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Learn to Wear Each Other Well

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Lestrade stays late on a Thursday night finishing paperwork.

He's finishing paperwork because Sherlock came gallivanting into a case without having been invited as such, waving his hands around and pulling solutions from thin air that made no logical sense. Until he started impatiently explaining just how imminently logical and sensical they were. Which was all well and good, because Lestrade will never have so much pride that he ignores good advice out of sheer obstinacy.

It just means that he's suddenly got a load more paperwork than usual to plow through, rife with creative wording so as to make it sound like anyone actually at the Yard helped with solving the case. His superiors frown when they get the impression dozens of people's jobs have been done by one errant sociopath with a knack for deduction. Lestrade's learned it's easier on everyone involved to circumspectly word his reports, so as to make it seem Sherlock merely offered a bit of a nudge.

They'd have gotten there in the end. Eventually. Probably.

A few years ago it might have bothered Lestrade that Sherlock could gather together the pieces in a few moments while Lestrade was busy trying to even determine what was a piece and what was background noise. But he was a prouder man then, and now he's an inspector with an appreciably improved rate of solved cases. And, in the end, it matters less that Anderson goes home seething and Donovan perpetually wants to haul off and punch Sherlock. They're catching criminals, and that's the point.

He signs his name in triplicate to a bit of bureaucracy that he's fairly certain only says that he's promised to sign everything else in the massive stack on his desk. The clock sitting on top of the file cabinet ticks mockingly as Lestrade messily scrawls his name. He won't look at the time, it'll only make him acknowledge the twenty hours worth of exhaustion crowding in at the back of his mind.

Embarrassing as it is -- considering he actually is a decently intelligent and aware person despite what Sherlock insinuates at least twice a week -- he very simply does not notice the man standing in his doorway until he clears his throat.

Lestrade jerks in his chair, sending his pen skittering across his desk and onto the carpet. It leaves a nicely artistic stray mark on the form, which is just enough to tip him into annoyance as he looks up. Being unable to identify the man standing so calmly in front of him as more than vaguely familiar only deepens his irritation.

"Yes, can I help you?" Lestrade asks, sneaking a glance at the clock. He's a touch dismayed to see that time had gotten even more away from him than he's thought. It's nearing two and he still has a good many miles of paper to go before he can rest. And he doubts he'll be able to swing a day off, even riding the dubious high of having caught a double murderer.

The man doesn't answer immediately, which gives Lestrade an added moment to take stock. Tall, average build. His suit is impeccable, despite the drizzling rain that had begun the night before and carried on all day. He has an umbrella in one hand, planted against the floor like a walking stick. He doesn't give any particular impression, other than that of mild interest. Lestrade feels a bit like a frog stuck under a microscope.

"Can I help you?" he repeats. Through the half-open blinds that cover the glass walls of his office, he can see rows of deserted desks. There's no one left, which isn't particularly surprising given the Godawful hour. It does raise Lestrade's wariness a notch.

"Detective Inspector Lestrade?" the man asks as though he already knows the answer.

"It's the name on the desk."

The man's mouth settles with a hint of a smile. It's a bit obnoxious really, the unconscious condescension he exudes; like he knows all the answers to questions Lestrade can't even begin to think of asking. "I'm here about Sherlock Holmes."

Of course.

Lestrade has the sudden powerful desire to start beating his head against his desk until the man goes away and takes Sherlock Holmes with him. He meant what he said to Doctor Watson about Sherlock's potential for greatness, he did, but the man can be a right bastard anyway. And Lestrade never meant to offer himself up as the one to take the brunt of Sherlock as he smoothed out his thornier sides.

"Sherlock Holmes is not officially a member of the Yard," Lestrade says. He knows the whole speech by rote now, for how often he's had to give it. "If you have a complaint, you are welcome to put it on file. If it's a personal matter, you'll have to find him yourself. We have no formal connection."

The man raises an eyebrow. "I am aware no formal connection exists, but I am also aware a longstanding informal connection does."

"Yeah, and?" Lestrade suddenly stops caring about being a nice, polite representative of the Yard. He wants the man to clear out so he can finish his work and drag himself back to his flat for a few hours sleep before he has to get up and do it all again. "Look, I dunno where he is or what he's doing. If you've got a problem, take it up with him."

"There's no problem," the man says circumspectly. "I merely have an interest in Sherlock Holmes. And, as you well know, he can respond poorly to direct inquiry."

The urge to beat his head rears up again.

It would be just like Sherlock to have somehow managed to grab the attention of some government agency specializing in — Lestrade can hardly imagine. Turning errant know-it-all sociopath geniuses into covert killing machines. Privately, Lestrade gets a bit of a chuckle imagining anyone trying to brainwash Sherlock, or even successfully tell him what to do. Whatever the man wants and wherever he's come from, Lestrade can't help but think it would also be just so fitting for him to end up dead or buried in a hole somewhere because he was stupid enough to give Sherlock a chance.

"Inquire all you want," Lestrade says, making a bit of a show of shuffling papers. "But I haven't got much time and I'm not really interested in the mysterious bit."

The man shifts suddenly, straightening to his full height. "Quite. In that case, I would ask if you'd be willing to accompany me on a short drive." He smiles flickers again into something amused. "I have no intention of carrying on such conversations within these very alert walls."

It then dawns on Lestrade that it's just as likely Sherlock got himself mixed up in some kind of organized crime and he's about to be kidnapped. You never really can tell with Sherlock.

But the man doesn't look like any member of organized crime Lestrade has ever seen. He looks like a mix between a politician, banker, and bureaucrat, with his impeccable three piece suit and umbrella. Lestrade glances at the clock again and somehow it's gotten to be nearly three. He spares a look to the small mountain of paperwork, tapping his thumb against the utterly redundant triplicate form and reminds himself that he got into police work because he fancied a life of excitement.

"Am I going to end up dead if I say yes?" Lestrade asks.

The man raises a single eyebrow again. "It's unlikely."

Lestrade stands, arching his back after hours of having been hunched over his desk. "All right, then."

*

There's a Town Car sitting outside the Yard with a pretty woman in the back, typing away on her mobile. She spares a glance for Lestrade, with a grin that's somewhere between amused, apologetic, and unimpressed, then turns her attention to the man. He settles on the opposite seat, umbrella planted between his legs. Lestrade watches the pair of them look at each other; they must have worked out some form of communication that uses eyebrows and nothing else because neither says a word before the woman nods and turns back to her phone.

"Where are we going?" Lestrade asks.

"Nowhere in particular," the man answers. "I merely prefer to have this conversation in a controlled environment."

"Right." Lestrade looks glanced at the woman, with her dark suit and hose and sensible heels. She gives off Imminently Capable in a nearly palpable wave and Lestrade suspects both her and her employer could kill him with their eyelashes. "I don't suppose you'll tell me your name now?"

The man smiles again and right, yeah. Lestrade knew the answer to that before he asked it. He catches a moment of the woman smiling to her mobile and feels like the one person at the table who hasn't gotten the joke.

"So, you wanted to know about Sherlock?" Lestrade says and that gets the man's attention.

"Indeed." He straightens his shoulders slightly. "You've been working with Sherlock for the better part of three years at this point, which as we both know is highly irregular with regards to procedure. Why is that?"

"Why is it irregular or why do I work with Sherlock?" Lestrade asks. He can't make this easy, whatever else he was thinking about pride earlier. If he does end up murdered, he's not going to be remembered as that idiot who blabbed on beforehand.

"The latter."

Lestrade shrugs. Hell if he knows, really. "He's helpful," he says. "And persistent. I suppose in the beginning it was more because it was either let him help or arrest him for interfering with police investigations. And since he was right all the time, it seemed a bit petty to arrest him."

"And Doctor Watson?"

Lestrade's opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He's got opinions on Sherlock and John that he's fairly certain aren't really his place to divulge to strangers, even if they're strangers with Town Cars and probably government clearance. "What about him?"

The man taps a thumb against his umbrella and looks at the woman for another few seconds of worldess communication. "What are your impressions of the effect he's had on Sherlock?"

"Good," Lestrade says just a touch quickly. "I mean, it's still not cupcakes and roses working with him and he'll probably always think we're idiots, but John's a help. He reminds Sherlock to be human."

It takes a bit of effort to keep from fiddling with the sleeve of his coat or bouncing his leg. Lestrade can't shake the feeling that everything he's saying is being recorded in some dark government building, which is a bit a creepy no matter how he spins in. He can't imagine what on earth Sherlock’s got himself mixed up in.

"He does manage Sherlock rather well, doesn't he? And you have no plans to cease utilizing Sherlock's help?"

"No?" Lestrade frowns. "Look, I ask this knowing you probably won't answer, but why do you care about Sherlock? Last I checked he was living off family money and working with us."

The man nods. "Oh, he is. Though hope springs eternal that he might one day put his faculties to better use than police work."

"Maybe he likes it," Lestrade replies, just a touch stung. Just a touch, really.

"Yes, well, I suppose in that way he never really did grow up."

It takes Lestrade a good minute to get around from the immediate fuck you, mate reaction he has to the second dig at his work. Just because half of all children want to work for the Yard when they grow up doesn't mean it's all kid's work doing his job, thanks so much. They might not all have the prodigious intellect and glaring lack of social skills Sherlock Holmes has, but Lestrade thinks they do all right with what they do have.

Once he's past that, he takes a sharper look at the man. Lestrade isn't Sherlock, he can't tell a man's life from his shoe laces or explain a death from a run in someone's stockings, but he has his moments.

"You knew him growing up?" Lestrade asks. "What, are you related?"

He gets the oddest impression that the man is impressed by that little leap. "Yes, I'm his brother. Mycroft Holmes."

Lestrade absorbs the information and uses every ounce of self control he has to keep from laughing. Because of bloody course. Of course Sherlock has a brother tucked away in the upper echelons of the government, wielding the kind of power that would make a regular person weep. It at least explains how the man, Mycroft, can waltz into the Yard without worrying about being arrested.

"Dinner must have been something else at your house," Lestrade manages, hiding behind a cough. Mycroft wrinkles his nose like he knows perfectly well what Lestrade was thinking and, considering he comes from the same genes as Sherlock, he probably does. "Why do you care what I think, anyway? And why the whole mysterious car bit?"

"I merely wanted to talk to you."

"You must live a hell of a life if you'd got to kidnap someone to talk to them."

Mycroft offers a hint of a smile. "You came voluntarily, Inspector."

*

The limo drops Lestrade off in front of his flat and he decides as he climbs out that he's not going to ask how they know where he lives. It's a bit of a stupid question no matter how he spins it, no matter how unnerving it is to open the door and see his front walk.

Mycroft rolls down the window and says, "Thank you for your time, Inspector," like there's nothing at all unusual about spiriting people away from their offices in the middle of the night to try and snoop into your brother's life.

Of course, maybe for Mycroft Holmes there isn't.

"No problem," Lestrade says and then the car’s pulling away from the curb and turning round the corner. Lestrade stands on the pavement with his hands in his pockets until the car vanishes, then glances at his watch to see it's horrifyingly close to five in the morning. Which means he has to be back at the Yard in four hours.

He walks up the two flights to his flat and falls onto his bed, deciding as he does that it says something about his life that he can chalk up the whole night to the hazards of involving oneself with Sherlock bloody Holmes.

*

Odd as it seems, in the two weeks that follow Lestrade very possibly more or less forgets about Mycroft Holmes in the face of a veritable slew of cases that land on his desk. It starts with a double homicide and carries on with a string of assaults and by the time a seven year old vanishes between her school and her house, Lestrade can barely remember his own name, much less think about Sherlock's older brother.

The Yard manages the double homicide on their own, largely because Donovan gets a feeling from a neighbor and worries at it and worries at it until everything comes together. She makes the arrest and it's all very well done.

The girl turns out to have been taken by her father overseas, which leaves everyone involved in the case seething and pacing. But there's not much they can do there, since it promptly turns into a bit of a diplomatic incident. And besides, they did find her, they just didn't bring her back to her mother, who sits in Lestrade's office with red rimmed eyes and a handkerchief twisted in her hands, nodding and thanking him. Thanking him, even though Lestrade feels like he did fuck all to help.

As for the assaults, Sherlock shows up at his office one afternoon wearing a smile that says he's worked it all out. Lestrade is suddenly and strongly reminded of Mycroft Holmes and bites the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. He can imagine precisely how well Sherlock would react to find out his brother was looking after him.

"It's the tailor's assistant," Sherlock announces, steepling his fingers. Doctor Watson stands at his shoulder with his hands clasped behind his back, looking bemused and weary. Lestrade assumes that when Sherlock can't sleep, no one at 221b Baker Street can.

"Which tailor's assistant?" Lestrade prompts.

Sherlock sighs and rolls his eyes. "The tailor's assistant from the shop across from the first assault. The first one was the only one that mattered. He'd been cultivating quite the sexual attraction to the young woman. The others were merely a clumsy attempt to disguise the first."

Rifling through the pile of files on his desk, Lestrade manages to unearth the witness statement the tailor's assistant in question gave. Donovan's signature is on the bottom and Lestrade casually slides that bit under another piece of paper. Eventually, she's going to lose patience and, at the very least, throttle Sherlock. And he'll deserve it, but Lestrade would still likely have to arrest her.

"According to him, he wasn't even at the shop when the attack occurred," Lestrade says calmly. He doesn't actually doubt Sherlock, because experience has taught him the futility of that. But he still needs Sherlock to walk him through the proof of it.

"That's uncorroborated," Doctor Watson volunteers, covering his mouth over a yawn.

"Well, yeah, but so's your accusation." Lestrade flips the witness statement closed. "Convince me."

It takes Sherlock two minutes to take him through an elaborate explanation that includes red thread on three of the five victims’ clothes, a suit stuffed with rags to act as decoy, and the tailor's shoe size. It takes a further fifteen minutes to track Anderson down and have him confirm the forensics of it, all the while looking like he's swallowing lemons. Within the hour, they've arrested the tailor's assistant and he confesses before dinner.

"Well done," Lestrade says to Sherlock, who's already headed toward the door with Doctor Watson at his side.

He really is, Lestrade decides, a lot like his brother.

*

It's another Thursday the second time Mycroft Holmes darkens Lestrade's doorway and it's just as late as before. Except it's an accident Lestrade is even still at the Yard, because the last thing he remembers is deciding to close his eyes for just a moment before delving back into the pile of open cases stacked so high on his desk they threatened to topple over.

"Long week, was it?"

Lestrade jolts, sending a pile of files careening neatly to the floor in a flutter of papers. Cursing through a stifled yawn, he straightens in his chair and glances blearily at the clock. It's just past one and damn everyone in the Yard who walked past his office and didn't think to nudge him awake. "A bit, yeah," he agrees, scrubbing his hand over his eyes.

He should probably be a touch more surprised to find Mycroft Holmes standing behind the chair he keeps across from his desk. The suit and tie are different, but the umbrella's the same. Lestrade thinks tiredly that Sherlock really does deserve a good punch in the face. He scrubs at his eyes and leans forward on his elbows. "What I can I do you for?"

Mycroft smiles, drumming his fingers on the back of his chair. "Merely keeping tabs on my brother."

"Right. Just a minute."

If Lestrade were a neat and organized man, he'd go through and put all the loose papers back in their proper folders. As it is, he's only as organized as he has to be to prevent catastrophe and it's already hours later than he meant to be. He gathers them all into an untidy pile and sets it on his desk, dropping his stapler on top to keep them from falling down again. He stands, conscious of Mycroft's gaze, and pulls on his coat.

"You learn very quickly," Mycroft says, in way that's a bit like a compliment and bit like he's making fun. Sherlock does the same thing, with his inability to admire people without pointing out how stupid they are at the same time.

Outside, the same Town Car's idling on the curb, though when Mycroft opens the door there's no pretty assistant sitting in the back with her mobile. Lestrade reckons that either means Mycroft wants less of an audience for this conversation or he's decided to kill Lestrade and wants less witnesses. So long as it ends with Lestrade getting to close his eyes at the end of it all, he doesn't much care.

"Just out of curiosity," Lestrade says, once they've slid back onto the street and taken a couple turns in silence. "Is this going to become a regular thing? Should I pencil in conversations with Sherlock's brother in my diary?"

Mycroft makes a sound that's perilously close to an undignified snort. "Sherlock can be remarkably difficult when the mood strikes him. And his flair for the dramatic means I am one of his greatest enemies. I only mean to ensure his welfare."

"Why are you his enemy?" Lestrade asks, genuinely curious.

He can understand not liking Sherlock. Truth be told, at least three-fourths of the time he doesn't really like Sherlock in the same sense that he likes anyone else. And Lestrade has wondered how it's possible Doctor Watson puts up with him without wanting to pour one of Sherlock's chemical experiments into his tea. But blood is blood, Lestrade reckons. And it usually counts for something, even if Mycroft Holmes is entirely inhuman in his own way.

Mycroft lifts one hand in an elegant gesture of unknowing. "Sherlock has always been particularly prone to flights of dramatic fancy. And he carries his grudges for a very long time."

"That's not an answer," Lestrade says, settling deeper in his seat. "But it's fine. Probably I don't really want to know, right? Anyway, what I can I tell you this time that I didn't last?"

For a moment, Mycroft looks at him. Lestrade gets the feeling like he's suddenly become a slightly more interesting bug beneath the microscope; one that's got a kind of mutation that's not been seen before. He's still a bug, mind, but one that's managed to be interesting.

"Your impressions," he says, waving a hand to the still air of the car.

Lestrade bites back to the urge to offer his impression that if Mycroft really thinks Sherlock is the dramatic brother, he might need to do a bit of self-reflection. "I reckon they're the same as last time. He's Sherlock bloody Holmes, he doesn't really need much of an explanation.

"Still, you work closely with him," Mycroft presses. "Which means you, perhaps with the exception of Doctor Watson, can make the claim to know him better than anyone. I confess to a certain amount of curiosity as to why you would endure someone as…difficult as Sherlock can be."

Lestrade shifts against the leather seat. The problem is that he can't really explain why he let Sherlock work his way into the Yard, when he made such a show of being entitled to be there and not even pretending to be grateful. After once or twice suggesting Sherlock could probably pretty easily get an official job at the Yard and realizing that was never, ever going to happen, Lestrade gave it up as a bad job. It's easier.

"Like I said," he hedges. "Whatever else he is, Sherlock's also helpful. And I reckon I'd rather catch the bad guys than worry about people's pride."

"Your own included?" Mycroft asks.

"Yeah. My own included."

*

The next morning, Lestrade yawns his way through a call out to a body dump site, standing beside a pair of metal trash bins while the CSI techs root around in the muck for pieces of a body. It's gruesome, but a bit fascinating at the same time. He can hear the others taking quiet bets under the breath as to whether it's a bit of thigh or knee or stomach and Lestrade only half-heartedly tells them to shut it when an elderly neighbor watching at her window starts looking unduly scandalized.

Donovan gives him sideways glances through the whole process of bagging up the body and hauling it away. He knows he's got great lovely dark circles under his eyes, because it apparently takes a bit of time to stop his mind from churning over Mycroft Holmes enough to fall asleep. And the sky was already beginning to bleed lighter with dawn when Mycroft Holmes' car dropped him off at his flat.

As they're standing on the nosy neighbor's porch, waiting for her to answer the door so they can get a statement, Donovan asks, "You all right, sir?

Lestrade stifles another yawn behind his hand, because it doesn't do to talk to witnesses and have them assume you're bored by the proceedings. "I'm fine. Stayed late last night."

Donovan raises her eyebrow, arms folded over her chest. Lestrade has always had a fondness for her, for her tenacity and capability, despite whatever a certain Consulting Detective might think. The only downside is when she turns that gaze on him and, for no reason he can explain, Lestrade doesn't much want to explain that he's been having midnight rendezvous with Sherlock's older brother.

"All right, sir," she says. "But if you keep staying late you're going to make the rest of us look bad."

Fortunately, Lestrade doesn't have time to come up with some kind of reply to that, because the neighbor chooses that moment to open the door and start declaiming about a very suspicious pair of teenage hooligans she saw lurking about the neighborhood yesterday afternoon, all the while peppering her speech with questions about the state of the body they pulled out of the bin.

*

In the three years Sherlock Holmes has been an acquaintance of Lestrade's, he's made a habit of insinuating that Lestrade is at best an incompetent fool and at worst an active danger to the poor citizens of London who are stuck having him as an inspector. It had stung a bit at first and led to Lestrade making a minor fool of himself in a few clumsy and eventually futile attempts to prove he was as smart as Sherlock.

He'd stopped caring a good two years back though and Lestrade knows that he's capable. He might not be a Holmes, but he's beginning to think he wouldn't want to be if the price of intellect is being so bloody odd. A handful of days after Mycroft Holmes's second nighttime drop into his office, Lestrade settles on his sofa with a cup of tea and his laptop and does a bit of off the clock sleuthing.

A search of Mycroft Holmes brings up a slew of references to Sherlock, matching them based on the same last name but not out of any mention of them being brothers. Scattered here and there are incidental mentions of him, all giving the distinct impression that his post in the government is a very minor one, concerned with traffic.

Lestrade doesn't buy that for a moment. Last he checked, minor transport positions don't come with access to a Town Car at the drop of a hat and assistants that work all hours of the night.

Even aside from that, Lestrade has possibly never met a man who exuded importance the way Mycroft Holmes does. It's in the way he speaks and walks and dresses and carries himself; in the way he can arrive at someone's office and expect that they'll get in his car because he's asking.

"Keep your secrets, then," Lestrade says to his laptop, thoughtfully drinking the rest of his tea.

*

When Mycroft arrives at his office on a Wednesday a few weeks later, Lestrade isn't surprised at all to see him standing there in the doorway. He looks up from the file spread out over his desk, secretly pleased at his timing because it's the last one he's meant to deal with before calling it a night.

"Just a minute, would you," Lestrade says, flipping through the pages to find the last couple places he's got to sign his name. Inasmuch as crime is ever tidy, the case was a neat little thing that wrapped up quickly, the perpetrator in handcuffs and off to prison no more than twenty hours after the crime was committed. It's a decently cheerful end to the day and it's just past midnight.

"Of course," Mycroft says wryly.

Lestrade signs his name with a flourish to the last document and drops the completed file in the proper tray to be delivered down to records in the morning. He stands, taking his time to work the kinks out of his back and shoulders. He pulls his coat on and steps around his desk. "Shall we?" he says to Mycroft and can't shake the feeling that, for once, Mycroft is chuckling with him rather than at him.

Granted, he's a bit thrown when they emerge into the cool, damp night and there's no Town Car idling discreetly in front of the Yard. Lestrade glances at Mycroft Holmes, hand tucked into the pockets of his coat against the chill. "Missing something, aren't we?"

"Oddly enough, I have multiple means of transportation," Mycroft says, gesturing toward a very expensive looking classic car, fairly gleaming from the mist sitting on the surface. It's all long lines and elegant curves that make Lestrade think of old black and white movies he used to watch with his grandmum on Saturday afternoons. "Unless you doubt my ability to drive."

Lestrade doesn't much doubt Mycroft's ability to do anything.

The interior proves to have the kind of luxury Lestrade associates with nobility and James Bond; it's got dark, soft leather and more buttons on the dash than a spaceship. Mycroft slides into the driver's side and turns the key. The engine roars to life and settles into a throaty purr that even Lestrade -- not knowing anything about cars other than gassing them up and making them go -- can appreciate the obvious opulence.

Mycroft eases into traffic, but the whole outside world sounds muted from Lestrade's place in the passenger seat. He feels a touch out of sync with it all, like the entire late night world's shrunk down to him and a man he doesn't really know driving through London in a car that probably cost more than Lestrade's entire flat. It feels reckless and a bit funny; it's something he might have loved doing as a teenager and seems odd as an adult.

Forbidden fruits, or something like that. "What happened to the assistant and driver and all that?" he asks, coughing to hide something he can't quite explain. He has the odd feeling any moment Mycroft Holmes will look at him and realize he's actually not anybody special, just a police inspector that his brother happens to tolerate.

"Sherlock is not official business," Mycroft says. "It seemed prudent to continue these conversations on my own time. It's all very tedious when superiors start asking questions."

It's a bit of a relief to find out that Sherlock isn't actually involved in some kind of experimental government program for sociopathic geniuses. It's enough as is without scientist poking about in his brain and making him even less patient with the mere peons he's forced to work with.

And there's a little thrill, too, knowing that it's Mycroft's own time they're on. Lestrade feels their footing even out a little bit, even if he still hasn't got the foggiest idea why Mycroft keeps coming back to him. There have to be others with more useful, intimate information, beginning with John Watson himself and going down through the likes of their landlady and the small legion of informants Sherlock has scattered through London. His own little personal information army.

"I haven't seen much of your brother this week," Lestrade says.

"Yes, I know," Mycroft says, almost absently.

Lestrade cocks his head, though Mycroft isn't looking at him and won't catch the gesture. He watches Mycroft as he drives, the way he positions both hands on the wheel at precisely the position Lestrade learned when he was taught to drive, back straight against the lush seat and eyes trained on the road. Mycroft isn't really a typically attractive man, but there's something about him. It's not even the magnetism Lestrade has seen in some people who have a way of drawing others toward them.

It's the sense of capability. Of knowing things, or maybe knowing everything. He exudes focus but it still rings slightly false.

Perhaps it's prolonged exposure to Sherlock, but Lestrade can tell when people want him to think they're not paying attention. He reads that in Mycroft, in the entire carefully chosen span of his words since they emerged onto the pavement from the Yard. It's just an inkling, more a feeling than anything else and an illogical one at that, but Lestrade suddenly understands that this isn't just about Sherlock.

He wishes for a cigarette. "Why am I here, then?"

Mycroft stops at a light and turns to Lestrade, expression closed into studied thoughtfulness. "No one likes my brother, Inspector. There have been many moments when I myself have not liked my brother. He is not a likable person but that doesn't particularly matter. His personality is such that he first does not need to be liked and second does care if he is. However, I've realized that there are two such people in the world. One is his flatmate and we shall see how that goes. And the other is you."

Lestrade swallows. "So?"

"That makes you unique," Mycroft says bluntly. "And I am interested."

There's nothing in the world that could have prepared Lestrade for that bit of information, so he keeps quite for the rest of the drive and manages a quiet thank you when they arrive at his flat. Mycroft nods his head in acknowledgement and says, "Until next time."

*

Lestrade spends almost the whole rest of the week trying unsuccessfully to not think about Mycroft Holmes.

As Saturday slowly whiles away with him tracing a worn path between kitchen and sofa and study with nothing to show for it but the vaguely dissatisfied feeling of having done a great deal to accomplish nothing, he wishes for the first time in a long time that he had someone ready at hand to talk to. He's lived fairly happily alone since his divorce a few years past and it's rare that he feels unwontedly solitary.

It's just goddamn Mycroft Holmes taking in obscure circles about his brother and Lestrade has enough on his hands with the one Holmes. He doesn't need another one making his life even more complicated than it already is. And besides, knowing all the paper details of his life, as Mycroft Holmes likely does, doesn't mean he actually knows Lestrade.

He spends Sunday afternoon at the pub, trying his best not to imagine that horrified look his mum and gran would get if they knew he was spending the holiest day of the week getting slightly pissed on beer by himself while the rest of the patrons watch a match.

Lestrade has lived an uncomplicated life by choice. His job is often much more complicated than he'd like, even aside from the intricacies of cases and the twists and turns of murderer's minds. There's politics that he looks at with distaste and resignation. He does that because he's not got much of a choice. Lately, the complications in his life all seem to stem from the same bloodline and hell if he knows what's to be done about it.

And, of course, Sherlock and Doctor Watson arrive at his office bright and early Monday morning, Sherlock nattering on about some six month old case he was denied the chance to properly investigate at the time because of a conspiracy involving Donovan and Anderson (of course) and a handful of other police and techs with grudges against Sherlock. Not that it seems to have mattered much, because he's solved it anyway, but Lestrade understands the gist to be that Sherlock is always right and they might as well accept it and move on.

"You could try being a bit less of a bastard," Lestrade suggests calmly, which gets a truly baleful look from Sherlock and a snort of laughter turned into a hacking cough from Doctor Watson. "But we know the chances of that. Let me see what you've got, then."

Sherlock painstakingly and with a great show of consternation and boredom, lays out the facts of the case in a light that suddenly makes the solution obvious, with occasional input from Doctor Watson when he skips crucial steps that might be self-explanatory to a genius but aren't to laypeople. Lestrade pays attention, of course, because he's a police inspector and that's his bloody job, but he's distracted.

It takes him a good fifteen minutes to realize it's because he's thinking of Mycroft and the fact that Sherlock doesn't seem to have any clue his brother's been checking up on him through the means of Lestrade.

"What is it?" Sherlock asks eventually, eyebrows arched to convey maximum disdain. "Is it not clear enough for you?"

"No, no, it's perfectly clear. I'll send someone round to pick him up for questioning, see if we can't get a confession out of him. Well done," Lestrade says easily.

He's never really had one over on Sherlock before. Complicating though Mycroft may be, Lestrade can't help but enjoy the feeling he gets from knowing something Sherlock doesn't.

*

Lestrade will never admit he's gotten in the habit of staying a bit late on the off-chance Mycroft Holmes might deign to descend on the Yard, but it's true nonetheless. He rationalizes it as making better use of his time. He lives alone in a small flat that still barely looks as though it's been moved in to. Far better for him to spend his evening hours solving crimes and working on catching criminals than watching crap telly and slowly emptying his cupboards of tea.

He doubts most people notice, as he finds it's mostly assumed he'll stay later than everyone else. Perils of being in charge and all that, even he's only middle management. It's no hardship, anyway, to spent an extra hour or two going through old files. He has a drawer of unsolved cases that have kept with him, just like most everyone at the Yard. Going over the familiar shapes of old murderers is the same process in his office as it would be at his flat.

Of course, by the time the clocks inches past midnight and it's clear he's got to go home or he's going to fall asleep hunched over his desk, it's always a bit disappointing. He's curious, too, is the thing of it all.

*

Lestrade leaves the Yard a bit after midnight the next time he ends up in Mycroft's car, hands pushed down into the pockets of his coat against the cold, drizzling night thick with heavy fog that creeps and crawls along the roads.

He nearly misses the car idling quietly on the curb, lights cutting a faint yellow beam through the darkness. The engine revs slightly as he starts to walk past and Lestrade comes up short, squinting against the spitting rain lashing against his face. It takes a moment to make the faintly obscured lines materialize into a familiar form, and he smiles thinly to himself once they do.

It's a moment to glance around for watching eyes and then he slides in.

"Something wrong with my office?" he asks, brushing the faint sheen of damp off his coat. His presence makes the warm interior of the car feel momentarily soupy with wet. Mycroft sits with his hands folded on top of the steering wheel, watching Lestrade with a faintly amused expression.

"Hardly," he replies. "I prefer to avoid the weather."

"Says the man who accessorizes with an umbrella."

Mycroft makes a noise that could almost, possibly be considered a chuckle and pulls into traffic. London is never completely silent, but there's a hush from the rain and just being inside the warm car. The heaters hum gently as background noise; Lestrade closes his eyes for a moment, tipping his head back against the soft leather of the passenger seat.

The rains picks up to a steadier thrum against the windows and siding as they drive. Lestrade folds his arms over his chest, a bit tired, but content. The week's been long and he's had the worst of it.

"Any interesting cases this week?" Mycroft asks lightly.

Lestrade chuckles and skims his hand through his hair. "A few, yeah. But do you even really need me to answer that? I get the feeling you could find every bit of my cases if you wanted, without having to ask."

"I am a minor government official," Mycroft says, taking a turn with a quirk of the corner of his mouth. "But perhaps I would enjoy hearing it from the source rather than through any alternative means. Something is always lost in translation. Or I imagine something would be."

That Mycroft can be funny is both mildly unexpected and pleasing. Lestrade shrugs to the window, swallowing down a yawn. "I dunno. Your brother gave us a hand with one. It ended up being something about the blood spatter not matching mud spatter and proving there were two people at the crime scene or something like that. It didn't make much sense to me, but the lads in forensics started jumping and up and down like he was Father Christmas, so I assume it made sense."

They pull to a stop at a light. Mycroft shifts slightly in his seat and the yellow glow of the streetlights catches his profile. "You are aware there is no need to downplay your abilities with me," he says. "I am perfectly aware of how intelligent you are."

"Are you?" Lestrade says sharply.

Mycroft cocks his head and looks at Lestrade for a moment. "I am able to recite your A levels, but I know that you prefer not to think about how easily accessible human lives are, even to a minor government official. I am also able to relatively thoroughly relate your university work. Suffice to say it's hardly lackluster."

The light turns and Mycroft smoothly continues on, while Lestrade tries to keep himself from feeling so bloody exposed. Or being mildly impressed, even though he knows it's a matter of a background check to find out that much about anyone. He did as much when Sherlock first started coming around and again when Doctor Watson appeared at his side. He'd have done it for Mycroft, too, if he hadn't thought it would send up red flags from the Yard to Buckingham Palace.

"Spending time around your brother makes anyone feel like a bit of an idiot," Lestrade says once he's got his voice back.

"Sherlock's intelligence is what it is," Mycroft counters. "And yours is something else entirely. The difference is not a weakness on your part."

*

A full month slips past after that, for which Lestrade is both vaguely disappointed and obscurely grateful. It occurs to him the next day that they somehow managed to almost complete miss talking about Sherlock, and if they're not talking about Sherlock, Lestrade's not really sure why Mycroft Holmes would keep dedicating his personal time to one of many Detective Inspectors at the Yard. Even one who did well on his A levels.

Of course, in that month Sherlock and Doctor Watson and a doctor named Sarah manage to singlehandedly break up an international smuggling ring, so Lestrade doesn't have as much time to brood as he might have otherwise.

"I know you think I’m useless," he says to Sherlock the day after. "But I do have a mobile. And you have the number for that mobile. You can always call when you get into these situations and I will pick up."

Sherlock rolls his eyes. "I didn't need your assistance, Inspector. I had everything under control."

The reports Lestrade read don't seem to necessarily back that up, but Doctor Watson's become remarkably closed mouthed and circumspect when it comes to Sherlock. And the other doctor shook her head and threw up her hands, professing her complete inability to explain how what happened happened. "It was like something out of a film," she said. "And all I can say is it's more frightening and less exciting when you're experiencing it."

Lestrade flips the file closed and sits on the edge of his desk. He has the completely irrational urge to threaten to tell on Sherlock to Mycroft if he doesn't start bloody well talking, but he swallows it down. He settles for tapping his foot against the old, industrial carpet and making Sherlock wait impatiently in the chair.

There's something about the whole business that nags at him, but he can't put a finger on what it is exactly. Other than a persistent sense that the whole thing doesn't make proper sense and he knows Sherlock has the ability to unravel the rest of it.

Sherlock sighs and fidgets. "If there's nothing else, there are vastly more important things I could be doing."

"Watch it," Lestrade says sharply. "You work on cases at my discretion, Sherlock. And if you're not going to tell me everything, then I might need to reevaluate a bit. I put my job on the line for you, you know. No matter how helpful you are, I'm not gonna get sacked for you."

With a huff, Sherlock stands. "There's nothing else to tell, Inspector. I became involved in the case through an old classmate and saw it through to a logical end. I have no hidden motive."

Lestrade will buy that when it snows in August and a pig goes merely flying past his window. He shakes his head. "Get out, then. And try to keep away from any smuggling rings for at least a week."

*

On Friday afternoon, Lestrade's desk phone rings as he's sorting through a pile of backlogged forensics reports with Donovan. Some bit of equipment or the other went on the blink for three entire days and every bit of processing came stuttering to a complete halt while they tried to sort it out. It's been fixed, but it means there's a sudden flood of reports being dumped on his desk every time Lestrade turns around and he's beginning to lose patience.

"Fuck off," he mutters to his phone, pushing a pair of probably mismatched files into Donovan's hand and snagging the clunky receiver. He barely uses the landline and a small shower of pens and paper clips twinkle merrily down to the floor he manages to knock over a plastic container. "This is Detective Inspector Lestrade."

Donovans start sorting through the myriad files, matching them up by number rather than names scribbled in what might as well be hieroglyphics for all Lestrade can make them out. She makes a neat pile of completed ones on the one bare corner of desk Lestrade has left and makes a great show of not listening to his conversation, which Lestrade appreciates, even if he doesn't believe it for a moment. She wouldn't be a detective if she didn't pay attention.

There's a beat of silence, then Mycroft says, "Have I got you at a bad time?"

Irrationally, Lestrade wonders at how Sherlock can have the social skills of an ill tempered monkey at the best of times while Mycroft is the consummate bureaucrat. It doesn't make sense. Lestrade thumps back in his old desk chair and tucks the phone between his shoulder and ear. "Busy, not bad." He's suddenly much more conscious of Donovan. "What can I do for you, sir?"

Mycroft chuckles. "I presume you have an audience? No matter, this conversation's being recorded at any rate. I want to know if you had in fact penciled in conversations with Sherlock's brother into your diary."

"I could probably make room, sir," Lestrade says. He watches Donovan's nimble fingers clip pages together and tuck them in the proper folders. "When?"

"This evening, if you're free," Mycroft says. "Of course there's no harm done if you're not."

"Yes, sir, I can be available then."

"Excellent. Eight o' clock?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well. See you this evening, Inspector Lestrade." Mycroft clicks off the line without saying goodbye. Lestrade drops the phone back onto the cradle and worries at the corner of his mouth with his teeth. He thinks back to the first meeting with Mycroft and the sense that he was possibly about to be murdered and dropped into the Thames. He wonders the same thing again, but only for a moment.

Donovan neatens the pile of completed folders and looks at him, eyebrow raised. "Something important, sir?"

Lestrade shakes his head. "Not sure, really. Where were we?"

*

Lestrade spends the last hour of the day making a great show of being very busy with his office door closed while not actually accomplishing much of anything. The tide of forensics reports has slowed down to a mostly normal trickle and, with Donovan's help, he managed to get the rest of them sorted to the right people. With luck they'll lead to a rash of solved crimes. Maybe they'll manage a bit better than the usual 20% solve rate.

People filter out slowly, mostly alone but sometimes in pairs. Donovan catches his eye through the glass walls and tips her hand in farewell. Lestrade nods in acknowledgement and waves. She's a bit of a godsend, Sergeant Donovan.

By ten minutes to, there are only a handful of people left scattered around at their desks and in their offices. Crime never sleeps and all that, most of them are just the unlucky bastards who caught the late calls and have a good solid several hours of grinding initial work before they can drag themselves home.

Lestrade tidies his desk with one eye kept on the clock, sorting files into their proper drawers and cabinets and leaving the rest in a neat stack in the center of his desk. He realizes as he's stacking that he hasn't changed the month on his desk calendar since February and there's something a bit fascinating about the old appointments and reminders written in smeary ink on the different days. Most of the case references ping his memory, but there are a few that don't and that bothers him in an odd way. Who was L.K. Jones and why did he want to talk to their chemist?

He gets absorbed in the old detritus of information and ends up pulling on his coat at two minutes to and hurrying out of the Yard with his head ducked down and his hands in his pockets. He emerges into a cool night, though one a bit livelier with people and cars than he's gotten used to. Mycroft idles on the curb, though it takes Lestrade an added few moments to pick him out from the crowd.

Lestrade eases in, pricklingly conscious of eyes that could be watching. There's nothing wrong with what he's doing, just deep oddity. Mycroft offers a small quirk of his mouth meant to be a smile when Lestrade closes the door. "Good evening," he says, with a touch of formality that almost startles a laugh from Lestrade.

"Hello," he says back, buckling the seat belt because he is an officer of the law and it doesn't do to be setting bad examples.

Mycroft drives with purpose and a sense of definite direction, the pun of which almost gets another bark of laughter from Lestrade. It's been long, rambling drives before, just taking up the distance while they have their conversations. Lestrade can usually rough out the big, irregular circle Mycroft drives, ending up as Lestrade's flat just as morning's beginning to color the sky purple.

He's nervous and he can't work out why. He wishes bouncing his leg wouldn't be so bloody obvious and he wishes the radio was on so he could hum under his breath without being heard. Since he can't fall into either of those age old nervous ticks, he settles for rubbing his thumb against the bare skin on his left hand finger where his wedding ring used to sit, before his divorce.

"Are we going somewhere?" he asks suddenly.

Mycroft is quiet for a moment, during which he swallows so hard Lestrade can see the contraction of his throat. "Yes."

"Do I get to know where?" Lestrade prompts.

The worry that Mycroft might be driving him toward an unceremonious government murder suddenly flares up in the back of his mind. He peers out the window to the streets beyond. They're only vaguely familiar in the way that all of London can be vaguely familiar to him. He can see some of the high end shops and the like; it's a good bit away from his usual stomping grounds.

The plus side being Lestrade supposes it's unlikely Mycroft would murder someone in a posh neighborhood.

Mycroft eases to a stop, but leaves the car on and idling as he opens the driver's side door. Lestrade stares for a moment, wishing that the brothers Holmes could get over this inclination to dramatic reveals they both seem to share, then scrambles to follow. Over the hood he sees Mycroft hand his keys to a valet in a uniform and past them the elegant front of a restaurant. Lestrade pushes his hands into his pockets as he steps up onto the curb and glances at Mycroft. "Dinner?"

"Indeed." Mycroft sweeps his hand open in a gesture toward the door. "Shall we?"

*

The restaurant is Classy.

Lestrade capitalizes the word in his head as the maitre'd (and since the man is wearing a perfectly pressed tux, Lestrade figures he's earned the title) leads through the main dining room. The carpet underfoot is lush and thick, with a pattern of understated elegance that's echoed by the equally luxurious murals on the wall and the heavy, solid tables and chairs. There's a hell of a chandelier hung overhead with thousands of crystals that twinkle in the mellow light.

The patrons look much the same, in their expensive suits and dresses. It's all a bit unnervingly perfect. They've got perfect hair and perfect make up and perfect smiles. Their gestures are elegant and easy, and still have that seem perfect cast to them. Lestrade looks at his suit rumpled from the day and his shirt stained with a spot from lunch and feels just a bit out of place.

Even the food looks too posh to be real, like little pieces of edible artwork served on heavy china plates with thin stemmed glasses of wine. Lestrade's cooking abilities extend to eggs, setting the timer on the microwave, and being on a first name basis with every takeaway place within five blocks of his flat.

He walks a step behind Mycroft as the maitre'd leads them through an archway to a bit more private room. It's a variation on the same theme as the main dining room, just done in a smaller, more intimate scale. The man pulls out both chairs and Mycroft thanks him in a measured voice. He assures them he'll return shortly for their drink selections and to take their orders.

Lestrade drops into one of the chairs, folding his arms over his chest. Mycroft picks up the wine menu and scans it. It's a bit like being dropped into a scene from a movie, like any moment Lestrade will blink and wake up in his flat, shaking the whole thing off as a hell of a dream.

In case it's not a dream, he buttons his jacket to hide the food stain.

"Do you prefer red or white?" Mycroft asks.

Lestrade blinks. "Red or white what?"

"Wine." Mycroft looks from the menu. He's still got the tense cast to his features that Lestrade can't interpret. Though the gold tinged light of the restaurant casts his features in a much softer glow than the dimness of cars.

"Right." Lestrade wills himself not to blush and busies his hands unfolding the cloth napkin from the elaborate twist it's set in. "No preference." He smoothes the napkin over his lap and watching Mycroft from beneath his eyelashes.

There's a heavy leatherbound menu sitting beside his plate and Lestrade figures he might as well start picking through the fare and find something he can eat. He's a man of simple fare and he likes recognizing at least some of the ingredients when he's eating something. He flips it open and brushes his fingers over the paper, which is heavy with raised type.

Also in French.

"Right," Lestrade exhales.

Mycroft looks up from the wine menu. "Is something wrong?"

"No, it's fine." Lestrade touches the tip of his fingers to the word aperitif in heavy, scrolling print. "No, sorry. That’s a lie. I don't speak French," he confesses, setting the menu down dropping his elbows onto the table. "I mean, I took a bit of it in school, but none of it stuck. I can't read this."

For a split second, Lestrade would swear Mycroft has a touch of red high on his cheeks, but he recovers as smoothly as Lestrade has ever seen anyone find their composure. He leans forward, splaying his own menu across the table so Lestrade can see the offering. "What do you like?" he asks.

If pressed, Lestrade could have come up with a dozen reactions that he'd have expected from Mycroft. Because beneath the veneer of sociability, he's fairly certain Mycroft is as deeply, unusually intelligent as Sherlock and just as irritated by the limitations of the people around him. Except Sherlock would never have offered help in the face of someone else's lack of understanding, not unless he needed them to comprehend to get what he wanted.

"I don't know," Lestrade says, with a half-smile. "I eat takeaway six nights of the week. And on the seventh I might come up with a fried egg sandwich."

Mycroft makes an affirmative noise. "Shall I choose something for you?"

It's possible that's the moment when the much ignored and internally derided suspicion Lestrade's been holding in the back of his mind blooms into something much more concrete.

*

Dinner ends up being flambed something or the other with a braise of something else and a white wine that Lestrade is easily willing to bet costs more per bottle than his flat does per month. It's quite good, if so far out of Lestrade's ordinary it might as well be from an alien planet.

Mycroft's table manners are predictably perfect. Lestrade was hardly raised in a barn and his mum and grandmum made sure he could get through a meal polite as can be, but still. There are two or three extra forks that Mycroft somehow smoothly manages to use while they lay untouched on either side of Lestrade's plate and Mycroft's knife never accidentally scrapes against the china plate

Lestrade is acutely aware of how alone they are in the little private room, and how the whole bit seems designed to create intimacy. The lights aren't dim, exactly, but they're turned down to a warm suffusion of golden glow that suggests candlelight. And the table isn't cramped at all, but it's still small. Clearly built for two people to have low conversation.

It's the mix of it all that makes Lestrade take a sip of wine and say, "This isn't about Sherlock at all, is it?"

Mycroft goes very still.

There are things about himself that Lestrade would not have thought any government file could possibly know. Not things he's ashamed of, just things that he has kept close to himself as the years since his divorce slowly marched past. He didn't lie when he said he never put his pride before anything else, but he does tend to keep the important things near.

And yet it doesn't surprise him that Mycroft knows enough to bring him to this place, in possibly the only clumsy and sincere gesture he's made since he first arrived at Lestrade's office.

Mycroft sets down his cutlery and meets Lestrade's eye. "Have I presumed too much?"

Lestrade turns his wine glass slowly between his fingers, looking at Mycroft through the yellow liquid inside. "No," he says. "Not at all."

*

After they finish dinner and leave the restaurant, while they're sitting next to each other in Mycroft's car outside Lestrade's flat, Mycroft says, "Give me your mobile."

Still a little giddy from dinner, Lestrade bemusedly fishes his mobile from his coat pocket and hands it to Mycroft. He watches with an eyebrow arched as Mycroft quickly scrolls through several screens and types. For a moment he reminds Lestrade oddly of his very pretty assistant from the first night and he has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. He wonder if it's at all possible that's how Mycroft Holmes began in his ascent to a minor post in the British government.

"Here." Mycroft returns his mobile.

Lestrade taps his thumb against the hard plastic surface. "Did you install a tracking virus or something?"

"You are very paranoid. Do you know that?" Mycroft rejoins wryly. "And it's nothing so sinister. I added my number."

Deep in the pit of Lestrade's chest, something seizes up for a breathless moment. It kicks hard against his ribs and rises into his throat, heady and a bit utterly terrified. He tightens his hand around his mobile with enough force to blanch his knuckles white, and all while Mycroft steadily watches him.

"I reckon," Lestrade eventually says, "It's a bit pointless to offer you mine back?"

Mycroft barks out a surprised laugh and Lestrade's chest releases.

*

The thing is, the last time Lestrade was…seeing anyone, it was his ex-wife and he wasn't even thirty yet and he still had the kind of grandiose ambition that let him believe with complete conviction that it was only a matter of time before he was appointed commissioner and having tea with the Prime Minister.

That, of course, was more years ago than he really likes to think about.

And even then, Ellen wasn't at all as untouchable as Mycroft. She was an urban planner with bright red curls and a wide smile who liked his uniform. Back then Lestrade had mates and friends and his parents were still alive and his grandmum was puttering along with blue hair by taking a walk around the garden every morning and evening. It's all done for, now.

Honestly, when he thinks about the people he spends the most time talking to who aren't subordinates, the only names he can really come up with are Sherlock and Doctor Watson, and Mycroft.

Which is less than helpful at the present junction.

*

When Sherlock next shows up at a crime scene (coat billowing dramatically and John at his side) Lestrade is content to wave his hand and give him a few minutes' run of it. Partially because no one can make heads or tails of why the victim would be laid out neatly in an alley with black marker words written up and down his arms and legs in a language none of them can even begin to recognize.

It's also partially because he can stand back and watch Sherlock do his bit and try to find some similarity between him and Mycroft. They certainly don't look much alike, other than both being tall. Sherlock has a gangly quality to him, like his limbs are just a bit longer than they should be and his joints need to be tightened up.

Sherlock quite literally looks like an alien from certain angles and Mycroft is just a bloke in a suit with slightly thinning hair and an umbrella possibly permanently attached to his right hand. Lestrade huffs out a sigh and pinches the bridge of his nose to stave off the headache he can feel beginning to creep in around the edges.

John glances at Lestrade from the corner of his eye, standing a few paces off with his hands curled into fists and jammed deep into the pockets of his coat. Sherlock's at the point where he's forgotten anyone else exists as he swoops and kneels over the body, whipping out his little magnifying plastic thing every few moments for a closer inspection. Anderson's casting him baleful glances every time he touches anything, but Lestrade knows that Anderson knows, though will never admit it, that Sherlock is easily as competent as Anderson himself.

"You all right?" John asks quietly, shifting his weight back and forth between his feet. He's not nearly as universally loathed as Sherlock, but he's also quite aware that he's there because of Sherlock and never seems completely at ease.

Lestrade jerks his attention away from the body with a little shake of his head. "Yeah, I'm fine. I hope we didn't wake you."

John shrugs and rolls his shoulder. "It's only three in the morning, why would I be sleeping?"

Sherlock nimbly jumps over the bloody body, landing crouched beside its hip with his eyes narrowed. He plucks at the hem of the dead man's shirt, leans in, and sniffs it, which is enough to have everyone cringing back slightly, except Lestrade and John, who are both used to Sherlock's methods.

"I can't imagine living with him," Lestrade says, the words very accidentally falling out quietly enough that he hopes no one heard. Except the amused, wry crinkle at the corner of John's eyes says otherwise.

John looks up to the sky for a moment, then back down to Lestrade. "Don't ask me. I don't know either. I guess at a certain point the idea of not living with him got odder than the reality of living with him."

Considering the turns Lestrade's life has recently taken, he can understand that.

*

It's the middle of the night a few days later when Lestrade's phone rings, and he's accidentally asleep on the sofa. The last thing he remembers is thinking he ought to get himself into bed before the combination of tiredness and crap telly knocked him out, so when his phone goes off inches from his ear he almost levels himself onto the floor as he jerks awake.

He fumbles for his phone in the washed out glow from the telly, just managing to hit the proper buttons and push it to his ear before it switches over to voicemail. "Yeah, Lestrade here," he says, voice sleep rough like it's been rubbed down with sandpaper. He still feels precariously balanced on the edge of the couch. A wrong breath and he'll end up on the floor, probably whacking something against the coffee table as he goes.

"Did I wake you?" Mycroft asks smoothly.

"'Course not," Lestrade says. "What time is it?"

"Just after two."

It takes a bit of careful wiggling, but Lestrade managed to settle more firmly on the couch, flopping on his side with his phone tucked between his ear and shoulder. He squints at the telly; it looks like Antiques Roadshow, with an older woman in a feathered hat holding a bit of ugly statue while rambling about how her mum found it at a jumble sale in the seventies.

"Right." He closes his eyes and yawns. "How are you?"

"Fine," Mycroft says. Through the static of the phone line filters down the sudden quiet sense that he's tired, too, and Lestrade blinks his eyes open. He wasn't annoyed to begin with, really, but whatever remained from being woken up slides away. "I had a free moment and I wanted to ask if you have plans for this weekend."

Lestrade probably has a shift or two or three or seventeen, but he doesn't much care. "I can find time."

For a moment it's quiet. There's just the low murmur of the telly and the constant note of the cars on the street. He can hear the shuffle of Mycroft on the other end of the phone, rifling papers and the click of a pen. "You still at work?" he asks.

Mycroft chuckles. "Traffic never sleeps, nor do traffic ministers."

"Right." Lestrade yawns again and scrubs at his eyes with the heel of his hand. "You work crap hours."

"So do you. Go back to sleep."

"Okay. G'night," Lestrade says, already sunk into the lethargy of near-sleep. He half hears Mycroft responding in turn, before he falls asleep again.

*

For their second…thing for which Lestrade has no proper word, it's another dinner engagement, though the restaurant is smaller and bit more out of the way. It still has that "obscenely expensive" feel to it, but at least Lestrade feels a slightly less offensively out of place in suit crumpled from a hard day of detecting.

There aren't private rooms and, on a Friday night, it looks like every possible table is filled when they step through the door. But the host leads them through the throng, mostly groups of twenty somethings eating juicy cuts of meat and knocking back drinks in solid tumblers. There's an out of the way alcove tucked in a back corner that's almost as private and quieter than the rest of the floor

It doesn't quite follow that Mycroft could look so perfectly at ease still, when Lestrade largely wants to throw up his hands and ask what the hell is exactly going on. If it's not about Sherlock, then that makes it about him and hell if he can work out what that's supposed to mean. If he's just a random bit of human curiosity Mycroft's latched on to that's fine, it is, he just wants to know so he can calmly deal with being examined underneath Mycroft's microscope.

He feels ill at ease as he orders a beer, with a bit of petty triumph in his tone. At the first place Mycroft had ended up ordering everything in French, which was pretty enough for the musicality of the words tumbling from Mycroft's mouth and for the little thrill of surprise at every plate brought to their table. Lestrade's feeling a bit more jerked about than he was, however.

It's always secrets with the Holmes brothers. Secrets and puzzles, which aren't nearly as enjoyable for anyone else as they are for them.

"What are we doing here?" Lestrade asks, halfway through his beer after an uncomfortable run of silence. Mycroft's composure looks more pasted on around the edges, from the way his hands are purposefully pressed flat against the table on either side of his plate.

Mycroft looks up, mouth in a flat line. "Getting dinner, I thought."

Lestrade waves his hand in annoyance, like he can forcibly bat the words away. "That's not what I meant."

There's something very deliberate and very considered in the way Mycroft unfurls his napkin and lays it across his lap, eyes looking at the bit of white cloth rather than at Lestrade. "You intrigue me," he says.

"Yeah, well. I'm intrigued by how microwaves work," Lestrade snorts. "And how your bloody brother works out someone was an airline pilot by looking at their thumb and what all the machines down in forensics do. I don't know about me being intriguing."

Mycroft stares and Lestrade's skin prickles. He shakes his head and looks down at the plate in front of him. It's gray, with some black design fiddling going on in the center of it. "I know you could know anything about me you wanted to know. We don't have to be here if you're curious. And I'm not enough of a fool to think you couldn't find a way to watch me without me knowing. So why all this?"

"Because," Mycroft interjects, voice raised up to a volume Lestrade hasn't heard before and he snaps his mouth shut. Mycroft looks a bit flustered as he straightens his already straight tie and vest and jacket. He looks up at Lestrade. "It isn't an academic interest. Not any longer."

Lestrade's chest relaxes enough for him to catch a long, full breath. It's not transparency by a long shot, but it's honesty. Which is something.

"You know, I'm not really hungry," he says, pushing back from the table. "Shall we?"

*

Mycroft stops his car in front of Lestrade's flat as always, but this time he cuts the engine. The sudden absence of noise is shockingly loud and it takes a moment for the low, nighttime murmur of the city to filter back in.

Lestrade's skin itches in a familiar, crooked, magnificent, ridiculous way. In the seat beside him, Mycroft is perfectly ordinary looking, except when the yellow tinged orange of the streetlights fall in shadows and patterns on his face and hands. Then he is manifestly extraordinary. Lestrade wants to experiment with the topography of his bones and skin.

It seems a nearly insurmountable task to extract himself from the car and Lestrade sure as hell doesn't want to. They left the restaurant after paying for drinks and drove in complete silence, because he's beginning to understand neither of them are good at this, which has fuck all to do with their days. Manners are enough to have Lestrade's fingers hooked limply on the door's handle, but the gesture is apathetic at best. He wants a reason to stay.

It all goes against the usual pattern. Their rules are established and well-founded to keep them safely in the hinterlands of propriety and discretion and everything else. If there is nothing typical about this thing they do, then there is also nothing untoward. Still, Lestrade's heart is beating half again as fast as usual and he can feel the pulse in veins buried beneath muscle at his wrists and throat and groin.

It's Mycroft who suddenly, sharply inhales and wraps his fingers around the wrist of Lestrade's hand still resting on his thigh. It probably has to be Mycroft who initiates that shocked first touch, because their relationship is such that Mycroft lays out the path and Lestrade's choice is whether or not to follow.

Following means turning his head toward Mycroft and letting his fingers slip from the door's handle. Inside the car it is warm and dark and closed, cocooning them in a little, mutable, impenetrable world. It is that uncertain hour that is both nighttime and morning, but a lack of sleep isn't translating to being tired. They drove for a long time before they found their way to where they are. Lestrade feels as though he's plugged into a low electrical current.

"What are you?" Mycroft asks, low and distinct and deliberate.

A well of pert answers bubble in the back of Lestrade's throat, all useless for their banality. He is a man and a police inspector and a thousand inconsequential trivialities that Mycroft already knows.

Mycroft has always made him feel like he's beneath a microscope. Lestrade doesn't say anything.

He can't speculate on Mycroft's thoughts and he wouldn't want to try, but he can gauge the reaction. Mycroft reaches across with his opposite arm and firmly cups his hand around the base of Lestrade's skull. His fingers are warm and very steady and it becomes a matter of allowing himself to be lead.

There's no possible way for a kiss in a car to be entirely graceful. They both have to twist in their seats over the shift and Lestrade's arm gets pinned awkwardly between his body and the seat. But none of that keeps Mycroft's mouth from being warm and exploratory. Lestrade is not used to yielding and he enjoys it very much.

Some disbelieving part of the back of his brain says this is all much too much like being sixteen again and sneaking out for a bit of a snog behind the school at lunch. Not that Mycroft is anything at all like the pretty girls with long hair and big eyes Lestrade went with at the time. But it's the same giddiness rushing through his ears and the same ridiculous soaring sensation in his chest.

He's not entirely sure how much time passes before Mycroft eases back, his hand lingering for a few moments longer. Lestrade's breath comes in soft little pants in the dimness of Mycroft's car.

"That's how it is?" Lestrade asks quietly.

Mycroft's hand eases along his neck to cup his jaw, thumb swiping absent over the hinge. "Yes," he says.

*

To his credit, a full seventy-two hours pass before Lestrade has a sudden, crushing moment of thinking, "Oh, I've snogged Sherlock's brother in his car." It's not revelatory so much as a moment of purely instinctive, reflexive horror as how completely ill-advised it seems three days out. Lestrade ends up hunched over in his office chair with his head between his knees, taking deep breaths and hoping no one pops in for one last thing before they head home for the night.

When his head stops swimming dizzily, he slowly sits back up and collapses propped up on his elbows sprawled over his desk. The usual mess of papers ruffle indignantly at the less than ginger treatment and Lestrade, for once, does not care at all. There may be the detritus of murders and robberies and assaults wrinkling beneath his weight, but his mind has gotten stuck on the single repeating thought that he's snogged Mycroft Holmes and he liked it and surely other signs of the apocalypse must he hiding just around the corner.

Lestrade isn't categorically opposed to human interaction and neither is he opposed to dating. It's more that the whole idea of dating seems awfully young the older he gets; it was easy to date when he was in his twenties and now that he's a few years past that the whole notion just makes him feel old and tired.

After his divorce, he didn't consciously sit down with a glass of bitterness and declare to the heavens he would never love again. It was just too hard to ignore the unhappy truth in his ex's voice when she patiently explained that she was a bit tired of always coming second to blood spatter and corpses. Lestrade didn't want to make that mistake again. He still doesn't, but if there was ever one to be completely unbothered by the demands of Lestrade's job, he supposed it would be someone with Mycroft Holmes' job.

"Fuck," Lestrade mutters to himself, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes. He glances down at the papers littering his desk. Random words pop out at him: glass, suspect, midnight, garden, broken. They don't mean much of anything, even though none of them can be much more than a week old.

And it's not the fact of Mycroft being a man, though that generally unexpected bit of Lestrade's personality was another factor in his divorce. Not all of, not by a long shot, but he'd be lying if he said it didn't make a difference.

The vastly more overwhelming fact is that it's Mycroft Holmes, who is Sherlock's brother. Lestrade can't pinpoint the moment when Sherlock became such a factor in his life that snogging his brother could cause a small crisis rather than a moment of chuckling, but there you have it. It's much, much too easy to spin out fantasies of Sherlock barging into the Yard and beating Lestrade to death with his bare hands in a fit of fraternal rage.

Even knowing that Sherlock apparently sees Mycroft as an enemy (and what that says about growing up Holmes Lestrade isn't going to touch, thanks so much) isn't enough to banish the very vivid picture. Sherlock is angry and annoyed and put out, much of the time. Lestrade shudders to think of him enraged.

Lestrade flicks his eyes to his mobile and considers, for a single irrational moment, calling Mycroft and either spilling his guts or casually tossing out the, "It was fun once, but I don't see it going anywhere," line that he got from the only person he's been on a date with in the last three years. His mobile sits like a matte black Pandora's Box teetering on the edge of his desk above the wastebasket.

Instead, he yanks on his coat, jams his mobile deep into one of the pockets, and walks to the nearest pub with his shoulders hunched up against the encroaching night.

*

A lesser man might wake up the next morning and promptly roll over and go back to sleep, giving the day up as a bad go of it. Lestrade lays in the crumpled muss of his sheets with his eyes closed for a moment, just to make sure he's not going to toss up what little's in his stomach, then staggers out of bed and into as a hot a shower as he can coax from the pipes.

He's only fifteen minutes later getting to the Yard and, blessedly, the amount of sidelong smirks he gets are kept down to a minimum. Donovan waits a respectable half hour to come into his office with a handful of finished reports for closed cases. Lestrade has the oddest feeling he last saw the shirt she's wearing on Anderson; he can't rouse himself to care much beyond the apathetic thought that he hopes Donovan eventually ends up with someone who’s a bit less of an arse than Anderson.

"You all right, sir?" she asks, setting the files in a little plastic tray on the corner of his desk.

Lestrade nods. "Didn't sleep last night," he lies and he just catches her little smile before she forces it off her face.

"Of course," she says. "I'm going to head back to that double homicide from last night. See if I can't catch some more of the neighbors at home."

Lestrade nods his acknowledgement and waves her away. As his office door swings shut, he wishes fervently for a moment that he didn't exist in a bloody glass box. With slightly solider walls, he'd feel like less of a total failure to the noble tradition of police work by having a bit of a nap on his desk.

He settles for rummaging in his drawers for an old, half-full bottle of water that's a bit dented on the side. Lestrade is almost positive water can only get tepid or stale and can't actually go bad, so he unscrews the top and carefully drinks half of what's inside. It is, in fact, both tepid and stale and a bit brackish, but he feels better for it.

For a solid thirty minutes he works on the ever growing mountain of cases threatening to overtake his office. A good chunk of them have reached the point where there's not much to go on and not much hope of discovering something new in what they've got. Lestrade just prefers to give them one last close once over before he consigns them to the endless rows of unsolved cases in storage. It always feels like a bit of failure to tuck something away when it's not been brought to a proper conclusion.

The smaller amount of fresher cases he gathers together in a pile and sets on his lap while he sorts through the rest. In excavating through the layers of manila envelopes, he finds memos and hastily scrawled notes from as far back as eight months ago and make a private, fruitless vow that he'll keep his desk a bit tidier in the future.

When the call comes in just as he's hit his stride, it's for a body found not far from the pink lady victim by a constable saying it's bloody odd, he can't explain, they just need to get there.

*

Lestrade leans down to the inspect the splintered lock on the flat door, then looks to the grizzled landlord standing with his arms crossed over his chest and the victim's girlfriend, red-eyed and still shivering as she twists a battered tissue between her fingers. In his peripheral vision, he can see the victim's feet poking out from the kitchen in brightly colored purple socks with a bit of light gray pattern around the toes.

Anderson and his lot are busy taking pictures and dusting things and generally milling about looking terribly important in their zippered blue suits. Lestrade straightens and turns to the landlord and the girlfriend. "It was locked from the inside?" he asks again, possibly for the fourth or fifth time since he arrived at the flat.

The landlord nods. "I had to knock it in with m'shoulder."

"You don't have a spare key?"

"Gone missing a few days ago," the landlord confirms. "We was getting the locks changed this weekend."

The girlfriend lets out a choked sob and Lestrade winces. His least favorite part of the job is dealing with the family. It's never easy and he always walks away with the sense that he could have made it a bit better for them if he'd just done something a little different. "She wasn't answering your calls this morning?" Lestrade questions.

She nods and takes a slow, watery breath. "Annie wasn't feeling well last night, so we cut out of the concert we were at early and came back here. We got takeaway and watched a movie, then I left. She said she'd phone in the morning and let me know how she was. When I didn't hear anything and she didn't answer, I got worried, so I came down and I banged and banged on the door and she didn't answer. So I got Mr. Maclean and she didn't answer for him, so he knocked the bloody door in and we found her just as she is."

"Okay," Lestrade nods. "I'm going to step out, I'll be just a minute."

He gesture a detective to start taking down the landlord and the girlfriend's official statements an Lestrade moved down to the end of the hallway, where it's quieter and he's got a better chance of not being overheard. He fishes his mobile from his pocket and scrolls through the contacts to the s's.

The line connects on the fourth ring. "Sherlock, it's me," Lestrade says. "I've got something I want you to come in on."

*

Lestrade makes sure someone’s gone to drive the girlfriend back to her flat before Sherlock comes bounding into the room with John a more measured step behind. There's a good chance being deprived of whatever the young woman might know will send Sherlock into a minor snit, but Lestrade can't subject her to Sherlock on the same day she's lost her girlfriend. It's too unkind.

Anderson's positioned himself next to the body, mouth twisted into an obstinate frown as Sherlock capers about the room, periodically whipping out his little plastic magnifying glass while the rest of the police and forensics look on in reluctant interest. There are days Lestrade fantasizes about locking Anderson and Sherlock in a room together until they manage to work it out so they can at least be in the same place. The problem being he suspects it's more like Anderson would try to kill Sherlock and Sherlock would break all of Anderson's bones and nothing would be accomplished.

Thus is Lestrade's life.

Most distracting is the sense of Mycroft as a specter in the room, despite the fact that he and Sherlock don't look alike and don't particularly share many physical gestures or ticks. Lestrade shakes his head to dislodge the thought, for down that road lies snogging in cars and moral crisis interspersed with the warm, rushing, giddiness he felt when he stumbled out Mycroft's car at two in the bloody morning.

"You're in my way," Sherlock says thinly to Anderson, still acting the bodyguard over the body. Lestrade suppresses the urge to roll his eyes as he starts toward them, giving the rest of detectives a pointed look that spurs them all into at least appearing hard at work.

"Don't touch anything," Anderson orders, not moving. "You have a habit of contaminating my crime scenes."

Sherlock opens his mouth and John visibly braces himself for whatever it is Sherlock has a mind to say to Anderson about touching and contaminating and his crime scenes. Lestrade pushes a hand between them. "Knock it off." He looks at Anderson. "Let him have a go."

It looks like it's physically painful for Anderson to stalk away from the body. Sherlock kneels down over the young woman lain out on the kitchen tiles in battered sweats and a shirt with a ragged line of bisected flesh from ear to ear. Lestrade and John stand nearly shoulder to shoulder as Sherlock works, picking up each of her hands in turn, examining a bit of smudge on her sleeve, and running his hands through her hair.

The sudden cheery burst of Lestrade's mobile shocks him into actually jumping, and causes a split second of slightly hunted wariness to flash over John's face. Sherlock acts as though he hasn't heard anything and continues his inspection as Lestrade fumbles to answer his phone.

"Lestrade."

"I should hope," Mycroft says.

Lestrade nearly swallows his tongue and flicks an unconscionably guilty glance at Sherlock, though thankfully he has his back turned as he closely examines the victim's ear. Lestrade swallows with some difficulty and tries not to broadcast to anyone who might look that he's talking to the last person he unwisely snogged, but it's difficult. He can't shake the feeling that at any moment Sherlock's creepy psychic powers will kick in and he'll whirl around in accusation.

"Do you have a moment?" Mycroft asks.

He really, really doesn't, but the thought of just hanging up is enough for Lestrade to know he'll be useless for the rest of the night is he doesn't find a moment. He looks at Sherlock and at John, then sends a small prayer to the gods of police work that today isn't one of the days Sherlock feels particularly stroppy.

"Just a moment," Lestrade rushed out. He drops his phone to his shoulder. "Sherlock, I've got to step out. Don't do anything while I'm gone."

He's not sure Sherlock hears, but John nods which will do.

*

It's quiet and dim in the hallway, though Lestrade fancies he can hear the faint, low murmur of speculation carrying on behind the closed doors of the other flats. He makes his way to the top of the stairs, outside of what any of the peepholes could see. He spent a goodly chunk of the afternoon knocking on each door in turn and getting nothing much more than shock and horror and one very snide neighbor who alluded to the victim's "lifestyle" that Lestrade had to restrain himself from punching in the nose.

He leans against the wall and tucks his mobile back to his ear. The wallpaper is impressively ugly, done in patterns of orange and brown that look like misshapen pumpkins that have begun to rot. "I'm at a crime scene," he says to Mycroft. "I've only got a minute."

"My apologies," Mycroft says, though he doesn't sound surprised. Knowing Mycroft, Lestrade would put on him knowing perfectly well where Lestrade is. Motives beyond that he can't fathom and it tires him to try. "I merely wished a moment to express my appreciation for your recent companionship and to say that I will not take it amiss if you would rather not continue on."

It takes Lestrade a good half-minute to parse Mycroft's words and, when he does, he very nearly bursts out laughing twenty feet from a horrific crime scene. Which would surely lead to gossip about Detective Inspector Lestrade having reached the end of his rope.

He rubs his hand over his mouth as he swallows the helpless sound, then shoves his fingers roughly through his hair and thinks very fondly of a time when his personal life and his job never, ever intersected. Even if that was because he didn't much have a personal life to speak of. It was easier, to be sure. Lestrade has the vague thought of throttling Mycroft for starting it all up, but it's an apathetic notion.

"It's not that, really," Lestrade eventually managed. He glances to a very small window placed impractically high up on the stairwell wall. A muted beam of later afternoon light pours in through the dusty panes. "It's been a bit awhile, you know? And you're not much like anyone else I've ever taken up with."

Mycroft makes surprised little sound of amusement. "I don't doubt it."

"You're Sherlock bloody Holmes's bloody brother, after all. I don't suppose I should have expected anything else."

"There are many points at which my brother and I share a certain similarity," Mycroft says. "However, there are many points where we do not. That—" he pauses. "That you and I are speaking now is indication enough of that."

There is a single moment where Lestrade tries to picture snogging Sherlock in a car. It's alternately horrifying and hilarious imagining what contortion of disdain his features would twist themselves into at doing something so blatantly and illogically human. He shakes his head to the empty hallway, but he can feel the small seeds of a smile turning up the corners of his mouth.

"I'm adjusting to this," he says, "and I'd tell you if I'd had a change of heart."

"Good." Mycroft sounds just a touch soft for a single, fleeting moment, then he clears his throat expansively and Lestrade can very easily picture him straightening his shoulders. "Then I should desist in keeping you from your work."

"Yeah, I left Sherlock with a body and one of my Sergeants in charge that's a bit less than fond of him." Lestrade pushes away from the wall and starts down the hallway. "I'll speak to you later and see you this weekend."

"Indeed," Mycroft says. "Goodbye."

*

By Friday afternoon, Sherlock's worked out how the murder got into the apartment (he notices a bit of windowsill scraped clean of dust and the imprints from a ladder underneath her window) and the toxicology report's come back that she had nothing unusual in her system.

Lestrade likes having the how in his hands, but it still hasn't delivered a suspect and without a suspect there's not much else to be done other than keep at what their already doing. Donovan volunteers to go have another conversation with the girlfriend and Lestrade dispatches a handful of others to poke about at the victim's work and to speak to the friends the pair were with at the concert the night she died.

It's deeply aggravating. Lestrade pours over the files, mindful of Sherlock's reconstruction of what happened. He can picture it in his head easily enough, there's just no name or face to go on top of the vague form he has for the murderer.

Half an hour after he's supposed to be done for the week, he throws down his pen and slaps the folder shut. Lestrade knows perfectly well that he's gotten to the point where there's nothing more he can do without some additional bit of information to shift his perspective in another direction. Until that happens, he's just reading the same words until they begin to look like little meaningless squiggles dancing across the page.

He leaves a message for Donovan to get in contact if she gets anything interesting out of the girlfriend and knocks off. It takes a concerted effort not to snap at the smattering of people who wave as he goes, because it's certainly not their fault the victim was murdered and it's not their fault the pieces of the case stubbornly won't come together. He manages short waves and curt nods and thinks himself a minor saint for managing that.

Lestrade's halfway to his flat when Mycroft filters into his thought and his fingers start to itch for his mobile. In some fantastic alternate version of earth, he'd ask Mycroft to do whatever it is he does in his post as traffic minister and solve the case. He even considers for a moment, looking down at the number Mycroft programmed into his mobile.

But down that path lies madness. And Lestrade's job is difficult enough with one Holmes brother sticking his fingers in.

Still, Lestrade reasons there are other things Mycroft can do as his mobile dials. "Are you busy tonight?" he asks, clearing his throat when the line connects.

*

The bell rings at the same moment Lestrade has his mobile in hand, ready to call Mycroft back and explain that he'd changed his mind. After all, Mycroft is a very important person and Lestrade can't imagine what possessed him to assume he has a great deal of free time built into his day. And, of course, the sudden striking realization that Lestrade hasn't had someone in his flat in literal years.

And it's possible that as soon Lestrade walked into his flat, it seemed suddenly much smaller than when he'd left, bordering into cramped. The worn spots on the sofa looked shinier, the scuffs on the wall darker, and there was a sudden preponderance of unwashed dishes in the sink. When he opened the fridge, all he would was a few stale slices of bread and some embarrassingly old takeaway boxes.

As Lestrade opens the door, his hands are damp and scrubbed a raw pink from a hasting scouring of the dishes that are now drying in the little rack on the counter. He feels suddenly very underdressed in his favorite pair of old trousers and a wash faded jumper that happened to be clean.

It's very much like being seventeen again and inviting someone up into his bedroom for the first time.

"Hi," Lestrade says, opening the door.

"Hello," Mycroft replies smoothly, crossing the threshold as though Lestrade's telegraphing his misgivings like a badly thrown punch.

Mycroft's changed from his customary three piece suit into neat trousers and a crisp button down. Lestrade's perfectly serviceable powers of observation are keen enough to notice his leather shoes are high quality and expensive, but also rather scuffed and comfortably battered around the edges. He's even forgone the umbrella.

It's Mycroft dressed down. It's a bit odd.

"Come in," Lestrade says belatedly, a touch too loud and brash. He closes the door and sallies forward boldly into the kitchen, wiping his hands on his thighs of his trousers. "Thanks for coming. I haven't got much in house by way of eating, but there's a bit to drink—"

Mycroft's hand lights on his shoulder.

Lestrade didn't even hear Mycroft follow him and he jumps a little. When he turns, there Mycroft is. They're standing closer together than they ever have before, excepting the moment in the car. The single precise thought that flits through Lestrade's head is the realization that Mycroft is taller than he thought. Broader, too. More solidly built.

"I sense that you've had a very trying day," Mycroft says quietly.

The sound Lestrade makes is a mutated marriage of a derisive snort and a nervous chuckle. "How'd you work that out?"

Mycroft cocks his head. "Your gait is slightly off-center, indicating some amount of pain or stiffness in back, neck, and shoulders. Since it's slight, that would point to stress as the cause rather than injury. There are dark circles under your eyes, which, as you well know, indicates exhaustion. Perhaps several sleepless night in series. It's nearly three hours after your shift is meant to finish, but you've clearly arrived home very recently, from your keys and briefcase still being on the kitchen table. Strain, exhaustion, and my knowledge of your profession all point to you having spent the last several says working on a difficult case."

Lestrade blinks. "Spot on," he admits hollowly.

Very deliberately, Mycroft moves his hand from Lestrade's shoulder to cup his jaw. "And I am standing in your home, because you asked me to be here. I believe that easily interpreted as having no small significance."

Slowly, Lestrade exhales a long breath of the day's tamped down frustration. For a moment he closes his eyes, which Mycroft takes as concession or acquiescence. He slides the fingers of his opposite hand around Lestrade's neck and kneads his fingers into the tangled knots of muscle lurking beneath Lestrade's skin.

"It's been a bloody awful day," Lestrade sighs. "Bloody awful."

*

Mycroft says, "I believe the first order of business is takeaway, if you'll permit me to order."

Considering how well he's eaten when Mycroft's chosen, Lestrade has none and half an hour later they're eating sesame chicken from the container with chopsticks. It's possibly the best takeaway Lestrade can remember eating and having something warm in his stomach goes a long way toward easing back the repressive specter of unsolved murder.

And it helps make Mycroft seems a bit less like a vision or an aberration, and more like a human.

The quiet between them is companionable rather than uncomfortable as they sit side by side on the sofa, balancing containers on their knees and finding room for them on the coffee table between piles of work Lestrade's brought home from the office. Occasionally, when they reach for their drinks at the same time, their knuckles will bump together.

Mycroft finishes his last bite with a small, satisfied noise and turns to Lestrade, stretching an arm along the sofa. "So," he says, "would you like to talk about the case or would you prefer another topic?"

Lestrade shrugs. "There's not much to say about the case. We've got the how of it, it's just the who. And they neither are, honestly, a bit of use without the other. But your brother's on it, so with any luck it'll be no later than Tuesday before he's delivering some completely mad solution into my lap that turns out to be right."

"He can be useful in that way," Mycroft says with a little fond twist to his smirk.

There are a handful of beer cans scattered across the table and Lestrade feels the mellowness that comes from them, along with the growing awareness that Mycroft' arm is almost slung across his shoulders. They're almost snuggling, which is so utterly ridiculous as to be enjoyable. Lestrade feels pleasantly warm up and down his limbs, with a warm fire centered low in his gut.

"I don't suppose you're at liberty to talk about your day?"

"I could, but I would have to kill you."

Lestrade nods. "Bit of a damper, that."

Mycroft chuckles and, very suavely Lestrade must admit, drops his arm off the couch and around Lestrade. "In my experience, yes. It's really not generally as exciting as people tend to make it out to be."

"Mm. It's all programming traffic lights, isn't it. In that case, what else can we talk about? You know everything about me."

"I do?" Mycroft arches his brow.

It's Lestrade's turn to snort and he does so, throwing out a hand to encompass the whole of his flat and, by extension his existence. "I hope you don't think I'm not aware you probably ran every background check known to man on me. I don't think there's much I've ever done in my life that you can't have printed and delivered to your desk."

"Indeed," Mycroft says consideringly. His fingers absently play at Lestrade's jumper, as though he's not aware he's doing it. "In my experience, with certain exceptional people the distinction between paper and person is rather striking. You can never know someone from reading about them."

Lestrade turns his head to fact Mycroft. "That was a very you compliment. But thank you."

Color flushes high on Mycroft's cheeks. "I can rattle off a great deal of fact about you, but you still fascinate me. I wouldn't be here otherwise."

The room suddenly seems closer than it should. The walls have sunk in around them and Lestrade doesn't have anything else to focus on but Mycroft. Mycroft who is not at all what Lestrade ever would have pictured, who is not handsome in the usual sense, who will always be very much untouchable in important, private places.

But he's also on Lestrade's sofa and he came when Lestrade asked. There's something there and Lestrade had built a life and career out of noticing the things that are there.

"If I told you I don't need to talk and said I'd rather you take me to bed," Lestrade asks, "would you?"

Mycroft says easily and without hesitation, "Yes."

*

Lestrade's bed is meant for two people, because it's one of the few pieces of furniture that never drifted away or get replaced after his divorce. He has a moment of thinking there's probably something a bit odd about that, but he dismisses it. It's the only bed he's got, after all, and he's too old to be mucking about with sex on any other surfaces.

The last time he shagged anyone it was an awkward, alcohol fueled thing tinged with desperation and loneliness and somehow fucking didn't do a damn thing to make him feel less alone. He probably shouldn't be thinking about that either, as he strips down with Mycroft's steady gaze pressing between his shoulder blades, but. He can't pretend that things that have happened to him vanish just because it means something to be undressing in front of another person again.

Mycroft sits on the bottom of the bed and neatly unbuttons his shirt and unties his shoes. He's not at all what Lestrade might have wished for. Because Lestrade wasn't really expecting anything.

For their first kiss, Lestrade stands in his boxers in the bracket of Mycroft's be-trousered legs with his hands curled loosely around Mycroft's neck. His kisses are a little familiar, from the night in the car, but suddenly more deliberate than before. A bit more careful, but less hesitant. Mycroft runs his hands up and down Lestrade's flank and eventually catches with enough force to push the elastic waistband of his boxers down to puddle on the floor.

Neither of them are really young men. In fact, neither of them are even close to young men. The heady, frantic rush of days gone being absent is almost a relief. As though added gives them permission to take time. Mycroft undoes his trousers while they kiss and managed to push them away and slide back onto Lestrade's bed.

The sheets never got made in the morning and they're already rumpled. It doesn't feel slovenly so much as comfortable. It's possible Lestrade rather likes seeing Mycroft a bit undone from his usual consummate self-possession.

Laying in the tangle of sheets pressed against Mycroft, really looking at him, Lestrade says, "I still can't figure out how I got to this point."

"Stop thinking," Mycroft advises, planting his hand in the small of Lestrade's back and pushing them closer together.

It isn't earth-shattering. Lestrade's done enough in his life that just sex will always have a bit of a familiar feel to it. But it is good. It so fucking good to have someone else's hands on his hips and arms and cock. He's missed that part, the feel of someone else's breath against his cheek and the way someone else smells and little, gasped noises that are unfamiliar and sweet.

Lestrade appreciates the ease of being settled in his bones and appreciates how that lets him focus on Mycroft rather than himself. Mycroft is just as precise and exacting in bed as he is out of it, but there are moments when Lestrade can do something with his fingers or his tongue and wrest out a noise that's shocked. He likes that very much.

When they've finished, Lestrade catches his blanket with one hand and tosses it over them both. He settles on his side, one arm tucked beneath his pillow, and looks at Mycroft stretched out on the other side of the bed. "You can stay if you'd like," Lestrade says, then, "I would like it if you stayed."

Mycroft smile is a smirk, but a kind one. "Would you?"

"I would."

"Very well," Mycroft says. "Come here."

*

Lestrade wakes like he's rising up from beneath gray water, blinking to the cold, colorless light of the very early morning. He shifts and sighs softly in the back of his throat, instinctively turning back into the pocket of warmth he's got beneath the blankets.

"Inspector," someone says and it takes his fuzzy brain a few moments to identify the voice as Mycroft.

Then sudden bits and pieces of the night come filtering back in and he blinks a bit more awake. Mycroft's kneeling beside the bed, half-dressed in trousers and shirt with the cuffs still undone. His hair has a slightly rumpled tilt to it, though Lestrade's fairly sure he's at least tried to pat it down.

"Inspector," Lestrade echoes, voice rough and muddled around a yawn. "Didn't know you went in for that."

Mycroft smiles thinly. "I have many depths." Then his face falls slightly. "I must take off." He lifts his hand and the mobile held in his fingers. There are a great variety of very important looking lights blinking on the screen, each like a separate warning alarm for the end of the world.

"Duty calls," Lestrade says, shifting onto his back and easing up a bit. He glances at the clock and winces at the early hour. There's something ungodly about four in the morning. Too late to properly belong to the night and too early to be awake for the day.

"Duty calls," Mycroft agrees. "I didn't want you to wake to an empty bed."

Lestrade chuckles a little, suddenly self-conscious and too aware that he's only wearing boxers beneath the sheets and he's aching in pleasant ways that are nicely familiar. "Very gentlemanly. Go on, go save the world."

There's a moment where Mycroft looks almost indecisive, then he bends down and kisses Lestrade, for a moment that lasts long enough for Lestrade to pass from surprised to pleased. Then he straightens and slides on his coat and leaves, pausing in the door to dip his head in a nod.

Lestrade stays awake long enough to hear the front door open and close, then falls back asleep.

*

Lestrade wakes again to the sound of his mobile screeching insistently in his ear and rattling against his bedside table. Groaning into his pillow, Lestrade gropes until his fingers land on hard plastic, then yanks the bloody thing off the charger and sightlessly stabs at the buttons until the ringing stops and the call connects.

"The hell do you want?" he grumbles, reluctantly shifting onto his side. The ache that was pleasant with Mycroft beside his bed has settled more firmly to soreness in disused muscles.

"I've solved your case," Sherlock says impatiently.

"Which one?"

The noise Sherlock makes is deeply and thoroughly disgusted. "The murdered woman, Lestrade, the case we've both spent the last week attempting to solve."

Lestrade shakes his head and hauls himself up in bed, hunching forward with his weight resting on his elbows against his thighs. He won't acknowledge that his heart's picked up a bit of speed, because that still happens whenever Sherlock comes to him with a solution wrapped neatly in a logical bow. It doesn't matter how many cases he works. "Tell me."

"The victim wasn't always Annie Lannen," Sherlock says, "She used to be Dorothy Lannen, but she changed her name because of a boyfriend who turned stalker when she left him for a woman."

It takes Sherlock less than fifteen minutes to sketch out the details of the case, of a boyfriend the victim had as a teenager that turned possessive and violent and necessitated her changing her name and moving as far away as possible from home and how he tracked her down via a cousin in a minor government position with a talent for computers and getting access to things he shouldn't have access to.

"How are you figuring it's him?" Lestrade asks. "That's all coincidence."

"He's spent the last five years working in various groundskeeping positions," Sherlock rejoins. "Which gives him access to ladders to get to the second floor and experience getting into places when keys have been lost. As well as a variety of weapons that could easily cut a throat."

Lestrade shakes his head and smiles to himself. "All right, we'll bring him in for questioning."

*

When Lestrade gets to the Yard, he's barely through the door before Donovan's darting toward him, grinning wide with flushed cheeks. "He ran!" she says jubilantly, rubbing her hands together. "We got him," she assures Lestrade, catching the look of muted fury that springs up on his face. "Tackled into the gutter. But he ran and that's quite an admission, don't you think?"

Lestrade grins. "It's a bit suspicious, yes. Is Sherlock here?"

Donovan's face sours slightly and she jerks her chin toward Lestrade's office. "We locked him up in there with Doctor Watson. Said he couldn't talk to the suspect without you here to give special permission."

She looks a bit hopeful, like she's nurturing the fantasy that Lestrade will one day usher Sherlock away from all police work with a stern warning about interfering with police investigations. Sherlock's too damnably helpful for that to ever happen, but Lestrade can appreciate her position. "Thanks," he says. "I'll go and see to him."

Sherlock's pacing a path from the window to the wall in Lestrade' office, swirling quite dramatically so as to make his coat flare outward with every turn. John's in one of the chairs, watching Sherlock with somewhat muted wryness. They both look up when Lestrade pushes through the door and Sherlock turns, advancing like a lion toward a wounded gazelle.

"I can get him to confess quite faster than anyone else here," Sherlock says, then he pauses for a fraction of a moment and continues, "Are you wearing different cologne?"

The statement and question are so radically different and nonsensical in context that it takes Lestrade a moment to parse them separately and dredge up an answer. "I'm sure you can, but there are protocols. And no, I'm not and what does that have to do with anything?"

Sherlock narrows his eyes. "No reason," he says. "Regardless, protocol has a way of interfering dreadfully with the application of justice, don't you think? Give me ten minutes."

Lestrade is not a fool and he knows something happened he didn't quite catch. But he can agree that justice is likely the more pressing question and, in the end, they settle on Sherlock joining Lestrade in the interrogation room.

It, as John points out, takes Sherlock seven minutes and change to get the man to confess to the murder.

*

After the murderer's been arrested and dealt with, passing out of Lestrade's hands for the moment, he goes back to his office and calls the victim's girlfriend and tells her the news. He sits on the phone for fifteen minutes while she asks careful questions between moments of choked off sobs and accepts her thanks with the same discomfort that always comes when someone tells him he's done well. If he'd really done well, there'd have been no murder at all, but he does what he can.

He hangs up feeling drained, but quietly satisfied. He drops his mobile on his desk and drops his head into his hands. It's hard to ever feel really, genuinely victorious in his line of work.

It takes a curt knock on his door to jerk him out of it and he starts in surprise to see Sherlock standing on the other side of the glass, shifting impatiently. Frowning, Lestrade gestures him in and takes a moment to straighten up and gather himself. Another day, another battle and all that. In the morning he'll be back to thinking he has the most worthy job in the world.

"Can I help you?" Lestrade asks.

Sherlock takes up a position standing between the two chairs Lestrade keeps opposite his desk, hands pushed down in his pockets with the most obscure expression on his face Lestrade has ever seen.

For an ostentatiously long moment Sherlock just stares at Lestrade, like he's trying to dissect Lestrade from the outside in through sheer willpower. Lestrade forces himself not to wiggle uncomfortable in his chair, not to fidget with his jacket or his trousers, not to start tapping his fingers against the surface of his desk.

"You smell of my brother's cologne," Sherlock says eventually, voice flat and a bit strained. "Now, I've always assumed he sought you out the same as he did to John. My brother is not a fool and our association is an odd one. But that's hardly enough of a reason for you to smell of him."

Lestrade almost, almost, bursts into laughter.

Instead, feeling his ribs creak beneath the strain of not cackling at Sherlock, he leans back in his chair and folds his hands over his stomach. Now that he has a moment to think again, he can feel his body's aches intensified. There's a moment where he feels ridiculously like being a bastard about the whole thing, but he quashes it.

"So?" he says. "How's it your business?"

Sherlock makes a face as though he's swallowed a recalcitrant lemon. "It's my brother."

"Who isn't you," Lestrade counters with a tilt of his head. "And really, I think what you're not asking is whether you really want to know."

The noise Sherlock makes is violent and thwarted, but he doesn't move. Instead he stares at Lestrade with more emotions shifting across his face than Lestrade has ever seen come from Sherlock before in all the years they've been associates. Shock, yes, and the muted horror of picturing one’s sibling as anything other than a purely asexual being, and still the fine edge of curiosity. It's the sense, perhaps, that there is something very illogically human going on that Sherlock isn't picking up on.

"Most people would settle for, 'if you break his heart, I'll break your legs,' or the like," Lestrade suggests.

"I'm sure Mycroft could break your legs entirely of his own power," Sherlock snorts.

"True enough. Why do you care?"

"Because it's you!" Sherlock shouts suddenly, throwing his hands up in exasperation. "You are Lestrade and he is my brother and that is. That is not acceptable."

"You can sod off," Lestrade says cheerfully. He's never felt so in control when Sherlock clearly wasn't and he likes it a bit more than is probably strictly normal or healthy. "It's not your call, mate. You can try taking it up with him, but I don't think you'll get anywhere. And, in case it's what you're thinking, it's not about you. It might have been in the beginning, but it hasn’t been for a good while."

Sherlock's face shudders to a stop, like the information fed in has caused some critical overload of information or a logical short. Then he snaps his mouth together and settles into something that Lestrade thinks could very properly be called a sulk. "It's too odd to be allowed," he grumbles and Lestrade senses he's won. "And wait, in the beginning? How long has this been going on?"

*

It takes a good half hour of submitting somewhat gracefully to Sherlock's grilling before John comes wandering back with an eyebrow arched in question and a cup of coffee. Seeing the tableau arranged in front of him, he grabs Sherlock about the forearm and pulls him to his feet and, to his credit, only gapes for a moment when Sherlock makes his grand announcement.

"Mycroft, really?" John says. "He doesn't seem your type."

Lestrade shrugs. He feels like he ought to ask John whether he wants to be the pot or kettle, considering Sherlock, but. There are moments when discretion is the better part of valor. And John is the one who convinces Sherlock that he might direct his questions toward Mycroft instead of Lestrade, since his brother is perfectly willing to spar with him.

He waits until the sound of their voices fades away, then he picks up his mobile and scrolls through the phonebook. Three rings later, Mycroft says, "Hello?"

"Are you busy?"

"Not at the moment. Is everything all right?" His voice is carefully modulated and suddenly wonderfully familiar.

Lestrade lets his head fall back against his chair and smiles. "Oh, not as such. I just wanted to warn you that Sherlock might be around tonight."

END