THE GAME'S A FOOT
CHAPTER ONE: NOVEMBER 2009
With some resignation, Mycroft watched his brother stride into his temporary office off Birdcage Walk.
"And just when my day had been going so well," he sighed. "What have you done now?"
"Nothing. Why are you sharing your office with these monstrosities?" added Sherlock, eyeing one of the two exotic life-size horses with riders without enthusiasm.
"It's less trouble than trying to move the wretched things. Besides, this room provides a useful bolthole between meetings." Mycroft's eyes narrowed. "You stink of bonfire - no, a house fire - and to judge from the state of your shoes you've been rolling around on filthy ground. There's a trace of dirt in your hair and blood on your shirt cuff. Are you hurt?"
"The blood isn't mine."
"I'm relieved to hear it. No, don't sit down. We may want to use that chair again. Have you killed someone?"
"Of course not. Could you get me off if I had?" asked Sherlock, diverted.
"That would depend." For a moment Mycroft felt a slither of fear that Sherlock might be using again. But to ask risked making a bad situation worse. Gregory had seen Sherlock recently and made no mention of the possibility - besides, Sherlock looked healthier than he had for years.
"On who I killed?"
"On my mood on the day. Really, Sherlock."
Instead of pacing back and forth like a caged beast, Sherlock stood by the far window. His very stillness drew Mycroft's attention because it was rare to see that febrile energy reined in.
"Is there a point to this visit?" Mycroft asked.
Sherlock turned, holding his gaze. "Lestrade finally had an arson case. Charred human remains, except for a perfectly preserved human foot, still in its shoe."
Sherlock snorted. "Spare me. You don't have a squeamish bone in your body. A gun was found at the scene, so the house had to be cleared until the gun was made safe."
"Is there a point to this recital? I should warn you that even I can't produce arson sites at will," Mycroft added absently, most of his attention on what was likely to be a tricky phone-conference.
"Lestrade and I were having a smoke outside the house, so I could watch the procedure. The door behind the Firearms Officer blew open, knocking his arm. The gun went off."
Mycroft had the oddest feeling, as if someone had given him a violent shove in the small of his back so that, for a moment, he thought he must have fallen from the chair. It was several seconds before he trusted his voice - before he was even certain if he could move his jaw enough to speak.
"How badly is he hurt?"
"The bullet grazed his side, that's all. Though there was more blood than I would have expected. To judge by his swearing it must be quite painful. By the time Donovan had stopped questioning me a police constable had driven Lestrade to the nearest hospital, on the grounds it was quicker than waiting for an ambulance."
"You were unharmed?"
"Of course," dismissed Sherlock impatiently. "Lestrade probably saved my life. If he hadn't knocked me out the way I would have been shot in the abdomen."
A muscle jumped in Mycroft's jaw and he seemed suddenly to have aged ten years. "I must remember to thank him. You didn't feel the need to go to the hospital to check on his condition?"
"Why? The wound's trivial. But I thought you should know," Sherlock added abruptly.
Mycroft stared through him. "Yes."
"I don't understand why he risked his life to save mine," Sherlock added fretfully. "Is it because you and he - ?" His hand moved in a brief, descriptive arc. It was the closest he was prepared to get to discussing his brother's life with his detective.
Mycroft looked suddenly tired. "Don't waste your time looking for an ulterior motive. He seems to have spent his entire life trying to protect people."
Sherlock paused to consider the statement. "That must be wearing to live with."
To agree, as every fibre of his being wanted to, was to deny Gregory. He was the man that he was: stubborn, opinionated, protective, loyal and with a generous and loving heart, without which their relationship might never have survived.
He refocused to find Sherlock staring at him. As well he might.
"My apologies," Mycroft said smoothly, "I have a complex phone conference in a few minutes. Is there anything else?"
"No." On his feet by this time, Sherlock hesitated. "That is... Apparently there will be an inquiry. Lestrade might be disciplined for taking me to the crime scene."
"I imagine he might," said Mycroft, in the same cool, detached voice. "On your way out, ask Anthea to come in."
Lestrade sat on the uncomfortable moulded plastic chair, hunched at an awkward angle because it reduced the burn in his side. His shoulder hurt whatever position he assumed. Bloody typical that he couldn't have landed soft on Sherlock. To add insult to injury, he'd ruined his new overcoat - the one Mycroft had chosen for him - and it fitted better than anything he'd ever owned before.
He shifted slightly where he sat, then grimaced. It was ridiculous that a graze from a bullet could hurt so much. Next time he saw a film where the hero leapt over a tall building after being shot he was going to ask for his money back.
Perhaps he'd pulled a muscle when he fell because he hurt from his neck down to his waist. Thank God for Annie's cooking. If he hadn't put on those few pounds the bullet would have nicked a rib instead of his 'love handles'.
A&E was packed and judging from the amount of hawking and coughing going on around him, it would be a miracle if he didn't come out of here consumptive. And if the screaming kid behind him didn't stop kicking the back of his chair...
The inquiry into the shooting was going to be a pain. He would be in deep shit for letting Sherlock on the scene in the first place, never mind so close to a firearm. And he hadn't been hurt badly enough to garner any sympathy.
Which was a good thing, the not being badly hurt.
Except, fuck, it did. Bloody typical that it should happen when Mycroft was home. Maybe he'd be called away until it healed up, Lestrade thought hopefully. It was terrible timing, just when he'd finally convinced Mycroft that his job was safe.
He blinked tiredly as it sank in how close they had come to disaster. Although he didn't understand how the trajectory of the bullet could have caught him where it had. Lestrade fished for his phone, remembered where he was and put it away again. If he moved out of the hospital to make the call he would lose his place in the queue and he'd been here two hours already, with at least the same amount of time to go. He would just forget about it and go home and see to the graze himself but for the fact Newton had wangled a promise out of him that he would get it seen to by a professional. Still, the lad had meant well. It was lucky Donovan was like his ex, not one to make a song and dance about things. He couldn't stand being fussed over.
Not that he ever had been, of course.
Blimey, now he was getting maudlin.
He wished they didn't make hospitals so hot. He was sweating cobs but couldn't face trying to remove his overcoat just when the pain in his side had settled down a bit. He hoped he hadn't cracked the bone at the top of his shoulder. Luckily they had plenty of ice at home.
Donovan was sharp enough to check the trajectory before IPCC got there.
Oh, God. He was going to be in deep shit with them. Not to mention with Mycroft for not taking better care of Sherlock.
It would be nice if the kids would stop screaming. Still, if they could make that much noise, odds were, they were okay.
He could murder a cup of tea.
His head beginning to nod, Lestrade was almost dozing off when he became vaguely aware of movement beside him as someone got up, and someone else immediately took their place.
A few moments later the faint scent of sandalwood, vetiver, bergamot and oud wafted across to him, an oasis in a miasma of less pleasant aromas.
"Oh, fuck," muttered Lestrade, venturing a glance to his left.
A stony-faced Mycroft sat beside him, staring straight ahead, his left leg crossed over the right, his black shoes gleaming.
Lestrade braced himself.
Mycroft didn't even glance in his direction, never mind say anything. He neither spoke, nor acknowledged Lestrade for the next twenty eight minutes. There had been a moment or two when Lestrade wasn't sure if he was hallucinating, until he saw the small puddle of water under the metal tip of the umbrella.
"A security tail from your people wouldn't have made any difference," Lestrade said, when he could no longer stand the waves of disapproval emanating from Mycroft.
"I was going to call you," he added, a short time later. "But I thought it would be best to wait till you got home and could see I was fine.
"Look, it isn't as if I got shot on purpose." Lestrade sneezed, a cut-off exclamation of pain escaping him. He fished awkwardly for a handkerchief that was already smeared with blood and mud.
A pristine white handkerchief, beautifully pressed, appeared in his line of vision.
Lestrade reduced it to a soggy bundle of mucus before shoving it in the pocket of Mycroft's overcoat. "I thought you were supposed to be in some highly important, totally boring phone conference."
"I was." Mycroft finally condescended to look at him. Anything less loverlike than his expression was difficult to imagine.
"I don't know why you bothered coming here if all you're going to do is sulk. Honestly, Mycroft, it's nothing." Lestrade knew he was beginning to babble without being able to do anything to stop himself. Shock always hit him a few hours after the event, rather than right away. He kept seeing himself lunging at Sherlock and not making it in time. And then having to break the news to Mycroft.
"A word to the wise. The moment the word 'honestly' is mentioned, suspect the worst."
The soft, cutting voice was unfamiliar, and Mycroft's expression as coldly uninformative as it had been the first day they met.
"How did you find out?" Lestrade asked.
"As it wasn't from you that hardly matters."
Only then did it dawn on Lestrade that Mycroft wasn't just sulking. He was coldly and completely furious.
"Did you seriously imagine I wouldn't notice the bullet crease in your side? That I wouldn't - " Mycroft stopped, compressed his mouth and fell silent again.
"Are you all right?" Lestrade asked, touching him on the arm.
"If you believe deflecting a question with a question will work with me you haven't been paying attention."
"And yet that snotty expression and tone of voice is so effective," snapped Lestrade.
Mycroft's mouth closed like a steel trap over whatever he had been about to say, a muscle twitching in his jaw as he studied his feet.
By this time Lestrade was spoiling for a fight - pain never brought out the best in him - but just before he let rip, he noticed that the umbrella, tightly held between Mycroft's white-knuckled hands, was vibrating slightly.
Lestrade rubbed his eyes and took another look at the man beside him - Mycroft who, when working, seemed not to have a nerve in his body. Today it was obvious that was an illusion.
Fuck. He'd been so busy worrying that Mycroft would blame him for Sherlock almost getting shot that he'd never paused to think what it must have been like to get the news.
Lestrade exhaled softly. "I'm sorry," he murmured, easing closer to that rigid figure. "I know I should have called you but I didn't want you to worry. Let's go home. I'm knackered."
"You're also in pain, in need of a tetanus shot and that wound cleaning by someone who possesses more medical supplies than a squashed tube of Germoline." Mycroft rose to his feet. "This is ridiculous. What you're doing in this hell-hole in the first place is a mystery. Come with me. And don't even think of arguing."
"I see that dictatorial streak of yours still needs some work."
"Gregory..." Mycroft took a perceptible breath. "Please," he said simply.
"That's cheating." Aware that they had begun to attract some attention from the English speakers around them, Lestrade got to his feet with a grunt of pain. "It's fine," he said quickly.
"Of course it is. Wait."
In a few deft movements Mycroft had fashioned a sling from his scarf which, after an initial flare of pain brought Lestrade immediate relief.
"Now, will you allow me to look after you, or must I beg? Because I will, if that's what it takes." Mycroft made no attempt to whisper.
"Don't you dare," hissed Lestrade. He speeded up to escape their interested audience. "You're shameless."
"No, just worried to the point of imbecility," said Mycroft simply. "When Sherlock came to my office to tell me I couldn't speak for a moment."
"Oh, love, I'm sorry. Bloody hell," Lestrade added, as they left the hospital to discover it was thundering down with rain. "I don't think your trusty umbrella's up to withstanding this."
"My car will be here in a minute or two. It's somewhere in this car park," added Mycroft absently.
"I can't believe Sherlock told you in person. He's improving. But then he must've known you'd be frantic."
Mycroft gave his first smile in some time. "I told you he liked you."
"I never cease to marvel at the number of ways you find to tell me 'I told you so'," joked Lestrade, even though he was convinced that Sherlock turning up in Mycroft's office had more to do with his feelings for his brother. He had the sense not to say so. "Though if you are right, perhaps he'll stop calling me an idiot so often."
"I've always loved your optimism." Mycroft carefully tweaked up the collar of Lestrade's coat.
"I'm fine," said Lestrade.
"And when you obtain a medical degree, I might give that statement due consideration."
"I am sorry for nearly getting Sherlock shot," Lestrade said seriously.
Mycroft blinked, stared at Lestrade's earnest expression and sighed. "Gregory, I know you're fuddled by shock, but you can't possibly imagine I hold you responsible in any way. That wasn't why I was so...paralysed by fear. For Christ's sake, you could have been killed!" His roughened voice broke, then steadied. "You could have been killed," he repeated. "I knew I loved you, just not how much until I realised I could have lost you."
"Oh." A wave of embarrassed pleasure mixed with relief sweeping over him, Lestrade began to fidget, caught Mycroft's fond gaze and stuck up his chin. "What?" he said defiantly.
"I didn't know you knew how to blush."
"It's probably a temperature," bluffed Lestrade, but he knew he must be smiling like a man besotted.
Mycroft rested the back of his hand on Lestrade's forehead. "That isn't beyond the realm of possibility. Ah, here's the car at last."
Traffic was heavy in the rain and Lestrade fell asleep within minutes, half-propped against Mycroft, who woke him only when they pulled up outside their destination.
"Where are we?" asked Lestrade sleepily.
"A short distance from Harley Street. Call it the Clinic. It's the small medical facility where my people are treated, should it be necessary." Mycroft eased Lestrade from the car, wincing almost before he did.
"Spy central? You don't need to hang around. Fatima can make sure I don't pinch the silver."
"Resign yourself to not getting rid of me in the foreseeable future," said Mycroft, as the door opened even before they mounted the four stone steps.
Lestrade surveyed the dauntingly well-equipped surgery.
"Don't waste time trying to save the wretched coat, cut off the lot," commanded Mycroft to the male nurse.
"No coat is worth this," he added to Lestrade.
"Should you be here?" said Lestrade, who was trying to hide his nerves. He hated hospitals. "What happened to doctor-patient confidentiality?"
"Mycroft Holmes happened," said a thin, prematurely lined man as he came into the room. "Good afternoon, Detective Inspector. I'm Bond. James Bond," he added, with a degree of resignation. After scrubbing up, he pulled on a pair of latex gloves.
Lestrade blinked, then glanced at Mycroft, who nodded in confirmation.
"Unfortunately my parents weren't fiction readers, or film goers. I sometimes think my name is the only reason Mycroft makes use of my services."
"Only partly." As Mycroft intended, that reassured Lestrade, who was being cut out of the last of his clothing.
"I liked that coat," he said sadly.
"I'm more partial to what's beneath it." Mycroft gave a hiss of surprise when Lestrade's jacket fell away to reveal his shirt, blood-soaked at the shoulder, as well as his side.
"Ah, it's easy to see why your shoulder is so painful. It's the second bullet that's done the damage," said Bond, as he slit away the last of Lestrade's shirt. "Apologies for the discomfort. Still as you can, please."
"Second bullet?" said Lestrade sharply.
"Mmn," said Bond. "You were lucky it caught you high in the shoulder. It was almost a through and through. It's torn the muscle, of course, but nothing that will inconvenience you for too long."
"There was a shooter at the scene? Where's my phone? My team will still be out there," said Lestrade, twisting round.
"Leave that to me?" said Mycroft, already at his side, a cold hand on Lestrade's uninjured arm.
Because it was framed as a request, Lestrade nodded, knowing that Mycroft could make things happen far quicker than he could. "Fine. Don't look so worried. You heard James Bond, it's a through and through. Make sure the bullet gets to my people. It'll need bagging and signing for to preserve the chain of evidence."
"I'll call them in a moment. We'll be working closely together on this case," added Mycroft, braced for storms. Not for the first time, Lestrade surprised him.
"I won't waste my breath arguing but Donovan will have a massive strop. Don't under-estimate her because of it."
"We won't. I'll be here when you get back."
"Get back from where?" frowned Lestrade, only now appreciating that he must have missed a conversation somewhere down the line.
"Having that bullet removed."
"It will only require a Local but I would prefer to work in more sterile surroundings," said Bond, with a pointed look at Mycroft. He murmured something to the nurse, and they both left the room.
"You don't have to wait. I'll be fine," Lestrade said into the silence.
Mycroft nodded. "And you're well aware of the respect in which I hold your medical knowledge. Don't be a dick, Gregory." He bent and kissed him delicately on the cheek, just before the nurse returned and invited Lestrade to hop on board the wheeled stretcher.
Mycroft had always disliked waiting but this was outside his experience. He had a strong, if untypical, desire to punch a hole in the wall. Instead, he paced the small room he had been allocated because the idea of remaining still was intolerable.
Gregory's safety was in someone else's hands and all he could do was direct the bloody investigation. As if...
Bond had assured him it was the simplest of procedures but...
Caring really was a fucking liability, he thought, shivering because he couldn't seem to get warm, even in this centrally heated room.
He slumped on to a chair and buried his face in his hands, the ridiculous mantra 'Let him be all right' replaying in his brain as if on a loop.
Comfortably seated on an armchair at beside their bed, Mycroft picked up his mobile. "What now?" he snapped.
"Sir, you have a meeting with the PM at - "
"Cancel it. If the matter's vital, we can skype."
"I don't think he knows how," said Anthea, sounding unusually harassed.
"Then one of his advisers can teach him, they must be good for something, even if I haven't discovered for what. The subject isn't open to debate. What progress has been made on tracing the sniper?"
"None as yet, sir."
"Then I suggest you tell everyone to work harder."
Mycroft cut the call without ceremony, then sat staring at Lestrade's gently snoring figure for so long that his vision began to blur.