Greg had always thought he loved children until he met Sherlock Holmes. To be fair, Sherlock wasn't exactly like any other child Greg had ever met. It was possible to have conversations about anatomy or psychology with him and forget his age completely, but it was also possible to run headlong into the wall of Sherlock's stubbornness and self-absorption and have to leave the room before he tore his own hair out in frustration. Sherlock helped with cases, but Greg was positive that one day Sherlock was going to be the thing that ran him right into an early grave. It was just how Sherlock was, all the time, and the absolute horror of it was that Greg would not trade one single, solitary moment of any of it, because without Sherlock in his life he wouldn't have Mycroft, either.
Greg wouldn't trade Mycroft for anything in the world.
Even when he hated him.
The thing was, Greg knew perfectly well that Mycroft was an alpha, with all the entitlement and responsibility that implied. He knew what it meant, in terms of Mycroft being the eldest child of the Holmes family line. He knew, completely and utterly, that Mycroft didn't actually have any choice in the matter: one day he would have to bond to produce heirs. Greg knew that.
Mycroft was the one who kept insisting it wasn't true. He insisted it right up until the day he bonded with John Watson with no warning whatsoever.
The first thing Greg threw at him was a shoe. The second was a lamp.
The lamp was more satisfying, especially when it smashed to pieces on the floor.
Greg's Dad had always been a proud supporter of the Beta Majority party, though he never let Greg or his brothers anywhere near the monthly rallies when they were growing up. When Greg was little he had thought they sounded like the most fun in the world, like Madame Tussauds and the seaside at Brighton all rolled into one, but even better because there were only betas allowed in. This, his Dad had always said, was how the whole country would be one day.
"But why can't we go?" Daniel had whined.
Roland Lestrade had banged his glass on the table and jerked his head at the woman behind the stove. "Your mother says you're not old enough."
"But why –"
"Don't think you're going to change my mind," their Mum had said. "You know it's not safe."
"But we'll be with Dad! We'll be safe!"
"Your Dad can't keep you safe when the whole place is raided, can he? Your Dad can't protect you from tear gas or pepper spray or rubber bullets, can he?"
"Why are they always raided?" Greg had asked wistfully, his chin cupped in his hands.
Their father had chuckled. "The police spread rumors that there are guns being given out under the cover of the political rally. The truth is they don't like so many betas being gathered in one place and reminded of how many of us there really are. It frightens them for the people to know who has the real power in this country. So they have to raid the rallies and bully the betas once more to restore order."
Of course, Greg had found out later that there were guns being given out at the rallies. Lots of them. By 2012, Beta Majority splinter groups had more firepower at their disposal than the IRA had ever had. It was only a matter of time before they used it.
It was one of the things that tended to keep Greg up at night.
The problem with the Yard was that the higher echelons were entirely alpha-run, and even though everyone complained about it nothing was ever going to actually change. Betas with any ambition at all and a talent for police work generally joined the ranks of Protectors with the Omega Taskforce, since that was the one place that alphas were, by necessity, excluded.
Greg had been offered a spot there when he was a budding young Constable, but he'd turned it down. Protector work had always seemed like glorified babysitting. There may be the occasional alpha trying to snatch a young unbonded, but most of it was tea and telly and trying to pretend you didn't realize a sixteen-year-old was having a furtive wank in bed when there was only a thin pane of glass between you. The Yard, on the other hand, was dirty and no sleep and criminals spitting blood in his face. It was reams of paper on his desk every morning and pillocks like Dimmock screaming because he'd not gotten the case notes that he'd needed in time. It was no respect from his superiors and even less from the citizens he was "helping," and yelling from all sides, constantly, and God, he loved it, he loved it, he loved it.
It was more than his career; it was his life, and it was the only thing that meant anything at all until he met Mycroft.
Mycroft had turned Greg's world upside down. Then he had gotten him sacked.
The night Greg was sacked he got drunk.
He'd stopped at a pub for a few hours, until the bitter taste in his mouth was replaced by stout. He hated stout, always had, which is why he drank it on the worst nights of his life. There was no point in ruining a perfectly good drink by association, after all. Stout was the flavor of his despair, and he had drunk it the night that Daniel had died, the night his Mum had rung him with her diagnosis, the night they'd pulled that nine-year-old beta out of the cellar, piece by piece by piece.
He'd drunk it the night he got sacked, until the street careened around him on the way home, back and forth and forth and back. He'd thought, in his confused drunken way, that that was an excellent idea, that he'd suddenly had his calendar cleared for the rest of his life, so the Navy was as good a thing to fill it with as anything. Anything was better than nothing, and if he thought about all the vast nothing he had he might have to go and drink more stout until they called his old colleagues to throw him in a cell, and wouldn't that be awkward?
When he'd gotten to his flat Mycroft had been there already, sitting on his sofa and watching Greg with his apology written all over his face. Even drunk Greg could read it, which meant Mycroft was really trying. That meant something, but Greg was too drunk to sort out exactly what with any reliability. He knew what he wanted it to mean, and that was enough.
"I got sacked," he explained thickly. And unnecessarily. He didn't bother asking how Mycroft had gotten in.
"I will have the situation corrected," Mycroft promised, standing to help Greg pull off his coat.
"It's not – it doesn't need correcting. It is correct. Sherlock is just a kid. He has no business at a crime scene. I've probably warped him."
"That is, I'm afraid, entirely impossible." Mycroft guided him down into the armchair and perched stiffly on the arm. His hand rested on Greg's shoulder. "You gave Sherlock a far greater gift than I ever managed to. Those crime scenes – the puzzles, as he likes to call them – represent one of the few things that has managed to hold his attention for more than a few months in his entire life. Sherlock has been tossed out of four alpha schools in the past year. Four. He was going mad with boredom at home, and you gave him something to focus on that he actually enjoyed. And he helped, did he not?"
"He helped," Greg admitted, somewhat sullenly.
Mycroft squeezed his shoulder. "You know perfectly well you didn't warp him."
Greg sighed, rubbing both of his hands over his face. "He's only ten, Mycroft."
"Eleven," Mycroft told him. "He turned eleven in January."
"Right. Well, that makes it all better, doesn't it? Eleven is worlds better than ten."
"Is sarcasm helping?" Mycroft sounded like he actually wanted to know.
"A bit," Greg told him. It was true. "Listen: I knew what I was about, bringing him on. I knew there'd be hell to pay if they found out. I knew it and I did it anyway, because he was your brother and I just – I wanted to impress you. That's honest, at least. I didn't know they'd actually sack me, but they were right to do it."
Mycroft was openly studying him, and Greg felt himself flush. He knew he must look a wreck. He supposed that at least if Mycroft broke things off he was already drunk. The chances that he'd break down weeping and begging at Mycroft's feet were only about thirty percent. Probably.
"I think we should talk about this more in the morning," Mycroft said finally. "Perhaps by them some of this martyr complex will have seeped out of your system. I'd blame it on the stout, but I know how much you like to take responsibility for everything around you. It's how I knew I could trust you with my brother in the first place."
Greg frowned at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Mycroft was already pulling him to his feet. "To bed, then. Everything looks better after a good night's rest."
Because drinking had never been said to raise anyone's IQ, Greg had gone without any protest at all.
His phone ringing on the nightstand woke him the next morning. Instead of reaching for it he pressed the heels of his hands over his eyes and tried to will it to stop. Had his ringtone always been so obnoxiously high pitched? How had he never noticed before?
He cautiously prodded one foot forward until he was sure that Mycroft wasn't curled beside him anymore, if he ever had been. Greg could vaguely remember being tucked into bed with a glass of water and Mycroft slipping off into the hall, the door closing behind him softly.
He removed his hands and cracked his eyes open, squinting into the darkness of his bedroom. Mycroft had pulled the blinds after putting him to bed, then. The man really did think of everything.
He reached for the phone in stages, nearly knocking it on the floor with clumsy fingers. The number was the Chief Inspector's, which was just about the last one he had expected to see. His brow knit as he tried to wake his brain up enough to understand. Was he being brought up on charges as well? Barlow had mentioned something about the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933, though at the time Greg hadn't taken it particularly seriously.
The message was succinct: "Lestrade, come by my office." The disconnect was particularly jarring, as if he had slammed the phone down.
Greg lay back on his pillow and tried to work out ways in which that message could be even less helpful or informative. There weren't many. What had to be said in person to someone who no longer worked for you? Greg had the mad urge to call Sherlock and ask what he thought it all meant, but he recognized it was not his best idea.
Taking a few deep, fortifying breaths, he stumbled off to the shower.
When he got to New Scotland Yard the first thing Greg noticed was that everyone was staring at him. Openly. It was unnerving. When he had been called into this same office to be sacked, everyone from the volunteer police cadets to the greenest constables had studiously avoided his eyes, as if his condition (terminal stupidity) had been catching.
Now it was completely the opposite, and he found his body half trying to close in on itself to avoid their gazes. Whatever he had done, everyone knew about it but him.
He rapped on the door smartly, cringing involuntarily when Barlow's irritable acknowledgement rang out loudly.
When he stepped inside, he thought he'd be greeted as he always was, with a grunt followed by yelling, Barlow crouched over his desk and throwing papers at him. Instead, something happened that Greg had never seen before: Barlow stood up to greet him and shake his hand, as if he were an actual person and not a Constable. Except, Greg mused, he supposed he was an actual person and not a Constable. Civilians had always ranked over officers in the CI's book.
"You asked to see me?"
Barlow's smile was grotesque, like he'd just eaten something rancid and didn't want anyone to know. "Lestrade, yes. Let's get right to business: I've been re-evaluating your case."
"My – you mean when you sacked me?"
"Yes, the unfortunate incident yesterday. It looks like – well. As things have turned out, we may have been somewhat hasty."
Lestrade closed his eyes, because he knew exactly where this was coming from. "Is that so?" he asked. He was going to kill Mycroft.
"We believe that – while crime scenes are obviously no place for children – there is something extremely valuable in teaching them how police work is conducted, so they can have pride in the force. That is, for some children, apparently a very important lesson. Keeps them on the straight and narrow, that sort of thing."
"Apparently," Greg echoed, his jaw working.
"And that really does outweigh the extremely unfortunate circumstance that we found ourselves in yesterday. Apparently the child is quite taken with all of it."
"Apparently," agreed Greg with a sigh.
Barlow cleared his throat. "Anyway, the long and short of it is that we'd like to have you back. No hard feelings." He offered Greg his hand, and Greg had to force himself to shake it. He simply didn't know what else to do – with his life, with anything, if he weren't part of the Met.
He was still going to kill Mycroft, though.
By the time he was quietly promoted to Sergeant six months later he didn't even bat an eye. By then he knew there was no point. He could never win against Mycroft in an arena where Mycroft got to make all the rules. He had to fix the game.