed him, and Greg has to find one to make what meager amends are possible to the other. Robert Adair could use a break, and if Mycroft's ruled out shooting the murderer in the head, the task falls to Greg.
Adair took maths at university; struggled to find work after; came to London to stay with his sister and mother out of what reads very clearly as desperation; picked up a job as an entry-level admin in the office of an MP. The sister is older, working at Vauxhall Cross and very likely the source of both Robert's job and the connection to Mycroft; their mother worked as a schoolteacher before her retirement; their father is deceased. Adair had been engaged at university but they'd broken it off since; the former fiancée was the first person who raised Donovan's red flags, too, but Greg goes over her statement several times, and apart from the issue of how, exactly, the very petite Emma Woodley would've managed to kill a man four stone heavier and a handspan taller than her, with no sign of a struggle, with a sword, there genuinely seems to have been very little bad feeling between the two of them. The most interesting note in the file, overall, is that Donovan has been thoroughly stonewalled in her efforts to speak with Adair's boss. Especially given Mycroft's involvement, a politician disinclined to speak with the police seems the most promising direction for investigation, but Greg can tell from every note in the file that he'll get nowhere quickly if he goes there first. Instead, he takes the case file and his mobile upstairs to call Adair's sister, Hannah, to arrange a meeting for later in the evening, then comes back downstairs and asks, "Mind if I have a look at the index?"
"What?" John looks up. Greg points at Sherlock's laptop and John gives him a go-ahead sort of wave and stands up. "Proper case, then?"
"Not really, no," Greg says. He turns the screen towards him; he knows that John won't come and look over his shoulder, even if it's tempting. "Donovan just asked me to check on this fellow whose name's come up on one of her cases." Greg types in Sherlock's passcode; he can do it from memory, now. The index is up in the front window; Greg wonders if John's done anything else today. Greg scrolls down to "Moran". Four entries for "Sebastian": one file tagged "biographical", two tagged "financial," and a fourth, tagged "fraud." Greg sighs and pulls them up, emails them to himself, and then closes the index and pushes the laptop back over to John's side of the table.
"He's in there, I take it?" John's almost smiling.
"Yeah," Greg says, reaching for his jacket. He ought to head out. "Have the criminals always been this predictable?"
John laughs, a very little.
Hannah Adair turns out to be a tall, athletic-looking young woman with short blonde hair and freckles sprinkled across her nose. Her face is at odds with her expression. Greg can easily imagine her laughing, head thrown back, happy and expansive; but in person, with her mouth tight and miserable and her eyes red-rimmed and pinched, she seems strangely unreal, not believable. She sits across from him at a table in a pub just around the corner from the flat where her brother died and tells him about work and their family's growing money worries and coming home that night—coming up the stairs—turning the key—
"Take your time," he says, as gently as he can.
She shakes her head. "I've been over it more times than I can count, you know?" she says, voice stretched thin. "I know—he asked me, you know, what he should do, and I told him he had to do what he thought was right, and I—"
"What was this about?" he asks, leaning forward.
"Oh, God." She sighs, and laughs, presses one trembling hand against her mouth. "I can't—it's so stupid, I thought it was so stupid, I thought—he was very young, Mr. Lestrade. He was—he was twenty-four, and he was young for his age, in a lot of ways, and he still got—worked up, you know, about things not being—right, and." She stops, and shakes her head.
"He was an idealist," he says, very gently.
"Yes," she says.
"And there was something wrong," he prompts.
"Oh, I don't know." She sighs. "It's—he thought there was, yeah." She rubs at her face. "I thought—I thought bringing it up might cause more problems than it'd solve, you know? You can't just—you can't just go throwing accusations around, and I—I got him the job, and I couldn't believe it was anything serious, just—just politics, you know."
"He suspected someone at work?" he asks. "Of something unethical?" It's in line with what he heard from Mycroft, but he still needs the details.
She sighs. "Look," she says. "You have to understand—I never knew, really, what happened at his other job, just that—that they were in trouble, and they sacked him, and then they went under not long after but he still had a lot of resentment about it and said things that were stupid to people he shouldn't have said anything to at all. So when he said there was something not quite right at work, my first thought was—well, it's terrible, especially now that—especially now that he, he may have said something, to someone who—but at the time I thought, 'He's done it again, he's going to be out of work again,' and I feel—I can't believe, I can't believe I thought that, I can't believe that that was what I was worried about, but with the economy being what it is..."
"Not easy to find a new job, no," he agrees. She nods. His fingertips are tingling. "Especially not after being sacked twice. I—um, I don't think it was in the report—where did he work before?"
"Anastas Biotechnical," she says. "Some sort of data analysis. Really more in line with what he studied at uni, you know, than his job here, but he complained all the while about how dull it was. But it was entry-level work—it's always dull, isn't it? I don't know what he expected, really." She hunches her shoulders together, folding her hands in her lap.
Greg watches her, thinking about Donovan's report. "Listen," he says. "Did you mention this to the police?"
"Mention what?" she says, squinting at him a little.
"His job at—what was it?"
"Anastas Biotechnical, up in Leeds," she says. "But they went under."
"Right, yeah," he says. "But did you mention it to the police?"
She frowns at him. "Yeah," she says. "That detective—the pretty Black woman—"
"DI Donovan," he says. His heart is thumping.
"Right," she says. "When she took my statement, she asked about—about where he worked, about where he'd worked before that, and before that, but then he was at uni, and she asked about Emma—his ex, you know, though how on earth anyone could think she could—"
"No, of course," he says. He's not really paying attention. He needs to reread that report. "Listen," he says. "I think I've got a good bit to go on, for now—do you mind if I call you up again, if I have any more questions?"
"That's fine," she says, nodding, and he pats the back of her hand, because he can get away with that sort of thing now that he doesn't carry a badge, and his sympathy doesn't have legal implications.
"We're not going to let it go, you know," he tells her, and her face tightens up, but she nods.
On his way out of the pub, he calls Mycroft.
"Hard at work?" Mycroft asks, the instant he picks up. His voice is lazy, which Greg suspects translates to "guarded".
"Yeah, actually." Greg tucks his free hand in his pocket. "Can I talk? Is this—secure, or whatever?"
"Yes, but I'd still avoid names," Mycroft says. "Mistrust is always the safer option."
"Right," Greg says. "So—I think there's a problem."
"Very likely," Mycroft says.
"I'm concerned that—that someone has got to the police," he says.
"I warned you," Mycroft says mildly.
"Yeah, but what am I supposed to do here, if I can't trust their records?" Greg asks. "If you want something that'll hold up in court, you'll need forensics, you'll need properly gathered and handled evidence, I can't just go in and charm them into doing what I want—"
"I think you rather underrate yourself," Mycroft tells him.
Greg stops, turns back, takes two steps, turns around again, keeps walking.
"Mycroft," he says, finally. "Are you flirting with me?"
Mycroft's silent for a moment.
"I mean," Greg says. "Very flattering and all that, I reckon this is how Kate must've felt at St. Andrews, but—"
"My primary concern is for the Adair case," Mycroft tells him.
"Right, yeah," Greg says. "So, the forensics—"
"Oh, well," Mycroft says, voice steady again. "It seems that in this instance, what you really need is a police insider, someone who might have some insight into whom you could and could not trust—"
"Oh, shove it," Greg tells him, and Mycroft's voice is smooth as he says, "Enjoy your evening, Greg," and rings off.
It's past eight by the time Greg gets back to the flat. John's shut up in his bedroom, but it's unlikely that he's sleeping; Greg can hear the radio going, too low through the door to make anything out, and Greg's laptop is still on the table but John's and Sherlock's are gone. Greg digs out some leftover Chinese from the weekend and gets the Adair file while it's warming up, just to confirm his memory. He's not wrong. There's nothing about Adair's first job, nothing at all, and it's still written up in Donovan's handwriting, and it still has Donovan's name at the bottom.
Greg really isn't sentimental. He knows to trust the evidence, but he knows Donovan, too. He's known her since she was still a probationary constable in uniform, and he thinks about Hannah Adair telling him, He was very young, Mr. Lestrade, and remembers telling Ferguson something similar about Donovan when she was only about twenty-four herself and had recently punched a civilian in the face. It was Sherlock, so he'd deserved it, but that's really beside the point: if someone had asked Greg a day ago, he would've said that Donovan is one of the most upright officers he's ever known, incorruptible, unflinching, and he would've said it without hesitation. It's just that tonight, he couldn't do that.
The microwave dings. He sighs, then digs out a fork. It's been a long day. He doesn't think he can really trust his judgement. He calls his boys and eats his dinner, then shuts himself up in his bedroom and checks his email, finishes paying his bills, watches today's child-mandated sequence of YouTube clips about polar bears (Luke's latest obsession). He lets the file rest, closed, on his bedside table, and watches the last half of the Skyfall DVD he borrowed from Mrs. Hudson, and then he lies down on his back and closes his eyes and does his best to think about nothing at all.
In the morning, John is out. It's Wednesday, which means he has an appointment at ten, which means that he'll run eight miles instead of six and Greg will shower while John's out and then make himself scarce until the afternoon, because the difficulties of dealing with John on a regular basis are nothing compared to the impossibilities of dealing with him right after therapy. Harry, in a moment of disarming and uncomfortable emotional honesty, once told Greg that she didn't know anyone other than her brother who could keep being angry for years without interruption, and then had tried to make it into a joke before John had come back from the loo, but Greg hadn't known what to say to that as a joke, either. John isn't angry. Greg has heard John get angry. Greg has seen John get angry. Greg once, memorably, had to actually physically intervene when John got angry with Sergeant Osbourne after a remarkably insensitive quip about the personal life of a victim, but Greg has been around long enough to know that these days John doesn't get angry about anything that's actually important. On Wednesday mornings Greg might as well be living with a machine programmed to eat beans on toast and drink exactly two cups of tea and then run eight miles and then go to his therapy appointment and then come home and sit in silence, ramrod-straight, with his back to the window and his hands folded in his lap, saying nothing, for hours. Whatever John has been living through, is living through, will continue to live through, it isn't anger. Anger burns itself out.
Greg takes his laptop and the file and heads down to the cafe on the corner, which has WiFi and excellent scones. Greg knows that he needs to make a decision. He probably should've forced himself to do it last night; if Donovan is compromised, the case is in bigger trouble than he can imagine. He doesn't want to think it of her—he can't really believe it of her—but it's her writing and he knows that there's money on the line and it's absolutely certain that someone, here, is lying. He hopes to God that it's Hannah Adair, but he can't figure out what she'd get by telling the police one thing and a police consultant another.
Greg sips his coffee and smoothes Hannah's statement out and reads it again. And again. And again. It's all just as Hannah said, except that there's no reference to an earlier job, no reference to Anastas Biotechnical, no reference to Robert's qualms about his work, just the facts, only some of the facts, and at the bottom, Detective Inspector Sally Donovan, followed by the date.
He stills. Detective Inspector Sally Donovan, in that same familiar writing—except that Donovan's legal name is Sandra, and she's always been rigidly careful to sign her reports, S. Donovan, simply to avoid the issue. He breathes easy for what feels like the first time all morning, and picks up his mobile.
I need some info on a case, he tells her. You out and about?
At scot yrd,, she replies. Endless reports. I can take a break if you come down.
He licks his lips. I need a coffee, he tells her, even though it's blatantly untrue. He still has half a cup. Meet up the street? At that cafe?
She agrees, which means she's understood it as covering for something unsaid, and she's waiting for him when he gets there, working on—indeed—a report on another case and stirring sugar into her coffee. He grabs himself a cup and joins her, and she folds her file shut and says, "Problem?"
"Yeah, maybe," he says, settling into his chair and tucking his laptop and the case file at his elbow. "Hannah Adair. I need to know what she told you about her brother's work history."
She frowns. "It's in her statement," she says. "Do you have your copy?"
"Yeah," he says. "But I want to hear it from you. No, don't look—just tell me what you remember."
She gives him a sharp look, but nods. "Graduated in 2012," she says. "Bit of trouble finding a job; ended up doing some data analysis at a—um, it was some sort of medical research company, I remember that, but I don't remember the name. They went under a little over a year later; he came to London; sister got him the job with Moran. Did I miss anything?"
Greg opens his file and passes her Hannah Adair's statement. It takes a minute, but halfway down the page her eyes widen, and she looks up at him, her mouth pulling thin. She doesn't say anything. She doesn't need to.
He takes a sip of his coffee and holds out his hand. She passes the statement back over.
"Who do you trust?" he asks.
"Chris," she says instantly, "but he's forensics in the first place, and it's a conflict of interest besides. Hopkins. Dodd."
"Anderson can be useful," Greg points out, leaning forward. "But you're right, you can't leave it all to him. Get him to take one of his men—you trust his judgement?"
"Don't be an ass," she says, and he raises his eyebrows.
"Don't act like it's a stupid question," he says. "I was married. You can love someone and still think they have the common sense of a lemming. Carla has the common sense of a lemming and I know it."
"No offense, but I've met your ex-wife," she tells him. "I think the lemmings win."
"I've always said it, the kinship of sisters, between the two of you," he tells her, and she grins. "But I'm serious about Anderson," he adds. "If you don't trust his judgement, on this one, you can't trust him at all."
"I trust his judgement," she says. "Professionally speaking, I trust his judgement better than just about anyone I know."
"Good," he says. "Then get him to take one of his men, two if he can manage it, and run it all again, all of it, every last thing. You use Hopkins and Dodd. Have them take your statement. Have them retake Adair's statement. Start making copies. Rerun the scene, if you have to. Do it as quickly as you can, and don't bring anything back to the Yard."
"Multiple copies, multiple locations?" she says, mouth quirking up.
He nods. It's—it's a little absurd and he knows it, but under the circumstances, he doesn't think it's unreasonable.
She leans back in her chair and gives him a wolfish sort of smile. "I like this," she tells him. "I feel like a spy."
Sebastian Moran, as it turns out, is not at all a nice man. Greg, for his part, would be entirely on board with shooting him in the head.
"Still working on Sally's case?" John asks, settling down in the chair opposite.
"Yeah," Greg says, without looking up. He doesn't volunteer any details. Moran apparently likes expensive wine, fencing (saber fencing, specifically; and yeah, like that's a coincidence), and speculative investment, in which he's done rather remarkably well, especially during the downturn. Sherlock's records are, of course, by their very nature, out of date, but as of 2012, Moran traded primarily in high-profile science and technology stocks and had consistently beat the market for decades; Greg knows very little about financial speculation but enough to find that suspicious, and Sherlock, apparently, agreed. He has Moran's name in a footnote in a file named "identifyingfinancialfraud.doc", but the rest of the footnote is unwritten. Greg can make a pretty good guess as to what it'd say, though. He's running a hunch, looking for any hint of involvement with Anastas Biotechnical, but he can't find a thing. The company is out of business, and all the references he can find online are sketchy at best, hardly half a thought.
"Do you know anything about Anastas Biotechnical?" Greg asks John, without looking up.
John frowns. "It sounds familiar," he says. "Was it one of—um, an old case?"
"Doubt it," Greg says. "They folded last year—from what I've found, I don't think they were ever really of note, before. But they did, um, medical things, it looks like, so I thought maybe..."
John's frown deepens. "No, I'm sure I saw that in his—wait, let me check."
He pulls Sherlock's laptop over and opens it up. "Anastas Systems?" he asks.
"Biotechnical," Greg corrects. "And I checked, they're not in there."
"You're just looking at the completed bits, though," John tells him, frowning. He says, "I've still got tons of notes on—no, wait, I've only got Anastas Systems. Might be connected, though, if I can just—yes, there it is."
He stops, and Greg swallows, anxious. If they are in the index—
"Anastas Systems, based in Leeds, almost went under in 2007," John says. Damn it. Greg forces his face to remain impassive. John says, "Developed medical equipment before that; sold a big dialysis project to another company, Perrin & Caird, to stay afloat. It—huh. It came up because their investors took a heavy hit in the 2007 sale, but Perrin & Caird raked it in, after, so it looked like maybe a conscious fraud, not just bad luck. Anastas Systems got reorganized—came back as Anastas Biotechnical—moved into some other sort of R&D, but I can't tell what, the details are a bit sketchy..."
His voice trails off. It's all right; Greg can't focus, anyway. He clicks back over into Moran's major investments—the first list, circa 2007: item 97, Perrin & Caird. He licks his lips, and runs down the lists again, 2008—2009—2010—2011—2012—and then looks up and past John's shoulder to the telly, where a white-haired man with a silvery mustache and bright blue eyes is smiling at the camera, lips moving, volume turned too low to hear. Along the bottom trails text in white: Moran: Monferrer Global complying with all regulatory requirements. Greg reaches for his phone.
He sends out a couple of texts, calls in a couple of favors; Neilson comes back first, with a yes. Moran purchased stock in Monferrer Global last August, a week after Robert Adair first came in to work, and sold it all in the three days after the TB vaccine went public, made more money than Greg can even force himself to understand. It doesn't mean anything, except in context. It could be coincidence, but Greg doesn't think it's coincidental at all.
Greg looks back up at John. "Found anything else?" he asks, as casually as he can.
"Still looking for papers," John says. "Preliminary research, things like that. Trying to find out what they were working on."
TB, Greg doesn't tell him. Bet you a fiver they were working on TB.
Greg thinks it but doesn't say it, because John is clicking through Sherlock's laptop, digging up data a sliver at a time, but for the first time, Greg thinks he can see the shape of the whole goddamned crime. Greg has a dead body, which is new; a professional fraud, which isn't; and he'd be willing to lay down money that in the next hour or two John will turn up the link, the final link, a handful of fragile threads that connect Monferrer Global's improved TB vaccine, soon to be made available on the international market, with the R&D department of a former company in Leeds, who went out of business and whose investors took a hit. Greg wonders how much Adair put together. He would've still been at school when Anastas Systems became Anastas Biotechnical, but Greg's spent enough evenings on the phone feeling like a massive hypocrite as he tells his sons that maths is just patterns, just puzzles, keep at it, unlike Greg himself did at school, to think that a boy who studied maths at uni might be exactly the sort of person you didn't want around, if your company'd run one fraud already, and was planning another.
Behind John's back, the telly is showing a group of generic white-coated scientists with test tubes and safety goggles, stock footage, probably nothing to do with anything at all. At the bottom of the screen, it says Monferrer Global: vaccine's international pricing reflects research costs. Greg swallows and reaches for his phone. He taps out an address. A time, thirty minutes. No explanation. He says to John, "Let me know if you find anything, will you?" and grabs his coat.
"Greg," Mycroft says, above him, and Greg looks up and says nothing. Mycroft's eyes narrow, just barely, before he slides down into the chair opposite.
"I like this place," Greg tells him, apropos of nothing. "Been coming here for ages. John prefers Sizzling Bombay, though."
Mycroft, to his credit, nods and says nothing. He opens his menu.
Greg straightens his fork and clears his throat. He still doesn't know what to say. He thinks he ought to have figured it out by now, but it hasn't got any easier, and he didn't sleep well, and his heart is thumping hard and a little painfully in his chest, so he's really just not at his best, which is why the instant after the waiter takes their order and turns away from their table, Greg says, "What I still don't understand is why you're not solving this problem with a gun."
Mycroft leans back in his chair, tilting his chin up, looking down at Greg through narrowed eyes.
"I mean," Greg says. "I'd hate to leap to conclusions, except. You're not solving this problem with a gun. That's a bit weird, don't you think? I know you like to think that we believe the government is peaceable and devoted to justice and everything but about a year and a half ago I saw your assistant shoot someone in the head while running in heels, so."
"I remember," Mycroft murmurs.
"Right, yeah," Greg says. "So I mean, especially seeing as the gentleman in question was trying to strangle me at the time, I personally am very much of the belief that if the government has a problem that really needs to be solved with a gun, well." He cocks his fingers, shoots at nothing, both hands. "So in this case, I just keep wondering. It seems like it'd be simple, you know? And I—I couldn't figure out, I couldn't figure out why you would know that—that this individual was responsible, why you would know that, and think it was important enough to call me in, to take it away from the police, but not the sort of thing where maybe your assistant should just shoot someone in the head."
"He's high-profile," Mycroft says. "I told you that. If you've figured out who's involved, you know that—"
"Oh, sure, yeah," Greg says. "He's high-profile. But you, Mycroft. You're the goddamned British government. I think if you need to get rid of a politician, you can. I don't even think it's really a big deal. I think if it's important enough that this guy get taken down alive, it's because you need him alive. And then." He swallows, and straightens his fork, his knife, his fork. "And then," he says, quietly. "Then I figured out that this is Sherlock's case."
Mycroft doesn't say anything.
"I mean, it is, isn't it?" Greg asks. "I mean. John still has his computer. Did you know that? We use it all the time. Sherlock's organizational system was utter shit and John's still—well, when he has a bad day he sits about and cross-references Sherlock's files, because that's the sort of person that John is. And so—I looked in Sherlock's files, and they were—they were helpful, they were really very helpful, and I started putting it together, and wondering—"
"Yes," Mycroft says, so quietly Greg almost misses it, and Greg stops.
Mycroft clears his throat. "Yes," he says. "This is Sherlock's case."
Greg looks up at the picture on the wall and breathes out through his nose. Dancing women. A garden.
"You shouldn't have come to me," Greg says.
"I needed to come to you," Mycroft says.
Greg shakes his head. "You didn't," he says.
"I needed the best," Mycroft says.
"No, you didn't," Greg says. "This isn't a tough case, Mycroft. Sherlock's notes help, but anyone with an in with the Met and the time to do the legwork could put it together. I'm pretty sure you came to me because I'm used to taking orders from the Holmes family and not asking too many questions, because there are—there are other people that do what I do, there are other people that do what we do, and if it was—if it was just me, if it was just me, Mycroft, I could do this, but John—"
"You mustn't tell John," Mycroft tells him, and Greg leans forward on his elbows and asks, "Just how stupid do you think John is?"
Mycroft presses his lips together.
Finally Greg leans back and laughs, shaking his head. "I asked him about Anastas Biotechnical," he says. "I—God, fuck me, it was a stupid move, but I didn't know that, did I? I had no idea that was the connection. But—but something didn't sit right, and I kept circling back to that, so I sat up and I asked him if he's ever heard of Anastas Biotechnical, and he had, Mycroft. He had, because Sherlock had, because this is Sherlock's case."
Mycroft breathes out, and closes his eyes. "I told you not to tell John," he says, but it sounds hopeless, exhausted.
"I didn't tell John," Greg says. "But I didn't tell John the wrong things. I didn't tell him I was working for you and I didn't tell him I was working on the Adair case and I didn't tell him what I was looking for because I didn't know what I was looking for, but I asked him if he'd heard of Anastas Biotechnical because he's a doctor and I thought he might have some context, and he had heard of it, but he'd heard of it because Anastas Biotechnical was in Sherlock's files. Anastas Biotechnical was in Sherlock's files, which John has spent the past three years cross-referencing obsessively, so it took him all of a minute and a half to pull it up and hand it over to me. But I didn't know that that was the key, so I didn't know what it meant, so I didn't know not to bring it to John, but you did, didn't you? Because you didn't just know that this was about Anastas Biotechnical and about a stupid boy who told the wrong person the wrong thing and wound up involved in a multi-million pound insider trading scheme. You knew who killed Robert Adair because this is the end of your brother's case."
Mycroft turns away, at that.
"I'm not stupid, Mycroft," Greg says. "I'm not a Holmes, but as you've reminded me, I did spend thirty years with the police. I make my living putting things together. You have a business connection to the Adairs, sure. I think you have a 'business connection' to most of the country. But the reason you care—the reason why this is important is because you need to take someone down completely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and you need him to still be able to speak, and you need it to happen before so much as a whisper of it hits the international wires. Because you need—you need someone to stay where he is until it's safe, so you can't afford for him to find out. Am I right?"
Greg watches Mycroft's throat work, the blankness of his expression that is unlike the other blanknesses of his other expressions.
Mycroft says, "Yes," and then, "Don't tell John."
Greg crosses his arms over his chest. "How long have you known?" he asks.
Mycroft tilts his chin up, mouth tight.
Greg nods. "Since the beginning?" he guesses.
Mycroft folds his fingers over the very edge of the table. "Very nearly," he says, quietly.
"Right." Greg pushes back, setting his serviette on the table.
"Greg," Mycroft says.
"No, just—" Greg shakes his head, leaning forward. "I'm not going to tell John, because I don't have to, because he's going to figure it out for himself and I don't particularly want this to still be hanging over our heads when he does. I'll solve this case for you, even though you—you have done everything you conceivably could, Mycroft, to make this go as badly as possible, because God knows you couldn't be expected to trust another human being with even a fraction of your very important and sensitive information, but you need to understand that at this point I'm not doing it for you. I'm doing this because a boy died because between you and your brother you couldn't tell anyone the fucking truth—"
"I couldn't risk," Mycroft starts, and Greg tells him, "Shut up. This isn't about you. I'm not doing this for you anymore. I'm doing this because—because I owe—because I owe John, but I don't owe you, or—or anyone else a single fucking thing," and pushes up to his feet. He tosses a handful of cash on the table and shrugs on his jacket.
"Your dinner," Mycroft starts, and Greg says, "Fuck you," and leaves.
He ends up picking up takeaway from Sizzling Bombay and leaving half of it on a plate, cooling on the work surface. He doesn't know where John is, but Sherlock's laptop is still resting on their kitchen table, open, screen dark, asleep. Greg rubs at his face and hits the spacebar, types in the passcode, and the screen springs to life, crowded with open files: Moran, Sebastian—Moran financials—S. Moran 1947-, that same fucking partially written footnote in identifyingfinancialfraud.doc; open files on Anastas Biotechnical, Anastas Systems; and there, John's found it: early research, very promising, into an improved vaccination against TB. Beneath Sherlock's laptop is Greg's copy of the Adair case file, neatly closed. Greg breathes out, and drops his head. He left it in his room. His door doesn't lock. He'd never have thought it needed to.
The noise from the street filters up through their ancient, poorly-insulated windows, and the radiator grumbles in response. The back of Greg's neck feels weirdly raw and his throat is tight, and Greg feels the echo of John's footsteps coming up the stairs like body blows, heavy with the weight of inevitable disaster.
In the flat, John hangs up his coat, then makes tea. Greg waits, because it seems like John needs him to. John drinks his tea while it's still billowing steam, then takes both mugs—Greg's still half full—and goes back into the kitchen to make them each another cup. Greg lets him. In the kitchen John's hands clatter the cups together, and Greg watches him grip at the edge of the work surface, force himself still, still, still.
"So," John says, finally.
Greg doesn't say anything.
"Is this really coming from Sally?" John asks. "Or is it coming from Mycroft?"
Greg swallows. "Mycroft," he says, quietly.
"Right." John reaches for the tea, then puts his hands back on the work surface, squeezes tight.
Greg rubs at his jaw, scratchy with stubble. It's almost eight. He'll be late calling the boys.
"So," John says, "so, the way I see it, either Mycroft asked you to do this because he's decided to suddenly become sentimental about the bad guy that got away, or he's—or he's trying to—he doesn't want."
John breathes out, then lets go of the work surface and pushes the cups back into line. He puts a teabag in each. He fills them from the kettle without looking up.
John says, very steadily, "Or Mycroft doesn't want someone to know."
"Yeah," Greg says, quiet.
John bumps his RAMC mug into the sink, but it doesn't sound like it breaks. John breathes out noisily, then picks it up, gets a new teabag out of the box, and refills his mug.
"Is." John licks his lips. "Um. Am I—I'm not misinterpreting this." His voice is steady.
Greg exhales. He could say, I didn't ask, or Mycroft didn't say, both of which are true but unfair.
"No," Greg says.
John nods. "How long have you known?" he asks. His eyes are tightening up at the corners.
"I just worked it out," Greg says, quiet. "And then—"
"You went to see Mycroft." John nods again.
"Yeah," Greg says.
"Right, well then," John says, and gets the milk.
"John," Greg says.
"It's—it isn't finished, is it?" John asks, picking up their cups. "You're not done yet."
"No," Greg says.
"So," John says. He sets the cups back on the work surface and rubs at his jaw, presses his thumbs to his eyelids. "So I can help," he says finally, and sighs. "I can—I know, now, and I want to help and you can't keep it from me anymore, so let's just—"
"Yeah," Greg says, then adds, "I wouldn't."
"No," John says. He rests his hands on the work surface, fingers curled in towards his palms, and stares at the cupboards. He says, "I know you wouldn't."
Greg licks his lips. "Are you all right?" he asks. He hasn't, not once before. It makes him cringe.
"Yeah," John says. He breathes out. He lets go of the work surface, and picks their cups up, and carries them over to the table. He sits down opposite Greg and opens his laptop.
Greg watches him. After a minute, John looks up.
"Really," John says. "I'm fine." Sherlock's laptop is still closed at his elbow.
Greg nods and takes a sip of tea.
"So," John says. He looks back at his screen. "Robert Adair."
"Robert Adair," Greg agrees.
"Throat cut," John says. "With a sword."
"Yeah," Greg says.
"Interesting, that," John says, voice tensing up. "There was a bit on. An associate. Of, um. Of." He stops, and clears his throat. "Of Moriarty's."
"Oh," Greg says. He's surprised. He doesn't know why. It does seem like the sort of thing Moriarty would like.
"Fair number of, you know." John motions with his hand.
"Throat slittings?" Greg suggests.
"Yeah." John rubs at his chin. "Sword indicated in rather a number of them."
"Well, that's disappointing," Greg says. "It seemed so original."
John shrugs. "Seems like he likes consistency of method."
Greg leans back in his seat. "Who does that, even," he says. "I mean—if I were going to kill someone, I'd do my level best to make sure the weapon was boring as hell. I mean—once you've killed three people with a sword..."
"Right," John says.
"Suddenly every time someone's killed with a sword," Greg adds.
"Yeah," John says, nodding.
"Or even really long knives, I bet," Greg says. "Now I want to go through all of the Met's cold cases and look at mysterious killings with long knives."
"Hm," John says. "A sword, though, is probably better as, you know. Compensation."
Greg is startled into laughing. John blinks at him, and then curls his hand over his mouth, not quite smiling.
"You think he keeps it in his bedroom?" Greg asks.
"Invites lucky girls up to see his armory," John suggests, and Greg laughs again, and then stops, as John makes a ragged-edged noise, and folds his hand over his mouth.
Greg looks down at his laptop, clicks over to his email. He waits until John's breathing is the usual sort of quiet again, then says, "We need to get into his house."
"Warrants are, um." John takes a deep breath. "Usually required, for that sort of thing."
"Really?" Greg asks, and John looks up at him. Danger, danger, Greg thinks, but says it anyway: "Sherlock's taught you better than that."
John doesn't flinch or look away or anything. After a long, silent minute, he blinks, and breathes out, and says, "Yeah, actually, he has."
"Just for the record, I'm still not crazy about this idea," Greg tells him. "If you get yourself killed—"
"I'm not going to get myself killed," John says. "I'm the logical choice. I'm sure he knows who I am; he'll believe that I have the information."
"I just mean, it's been all this time, with you—not getting killed." Greg clears his throat. "At this point—"
"At this point," John interrupts, "I'm not going to get myself killed." His back is very straight. He meets Greg's eyes.
"Well, good." Greg crosses his arms. "The paperwork, if you wind up dead. And I just know that Donovan will make me do it."
John's mouth twitches, just as Donovan steps into the kitchen. "We're in position," she says. "Greg—"
"I know, I know," he says, raising his hands. "I will, as always, get out of your way."
She raises an eyebrow at him, and he touches his holster through his jacket, and she nods.
Greg's role in this is really far more appropriate for a younger man, but also quite thoroughly illegal, and so out of reach for the police. Donovan and Hopkins are using the vacant house opposite Moran's townhouse as their base of operations, a eclectic assortment of surveillance equipment wired in to a mutant mess of home recording equipment, alongside a cheap comm system that Baker borrowed from his younger brother, the paintball enthusiast. Donovan, Hopkins, and Anderson are on the ground. Dodd and Baker are manning the wire. Greg, for his part, has a gun, and absolutely no qualms about trespassing, so he tugs on his gloves and then hauls himself up, and over, and up, and up, and then drops his back against the corner of the roof and wheezes comprehensively, thinking about John's religious attention to his morning runs and Greg's rather less-than-religious attention to the haphazard collection of free weights in his bedroom. Maybe it's time for him to see about making it back to the gym.
His phone buzzes in his pocket. Are you in position? Mycroft asks him.
Greg pulls off his right glove to reply. I really need to quit smoking, he thumbs out, and then pauses to wipe the edge of his sleeve over his forehead, but yes. I thought four or five of us told you to stay out of this.
I've been reliably informed that a month restricted to Russian cigarettes is enough to make anyone quit, Mycroft tells him, without even acknowledging the rest. Typical. If you'd like, I'm certain something could be arranged, he adds, a moment later, and Greg grinds his teeth.
"I'm ready," John's voice crackles over Greg's earpiece, and Greg tells Mycroft, I have things to say to you later, and then tucks his phone away, puts his glove back on, and draws his gun. He has a decent line of sight on Moran's office, a rather less good line of sight on the bedroom, but whatever he and John might speculate about the size of Moran's weapon, the office is really probably more likely as a location to take someone requesting an interview about Moran's criminal misbehaviors; and, in point of fact, a minute or two after Donovan gives John the go-ahead, Moran shows John into the office. Greg crouches down onto his heels and listens.
The sound quality of the comms is really pretty terrible. They'd had to run John's body mic to a second system, off the comm frequency that Greg is using, so Greg can't make out Moran's words at all, but he knows Dodd and Baker will have it, and he can hear John's half of the conversation well enough to know that John's keeping himself clean, and doing a respectable job of getting Moran to talk. Greg shifts against the roof. He misses having proper police equipment at his disposal, the comfort of having more than five officers at his back, but Donovan's the best and Hopkins isn't half bad, and John would've been a hell of an officer if—if—if he didn't have such an incurable tendency to automatically head for vigilante justice, damn it! Damn it! Just like that!
Greg thinks maybe he should shoot Moran in something unimportant and damn the rest, but John's stepped up and Greg doesn't have a good line, so he twists instead and grabs a broken chunk of masonry off the lip of the roof instead, just as Baker is saying, "Are you—Christ, Watson's got a gun," over the earpiece, which, yes, good, points for recognizing the glaringly obvious. Greg chants, "Damn him, damn him, damn him," and chucks the masonry at Moran's office window, just as—Jesus fucking Christ, yes, that's a sword. The masonry hits, which isn't surprising; the window doesn't break, which is; and Moran, sword drawn, and John, gun in hand, both look over at the window reflexively as Greg jumps down—ow—catching himself badly with his left hand and tucking into a roll. When he comes to a standstill, his shoulder is throbbing and his hand is screaming at him and he's in the garden, so he kicks out at a massive flowerpot and hopes for a crash. He gets a crash. Above him, there's rather a lot of shouting, and then a gunshot—another gunshot—a crash, this one inside the house—another gunshot—and then Donovan's voice coming over the wire, panting and breathless, "Right, yeah, John? I'm never working with you again," as Anderson's voice jumps up, "Jesus—Sally, Sally, Jesus, she's hit—" and fuck it, fuck this whole nightmare situation, Greg thinks, pushing himself to his feet—ow, Jesus—and shoving his way in through the back door, shouting, "Police! Police! Police!"
The housekeeper throws her hands up, eyes wide, and—thank God—doesn't demand a badge, and Greg barrels up the staircase, through the open door at the left, into the office where John is kneeling on the floor with blood all over his fucking face, his hand on Donovan's cheek while Donovan is shaking her head, saying, "It's just a graze, I'm all right, I'm all right, get him cuffed," while her arm wells up red-black through her shirt and the crumpled mess of John's jacket. Anderson is standing above her and actually, literally wringing his hands, and God, this is why the forensics blokes are supposed to always come in second, and also, Christ, why did it have to be Donovan that got shot? "Get him cuffed," she's repeating, flinching away from John's fingers, and Hopkins is muttering, "Give me a minute, yeah?" and wrestling Moran up against the desk while Moran twists rather uselessly against Hopkins's weight, snarling.
"Anderson," Greg barks, and Anderson's spine snaps straight. "The sword?" Greg suggests, nodding at it. It's lying half against the desk, half on the floor, with the blade tipped up, which seems ill-advised on a number of levels, especially seeing as how they're still getting this on film.
"Good evening," Mycroft says, from the doorway, and the lot of them can't help but look up.
It really is quite the entrance. Mycroft is perfectly attired, as usual, complete with umbrella. Anderson has got one glove on, but not the other. Donovan and John are still bleeding on the floor. Hopkins finally wrangles Moran to his feet, hands cuffed behind his back, and Greg straightens up and tucks his gun back into his holster, which is absurd, really, since Mycroft got it for him in the first place.
"Sebastian," Mycroft says, smiling politely at Moran.
"I should've known," Moran says, and then laughs. "I should've known Watson wasn't smart enough to put this together on his own."
"Hm." Mycroft rocks back onto his heels, watching Moran intently. "You seem to be laboring under a number of misapprehensions," Mycroft tells him. "But no matter. The important detail is, as always, how we will move forward, don't you agree?"
He glances down at John, briefly, then back up at Moran.
"If you think I'll give you anything," Moran growls, and Mycroft hums.
"Oh," he says, "but I rather think you will. Specifically, I think you're going to give me testimony."
Moran laughs. "You want me to confess?" he says, incredulous.
"Oh, no, no," Mycroft says, and then smiles, all teeth. "Quite unnecessary, Sebastian. I'm sure Mr. Anderson will find everything he needs to convict you on that blade—people so rarely tidy up as thoroughly as they believe. Check the grooves of the handle, Mr. Anderson—you know how... untidy a slit throat can be. No, Sebastian. I simply want you to testify, in court, as to the existence and true identity of, ah. Our mutual friend, Mr. Brook."
John looks up and meets Greg's eyes. John reaches for the edge of the desk, and Greg holds down a hand to help him up. They both tug Donovan to her feet, gently. Her face is pale, and her arm—graze or no—is still bleeding rather heavily.
"Of course, why not?" Moran sneers. "I'm entirely in charity with you at the moment. I'd do just anything that you say."
"Oh, you will," Mycroft says. "You'll give these fine officers your testimony on Richard Brook, and Jim Moriarty, and then you will let them lead you away, to face your trial and serve out the prison sentence that you so richly deserve."
"Why should I?" Moran asks, and then laughs again. "Really, Mycroft," he says, "you don't seem to understand that in these circumstances it's customary to offer an alternative, some sort of—"
"The alternative," Mycroft tells him, smiling, "is that if you don't tell us what you know about Jim Moriarty, you will be serving your sentence with me."
Moran falls silent.
"Excellent," Mycroft says, and beams.
Greg cradles his hand against his chest while John and Donovan both bleed all over themselves the whole way to A&E, where John—whose injury is messy, but not serious—has to wait, hunched over himself with his eyes strangely bright and a wad of paper towel pressed to the gash on his head, and Donovan gets hauled off to have the bullet slice along the side of her arm patched up. Greg is having a little trouble focusing. His hand hurts. John winds up with two stitches, just at the hairline and looking raw, dangerous; they give Greg an aircast for his fingers (sprained) and tell him to go home. Donovan's lost a lot of blood and they need to keep her overnight, so John and Greg stay until Anderson turns up after two hours to catch them up on the scene and, awkwardly enough for everyone involved, make a series of somewhat damp and embarrassing noises into Donovan's hair. When John and Greg finally stumble out to find a cab, Mycroft's car is idling at the curb, his assistant waiting against the door with her ever-present BlackBerry, and Greg, at least, is too tired to much fancy making it a fight.
John dozes off on the way back to the flat, his forehead pressed to the window. Greg pulls out his phone and sends a text: As your displays of precisely calculated melodrama go, offering up your car was all right. Wasn't looking forward to finding a cab at this hour.
I do what I can, Mycroft replies.
I enjoyed the bit with Moran too, Greg admits, even if threatening torture isn't exactly best practice. He did enjoy it. He can appreciate Mycroft's displays of plumage, under the right circumstances. To ignore that seems a little dishonest.
Sleep well, Mycroft replies, eventually, and Greg tucks his phone back into his pocket.
Neither he nor John has any more in them than what it takes to make it up the stairs and stagger off to their respective bedrooms, but Greg is nonetheless absolutely certain he locked the door, so that coming out very late the next morning to a heap of dyed-orange hair and skinny arms crumpled up in a long coat on his sofa is—is—
Well. It's just not supposed to be there, that's all.
Greg leans against the wall.
"Hello," Sherlock says, sitting up. He tucks his hand over a jaw-cracking yawn.
"Right, yeah," Greg says, and then, raising his voice, "John!"
Sherlock's eyes widen. Greg pushes off the wall and shuffles into the kitchen to start his coffee. He turns on the kettle for John, too, then leans his hip against the edge of the work surface and looks back over at Sherlock.
"Hairpin?" Greg asks. "Mini-screwdriver? Paper clip?"
"Lockpicks," Sherlock admits.
"Right, well, you can just leave those on the table, they're illegal," Greg tells him, just as John stops at the mouth of the hall.
Greg turns towards the coffee maker.
"I cannot believe you," John is saying, low, behind Greg's back, "I cannot believe you would—"
"—you would let me, I can't, do you even—"
"—for three years, Sherlock, you let me—you made me—"
"John, I didn't mean—"
"—and you can't—" and a crash, and— "Jesus fucking Christ, don't even, don't even try—"
"Please," Sherlock is saying, low, too close, "please," and then there's another crash, and another, and Greg turns back around, mostly in the interests of rescuing his computer, if necessary. The crisis, however, appears to have passed; John has retreated, his door slamming shut, and Sherlock is pushing himself up off the floor, his right eye scrunched shut, the skin just barely flushing pink.
"Tea? Coffee?" Greg asks.
Sherlock drops himself back onto the sofa and looks over. "Coffee would be lovely," he says. "Thank you."
Greg nods, pulling down a third mug. "Blue mug's yours," he tells Sherlock. He fills his with coffee and John's from the kettle. "Sugar's by the microwave, spoons are in the drawer by the sink, help yourself to milk," Greg adds, and then takes his coffee and John's tea back out and into the hall, down to knock at John's door.
John doesn't answer, but Greg sighs and opens his door anyway. "Tea," he says.
John's leaning against the window. He nods. "Thanks," he says. His voice is a mess, raw, too loud. He's got his arms crossed over his chest, but when he moves to rub at his jaw, his hands are shaking enough that Greg can see it, so Greg sets his cup on top of the chest of drawers.
"Just leaving it here," Greg says.
"Thanks," John repeats, and then breathes in, but his voice scrapes, startling and painful, and he has to whisper, "Sorry, Jesus, sorry," after.
"S'fine," Greg says, and steps back out, closing the door as softly as he can. He stands with his coffee and looks down the hall at Sherlock, with his idiotic dyed hair and that eternal fucking coat, his eyes wide and uncertain, and Greg really does not want to get involved, but he is involved, but he doesn't want to be, so he steps into the bathroom and starts the shower, finishing off his coffee while he waits for the water to warm up.
Two weeks into his hearing, John had said, I have a case—one of his old clients—if you're bored, and Greg had felt a confused and confusing rush of guilt and grief and dread and said, Yeah, all right, because he had been trapped between an impossible situation and an unbearable decision, and Sherlock had died. Greg had said, Yeah, all right, because he owed it to Sherlock, because Sherlock was gone, and John was left behind. Greg wonders when that shifted. Was his loyalty still to Sherlock when he signed the lease? Did he owe John, yet, that first Christmas? John has never really asked for anything, not from Greg, not from anyone. Instead he had just dug out a small, hollow space for the most bare-bones life imaginable and then gone about living it, while Greg tried half-heartedly to make amends for something he couldn't even really regret. Greg did what was right, and paid in the knowledge that it was unforgivable anyway; Sherlock in their living room ought to feel like a betrayal, the unavoidable proof that he solved his equations with all the wrong numbers, that he has spent life as John has spent life on misery of Sherlock's own making. But Greg doesn't feel betrayed, not really. Mostly Greg just feels relieved.
He showers and shaves and brushes his teeth. Then he gets dressed and comes back out to take his laptop back into his bedroom, because Sherlock is resting his forehead against John's door and saying, "John. John. John."
"Fuck off," John calls, and then hits the other side of the door hard enough that the walls in the living room shake.
Greg fishes out his power cord, too. He has a feeling it's going to be a long day.
In the end, Greg lasts not quite thirty-six hours. His phone won't stop ringing, between Ferguson, with job offers, and Anderson, with updates on Donovan, and two reporters who persist in thinking of Greg as their source and not someone who has, on occasion, found it worthwhile to exchange information with the press. Even his kids want to talk about the case, which Greg knows he probably ought to cherish, since Brian is fourteen and the list of things Greg can do to impress him is rapidly dwindling. It turns out that Mycroft's kept paying the rent on Baker Street all these years, which leads to a bit of a scene when John realizes that Mrs. Hudson knew Sherlock was alive, but that scene rather blends into all the other scenes, of which there are a great number, of both volume and, occasionally, violence. The sixth time Ferguson calls, Greg considers taking him up on his offer, thinking longingly of what he'd do with all the space if he could afford to get rid of Sherlock and John both; and then, early in the evening of the second day, when they get into it yet again, Greg considers the possibility of spending another night keeping a low profile in his own damned flat, and takes off, instead.
He goes for a long walk, meandering, with no fixed destination, that for some reason lands him outside Mycroft's office. Mycroft isn't in, and when Greg walks another half an hour, all the windows of Mycroft's house are dark, so Greg sits on the bench opposite and calls Mycroft's assistant, which is definitely an abuse of privileged information, but he doesn't really care. Anthea gives him the name and address of Mycroft's club—Jesus, his club—and Greg goes. Anthea warned him about the rules, so he just steps over into Mycroft's line of sight and waits for Mycroft to glance up, raise an eyebrow, and stand.
Mycroft shows him out and into a smaller room, empty and tucked away behind heavy wooden doors, which Mycroft closes silently, sealing them in.
"Drink?" Mycroft asks, and for once, waits for Greg to nod before pouring out. Greg leans against the side of one of the posh and severe-looking leather armchairs and crosses his arms over his chest, watching the curve of Mycroft's spine. The back of his neck is very pale.
Mycroft steps over to hand Greg a tumbler. "Cheers," Mycroft says, mouth curving up, just a little, and Greg gives him a small smile and clinks their glasses together. Greg sips his drink—scotch, apparently; a very nice scotch, in fact—and waits for Mycroft to take a seat or criticize Greg's abuse of the furniture or anything, but Mycroft just rocks back onto his heels and tucks his free hand into his pocket and raises his glass to his lips, looking just over Greg's shoulder and saying nothing.
"Sherlock's sleeping on our sofa," Greg tells him. "Refuses to go back to Baker Street alone. Smoked the last of my cigarettes and then threw a cup of tea at the wall, so he's clearly doing fine."
"Really?" Mycroft asks his glass. "The sofa?"
Greg shrugs. "I'd never ask," he says.
Mycroft smiles, rather anemically.
Greg sighs and rubs at his forehead. "It's just a matter of time, though," he says, "before John gives in and I'm down half the rent and someone to watch the match with and very likely a business partner, too."
Mycroft hesitates before sipping his drink again.
"I mean," Greg says, shifting, "it is just a matter of time, isn't it?"
"Well," Mycroft says, "If I were in Sherlock's position I wouldn't be sleeping on the sofa, so I don't know that I'm the person to ask."
Greg watches him. "I have a hard time believing you'd just give up," he says.
"Oh, no." Mycroft's mouth is tense at the corners. "I'm unfamiliar with the specific scenario, but given what I have been informed is a deplorable tendency towards, ah, precisely calculated melodrama, I suspect I'd be more likely to ruin my least favorite suits sleeping on the threshold, et cetera." He sighs. "Possibly a little light intimidation, if I thought it'd get me anywhere."
Greg doesn't laugh.
Mycroft ducks his head. After a minute, he says, "I've made a great many mistakes," very softly, then clears his throat and adds, "I've never been very good at making amends."
"He's home," Greg reminds him. "He's fine."
"I wasn't entirely referring to my brother," Mycroft says.
"Didn't think you were," Greg replies, and Mycroft looks up, too fast. His eyes slide back down towards Greg's left earlobe.
After a minute, Greg clears his throat. "Chief Superintendent Ferguson keeps calling," he says.
Mycroft straightens his shoulders out, tilts his chin back up. He's still not quite looking at Greg, but he's being a little less obvious about it.
"Still wants me to take my old job back," Greg says. "Offered me a pay rise and everything. Made it clear promotion's on the table, in a year, maybe two." He shrugs and scratches at his jaw. "I'd have to break in a new sergeant, of course, but..."
"But it's only a matter of time before you're down a business partner," Mycroft agrees. Greg nods and takes a long sip of scotch.
"I'm sorry," Mycroft says, very quietly.
"I'm not," Greg says. "I—really, I'm not. John and Sherlock've had eight screaming fights in the last seventy-two hours and it's—honestly, I forgot what John was like, when he still got properly angry about things."
Mycroft doesn't look away, but he looks like he wants to.
"You can't keep blaming yourself," Greg tells him. "I know you say you don't know how to make amends, but you did what you could, yeah? You got him back in one piece, and that's—that isn't nothing, Mycroft. We none of us played it exactly right. People just don't. But Sherlock is alive and home, and it seems like you deserve some credit for that."
"And the rest of it will just fix itself, will it?" Mycroft asks.
"No," Greg tells him honestly, "probably not. But—as long as you have the opportunity to work on it."
Mycroft looks down at the floor. "I've been working on Sherlock's forgiveness for decades," he admits.
Greg nods. "I know," he says.
Mycroft's mouth curls at the corner. He says, unnecessarily, "Haven't ever had much luck."
Greg nods again. He doesn't know the details of their history, but he doesn't think he needs to. He's watched Mycroft shift the machineries of a nation, dam and reroute the flow of justice, solely to keep Sherlock whole and healthy and out of prison, and he's never once seen Sherlock give him anything in return but scorn, but Sherlock has been a bit of a bastard for as long as Greg has known him, and Greg thinks, in many ways, that the fact that Mycroft knew a Sherlock softer-edged and softer-cheeked and less solid in both personality and form is perhaps the Holmes brothers' greatest handicap. Whatever boy Mycroft remembers, he is lost; and whatever wrongs Sherlock hoards and inventories, cross-referenced, with footnotes, they are finished; but the overwhelming likelihood is that Mycroft will keep grabbing clumsily at responsibility for a child who no longer exists, and that Sherlock will not ever forgive him. It's not been so long for Greg, but he still knows what it looks like, to batter at the walls of redemption without hope. But the sources of his guilt were always muddier, and he never worked on repentance with the same sort of hopeless dedication, so it bothers him less that he's failed.
Greg sips his drink. "Sherlock doesn't believe in luck," he says, even though it isn't really relevant.
"No," Mycroft agrees.
The air is quiet between them. Greg is still leaning against the side of the chair, and Mycroft is still standing in front of him, and Greg is perfectly aware that this is not done. He puts his hand on Mycroft's elbow. That's not done, either.
Mycroft exhales. "I'm not, generally speaking, good with problems I can't solve," he says, very quietly.
"Sometimes I think I'd rather like to give up," Mycroft says, "and work on something else for a while." He tilts his head back up, lifting his chin, and meets Greg's eyes.
Greg licks his lips, then twists to set his glass on the sidetable. He brushes his palm over the back of Mycroft's hand, then over Mycroft's elbow, to match the other.
"That'd be all right, I think," Greg says, and tugs, very gently. The sole of Mycroft's shoe scrapes on the carpet.
Mycroft is still holding his glass. "I feel that it'd be disingenuous of me to fail to indicate that this is a terrible idea," he says.
"Your brother is besieging my flatmate from my sofa," Greg reminds him, taking Mycroft's tumbler away. He sets it on the table, next to his own. "We're not going to win on that count, either."
"Oh, well," Mycroft murmurs, close enough that Greg can feel it against his jaw. "If this is in the nature of a concession—"
"Mycroft," Greg tells him, turning, "Shut up."