Greg pushes his hands into his coat pockets, swerving to avoid a group of teenagers coming out of the McDonalds on Baker Street. The tube was packed, hot and sweaty, but it’s cold out all the same. Seven in the evening, and getting dark; rush hour on the tube won’t be over for a while yet. No need to hurry. Hopefully whatever Sherlock’s been texting him about all day won’t be too disturbing, and John will put the kettle on. Maybe he’ll even get invited to stay to dinner. He hasn’t seen little Rosie for a couple of months, and that’s always a treat. 221b’s kitchen is even pretty clean, these days.
He glances up at the flat’s windows as he approaches, and so he misses the moment when the long black car draws up next to him. When he realises it’s there, he takes a step back and pushes his hands more deeply into his coat pockets.
Mycroft steps smoothly out of the car, as ever looking far too elegant for the scruffy reality of a normal London street. “Detective Inspector,” he says, calmly.
“Mycroft,” says Greg, nodding and giving him a cheery smile. “How’ve you been?”
Mycroft raises his chin. “Quite well, thank you.” There’s a half-moment of awkward quiet before he tips his head to the side slightly. “And – you?”
There we go. Greg suppresses his smile, which he knows would come off wrong; it’s actually a real compliment that the elder Holmes brother is prepared to waste this pleasantry on him. He’d long ago got used to the fact that Mycroft may hide it better, but is in some ways just as socially lacking as his brother. “Yeah, great, thanks,” he says. “This a coincidence? Or have you received a summons, too?”
Mycroft’s eyebrows rise. “Ah,” he says, a note of caution creeping into his tone. “My brother was most insistent that I should visit, a rare enough occurrence, it is true.”
“Hmm,” says Greg. “Bloody hell. I wonder what he’s got in store for us.”
”God above,” adds Mycroft, under his breath, striding determinedly for the front door.
Greg follows him, snorting with amusement when Mycroft rolls his eyes theatrically. The door has been left open half an inch. Mycroft plucks a note from beneath the (crooked) door knocker and passes it to Greg: ‘Come in, if your ungodly passion for cake has overpowered you’.
Greg sighs, and tries not to stare at Mycroft’s long, elegant fingers as they straighten the door knocker. He crumples the note into his coat pocket, following those terribly expensive-looking leather brogues up the stairs.
Sherlock’s violin turns from a pretty cascade of notes to an unholy shriek as he catches sight of Mycroft. “Brother,” he says, with a deliberately-fake smile. “Gary.”
Greg rolls his eyes but doesn’t have time to answer –
“Hey, mate,” says John, jogging down the last couple of stairs and depositing Rosie in his arms. “Could you –? She’s really grouchy because I let her nap too long and now we’re all behind schedule –” he pats Greg on the shoulder. “You’re a pal. Alright, Mycroft. Sherlock, did you get that new pack of the food she likes? The carrot and apple one?”
“On top of the fridge,” says Sherlock, putting his violin carefully away in its case.
Rosie rubs her sleepy eyes, bottom lip decidedly wobbly. She lets out a small whimper, and twists in Greg’s arms. “My,” she says, grumpily, leaning dizzily backwards and stretching out her arms to her uncle. Then, more crossly, “My!”
He gives her a stern look. “Allow me to take off my coat and put down my umbrella, Rosamund,” he says, calmly. “Then we shall talk.”
Greg rubs her back, gently, allowing her to continue watching as her uncle unhurriedly hangs up his coat and umbrella. He can feel the eagerness in her small body when Mycroft finally slips his hands under her arms and settles her on his hip.
“Now then, young lady,” Greg can hear Mycroft murmur, as he walks away towards the window. “On voit qu’est ce qui se passe sur Baker Street, hein?”
Greg does not miss Sherlock’s dramatic eye-roll as Rosie makes a contented little mmm? noise.
“Can I have a cuppa, Sherlock?” asks Greg, taking a seat on the sofa. “Long day at work, and I came straight here, since you sent me about eight texts saying I should.”
“No, I requested that you come at once,” says Sherlock, flicking the kettle on. Greg doesn’t miss Sherlock’s gentle hand on John’s hip as he passes him at the sink, or the fact that he automatically pulls down John’s mug with the rest. He smiles quietly to himself.
“Alright then, what’s it all about?” asks Greg, accepting the cup of tea Sherlock puts into his hands a couple of minutes later.
At the window, John takes Rosie from Mycroft’s arms with a muttered ‘ta’, and starts negotiating her gently into the high chair at the kitchen table. Her grumpiness returns in full force, and for a few minutes it takes the combined efforts of both her parents to get her calm enough to accept a spoonful of carrot and apple purée.
Mycroft, still standing by the window, sips his tea.
Greg smiles at him, thinking absently that Rosie would probably eat the whole pot of fruit mush for Mycroft. He’s never seen her with her uncle before, and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t surprised to see Mycroft accept her so gently, so readily.
Another side to him.
Greg drops his eyes to the cup of tea in front of him. “Out with it, then, Sherlock,” he says, good-humouredly.
Sherlock takes a seat in his armchair and crosses his legs. “The recent spate of couple murders,” he says, fixing his gaze on Greg.
Greg’s stomach lurches, unpleasantly. “Not mine, I’m afraid,” he says, putting his cup of tea carefully down on the coffee table. “Spread across teams by area. Can’t get you in on ’em.”
Sherlock steeples his long fingers. “No centralised investigation at New Scotland Yard,” he says, quietly. “Barely reported in the papers, even the tabloids. Why?”
“Well, you know how it is – the media – they pick up some stuff, can’t be arsed with –”
“You know why,” snaps Sherlock, eyes piercing. “The couples turning up dead just happen to be gay.”
Greg takes a breath. “I don’t know, Sherlock,” he shrugs. “Might just be –”
Sherlock interrupts him, impatiently. “I have a lead,” he says, “and a plan. Already in motion. It requires your help.”
Greg makes a helpless gesture. “I already told you, Sherlock, it’s not my case. It’s not even one case.”
Sherlock waves the objection away. “Doesn’t matter. I have – taken steps.” He glances up and back to Mycroft, silently observing at the window. “Do sit, brother dear,” says Sherlock. “You are, as ever, highly reminiscent of the spectre at the feast.”
Mycroft sighs, but takes a seat at the far end of the sofa, crossing his elegant legs in front of him.
At the table, John coaxes Rosie to another spoonful of carrot mush.
“This plan?” asks Mycroft, archly. “I still fail to see why I am here.”
Sherlock looks at them both, as though wondering how they could possibly be so unfailingly dim, then sighs. “You two,” he says, waving his hand impatiently between them. “You are a couple. I have been talking to the suspect for some time now, online. A dating site for couples interested in – adding someone else to their partnership. In…” he smirks, “more or – less permanent ways.”
Greg shakes his head slightly. Opens his mouth, and closes it again. “What?”
Sherlock sighs, and rolls his eyes. “Dear God.” He takes a breath, and speaks very slowly. “You two. Are a couple. You have invited the murderer to your flat in –” he glances at the screen of his phone, “– oh, just over a week from now. We’re going to catch him.” He smiles at them, smugly. “See? Simple. If you apply even one moderately functioning brain cell to the task.”
There is a very long, and very horrible, silence.
Greg looks over at Mycroft, who is blinking, repeatedly.
Greg stands, a sudden surge of restless, furious energy propelling him to his feet. “I’m sorry, Sherlock, but I think what you just said is that you’ve been catfishing a murderer online, pretending to be a couple, your brother and I, and now you want us to meet him? A murderer? As a couple!” The last few words are really quite loud, and Rosie makes a startled squeak in the kitchen.
Sherlock glares at him.
Greg takes a deep breath. “Sorry,” he says, automatically, then – “No – no! Not – not sorry, because – of all the things, Sherlock, that you have ever done, this is undeniably the most – the most utterly – I –”
He closes his eyes, fists clenched, and takes several deep breaths.
“Overlooking many, many other problems with this entire scenario –” he pauses and takes another breath, “– what on Earth makes you think that, as a couple, a detective and a – a – whatever he is –” he gestures wildly at Mycroft – “would put themselves online on a dating site?” He presses the heel of his hand hard into the doorframe, a slow-motion punch that relieves his fury just a little.
“Oh, didn’t I say?” says Sherlock, with a smug smile. “That’s how he’s doing it. The murderer. It’s a supposedly completely protected site, the best encryption in the dating site business etcetera, etcetera. You upload pictures of yourself, but you’re not allowed to share certain details openly on the site. Face-to-face meetings are encouraged and digital privacy is sacrosanct. I’m surprised he hasn’t found anyone more high-profile to murder yet.”
Greg puts a hand over his eyes. “Christ. I – Sherlock. What made you think this was going to work? I mean –”
“From talking to him,” Sherlock interrupts, “he’s a classic serial killer, desperate for attention, for fame, for the validation of seeing himself in the papers. He’s a narcissist. As you can imagine, you two – a detective who’s been on the telly –” he parrots, inanely, “– and a ‘high-level civil servant’ are his wet dream. He can’t wait to get his hands on you.”
“Right,” says Greg, hollowly. “And you’ve made us a date with him.”
“Yep,” says Sherlock, crisply. “The twenty-second. Just over a week.”
Greg leans weakly against the doorframe. “Mycroft. Please. Say something –” he gestures at Sherlock, “– to your brother.”
Mycroft has hardly moved, his shoulders high, posture impeccable. The only sign of anger is in his lips, pressed so tightly together they are white. “‘Our flat’,” he says, voice taut. “What did you mean by that, Sherlock?”
“The flat you share, in Knightsbridge,” says Sherlock, sweetly. “Lovely place. Stupidly expensive. Completely lacking in taste. Perfect for my pompous arse of a brother and his bit of rough.”
Mycroft looks as though he is about to choke on his own tongue. “Why, brother,” he clips out, “did you and John, an actual gay couple employed in the detection of crime, not undertake this task?”
“Us?” asks Sherlock, indignantly. “We are parents, Mycroft.” He pauses for effect. “Parents.”
“Appalling, Sherlock,” says Mycroft, coldly. “Send the details to me. I shall ensure that my team take on the cases. We will trace the murderer through the site. Please be aware, however, that I do not appreciate you forcing my hand in this manner, and I shall not respond to any similar future effort.” He shifts, as if to stand, but Sherlock holds up one finger.
“Impossible, I’m afraid,” he says, with infuriating calm. “I’ve already had my hacker – the one who got into your systems last year, remember? – look over it and there’s no way to get through the site. Their legal structure is hosted deliberately outside the EEA so demands for data sharing won’t work. And the protections are, it has to be said, quite impressive.”
Mycroft stands up, chin high. He steps towards the door, reaching for his coat. “Then I am afraid you have wasted your time, Sherlock,” he says, with what Greg judges to be an extremely decent impression of calm. “Remove all images of me from the internet immediately, or I shall be forced to take further steps.” He turns his back on his brother, and starts to pull his coat on.
“The murders won’t stop,” says Sherlock, quietly.
Greg watches Mycroft’s face freeze into a rigidly neutral expression. He unhooks his umbrella from the coat stand and plants its tip on the floor, hands folded on the handle. At last, he turns and looks at his brother. A long, silent moment passes between them.
“I will attend this – meeting,” says Mycroft, at last. His voice is brusque, holding no suspicion of having relented. “The Detective Inspector need not be involved.”
Greg does a double-take. “Sorry – what – no – Mycroft, you’re not going to –”
Sherlock shakes his head. “Impossible. He won’t stay long enough to get grounds for arrest.”
Greg clenches his fists and lets out a growl of fury. “Wait, so now you’re saying – what, we’ve got to let him start murdering us? There’s no forensic evidence?”
Sherlock widens his eyes at him, snottily. “I wouldn’t know, Gavin, since you ‘can’t get me on the case’.”
“You will not be there,” says Mycroft, firmly, making brief eye contact with Greg.
“Hang on just a second –” protests Greg, “this is mad – Sherlock, you can’t let him –”
“No, I can’t let him,” snaps Sherlock, “because I’ve already told you, the murderer won’t –”
Rosie lets out a distraught-sounding wail from the kitchen, and all three men stop talking. Greg stares at Sherlock, breathing hard.
“I know, sweetheart,” murmurs John. “Come on, you. Bathtime. Let’s leave all these loud men to their argument.”
“So just assuming, for a minute,” says Greg, through clenched teeth, “that we for some reason go along with your insane plan – if we can really call it that – what, we just turn up at this flat, on the twenty-second, and pretend to want to –” he waves his hand, running out of words for a moment. “Swing – with him – or whatever –” he clears his throat. “And then wait for him to start killing us?”
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “No. You and Mycroft will live in the flat until the twenty-second. You will learn how to behave as something approaching a decent impression of a couple, although God knows how given that Mycroft is involved –”
Greg sees Mycroft bridle, slightly, his chin lifting and his back straightening –
“Mycroft will work at home. I have already cleared it with Anthea,” he says, lazily, waving a forestalling hand at Mycroft, who frowns angrily. “You will also work at the flat, George. But Mycroft will have the murders transferred to you, so you can start a centralised investigation. Your team will work on it at the Yard, and you’ll bring me in. They will provide backup when the meeting takes place.”
Greg just gapes at him.
“If this plan were to come about, Sherlock,” says Mycroft flatly, “you would owe me ten investigations. No questions asked.”
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Fine. Nothing abroad.”
Greg snorts. “Fuck, Sherlock, I don’t even know what you’d owe me,” he says, shaking his head. “Three separate months of total, absolute silence from you. No texts, no calls for cases. Nothing. When I ask.”
Sherlock narrows his eyes. “Alright,” he says, at last.
“And you never, ever deduce my love life, ever again.”
Sherlock smirks. “Fine. Nothing to deduce, anyway.”
“I said, fine.”
Greg looks over at Mycroft. “I can’t believe I’m saying this but – you have had cases transferred to me before. And taken them off me.”
Mycroft glances quickly at him. “It can be done.”
“Perfect,” says Sherlock, standing up and clapping his hands faux-brightly together. “Right, now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m meant to be helping with bathtime.” He makes a shooing motion at them both. “You move in tomorrow. And I know this will be hard, Mycroft, but do try not to be too incredibly obvious about the fact that you are untouched by human hand since 1992.”
Mycroft rolls his eyes.
Greg opens his mouth, then shuts it again.
Outside, on Baker Street, Greg runs a hand through his hair and looks obliquely up at Mycroft. “Christ. Fuck,” he mutters. “How – how did we just –”
Mycroft looks away down the street. “Please excuse me, Detective Inspector,” he says stiffly, as his car pulls up smoothly next to him. “I have much to do."