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Out of the Mouths of Babes...

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Mycroft Holmes was having a bad day.

Strike that. He was having a very bad day that was threatening to turn into one of his worst days in recent memory that did not directly involve torture or the painful inclusion of any member of his family.... which amounted to about the same thing more times than it did not.

Anthea had spotted the warning signs after it took him 6 seconds to correct a minor mistake in a trade discussion with the Yoruban consul, though she'd been on high alert for the past few days, ever since he'd consistently been 'too rushed' to eat breakfast and lunch had been a pot of Earl Grey and 4 bites of salad. The transfer of completed items from inbox to outbox was made in swift silence that could've stood in for a starched collar it was so stiff. He was, in a word, miserable.

It could not continue.

Just past 4, she forcibly ejected him from the Thames House offices with strict instruction he was not to return before 9 the following morning, informing him that she had also implemented the limiting protocols on his home laptop, which would only allow an hour's work at a time and lock him out for the night at 11.

"Might I suggest... a walk, sir?" He blinked at the unexpected suggestion, looking a bit like a startled owl, and rather adorable as he did so. "The afternoon is shaping up to be rather lovely, and a stroll along the square would enable you to stretch your legs, perhaps take yourself by the booksellers you favour?" Despite the gentle tone, he saw the futility in arguing with his eminently capable PA.

By half 4 he was outside, perpetual brolly in a death squeeze, overcoat and briefcase safe in the locked backseat of the towncar that would collect him in an hour. In a concession to the cradling warmth of the afternoon (which was indeed shaping up to be rather lovely) he loosened then removed his tie, popping the top button and drawing a deep cleansing breath of sweetened air into his lungs.

Damnation. He was feeling incrementally better, sunshine warm on his shoulders, stresses falling off him in jaggedy bits like litter to be discarded behind and forgotten with every step. Before he knew it, his feet had carried him to his favourite bookseller off St. James' just down from Lock & Co., round the corner from Berry Bros. & Rudd. There was a small cluster of chairs in the back and a couch that could only be described as squashy, constantly beckoning select purchasers of the antiquarian purveyor's to settle in and relax with their new acquisitions. Mycroft and a few other special customers could even be plied with cups of fragrant tea and a plate of biscuits or small cakes made by Arturo's wife, persuading them to linger.

Today he was certainly inclined to do so, minus the baked goods. Arturo spotted him almost as soon as he was in the door, indicating with a quick dip of his chin that the books Mycroft had ordered had arrived and he would hold onto them until Mycroft was ready to collect them with his purchases at the end of his stay. The man was a wizard of succinct nonverbal communication.

Jules Verne and a compendium of Edgar Rice Burroughs were already in his things, but he found himself wandering to a different section, one he rarely visited. Anthea had exceeded her already stellar performance level for him today, and he was certainly intelligent enough to recognise when acknowledgement above and beyond was called for. His PA had a beautiful collection of copies of Jane Eyre and a fondness for L.M. Montgomery, and Arturo often had singular editions of such classics. He spotted a particularly alluring copy of Kilmeny of the Orchard on a high shelf and took a well-balanced step onto the low stool at the corner, using his umbrella as a convenient counterweight. His fingers were just brushing against the spine when a voice near his knee caught his ear.

"Excuse me."

Directing his attention down, Mycroft spotted a small girl in a grey dress looking up at him. Her eyes were large pools of cerulean, some hidden light in them balancing an otherwise serious expression. Her chin-length hair was a rich auburn - almost a match for his own natural shade - and there was a charming cluster of freckles that swept from her forehead down across the bridge of her nose over the apple of one cheek like a galaxy. Some strange flash in his mind compared them, showing him the tableau they presented from a far angle, and there was a little twinge in the vicinity of his chest at the realisation they could pass for related.

To anyone wholly unfamiliar with his impressive organic antisociality, they might even be mistaken for father and daughter.

Potentially alarming acrobatics of his cardiac region aside, the young lady obviously required something from him, and every second he delayed in responding was pushing him into 'unforgivably rude' territory.

"Yes, miss?"

"Sorry to bother you, but could you fetch me that copy of Chronicles of Narnia?" She pointed at a stamped leather binding just down and to the right of the book he wanted for Anthea. "Your arms are much longer than mine, and you're already within reach. The only other options are Mr. Arturo or the ladder at the far end, but Mr. Arturo is busy with a customer and Daddy said I am 'categorically not allowed on anything taller than I am' for at least a month."

There was a story there, one he found himself almost anxious to hear if told in that clear quiet voice by a child who had not taken it into her head to run screaming at the sight of him. Though it begged the question where her 'Daddy' was and why he was not on hand to help. But Mycroft was nothing if not a gentleman, and here was a lady in need, and he was already within reach. He collected the tome she'd requested and handed it carefully down to her waiting hands. She gathered it to her chest like a treasure and made no move to disappear as he stretched up once more to retrieve Anthea's present before slowly stepping back to terra firma. The young lady remained in his orbit as he set the book with his other things and moved toward the squashy sofa he favoured, and hopped up to settle down at one end, ankles crossed and feet clad in small sensible leather boots swinging a few inches off the hardwood.

Hands freezing over the buttons on his suit jacket, Mycroft looked at the girl a cushion-length away, then around the visible areas of the shop hoping to spot a searching parent. There was none to be seen. The few customers buzzing about paid them no heed. Uncertain of how to proceed with his unanticipated company, Mycroft elected to go ahead as he might have without her here. He removed his jacket, folding it carefully to lay over the arm of a nearby chair, where his umbrella also waited, supported but still at hand.

Arturo's lone assistant brought over a tray containing a Wedgwood pot, two cups and a plate of lemon creme biscuits. Setting it down with a fond smile, he removed himself again before Mycroft could formulate a single word in reply. He desperately wanted a cup of tea, the bracing British standard, but there was still a young lady in his midst, currently alone and directing her laser-sight attention onto him.

"Was there... something else you required, mademoiselle?"

She offered him a smile. "A cup of tea would be lovely, thank you. If you don't mind pouring for me?" Her eyes were warm but steady in their contemplation of him, and he found himself drinking in the details of her face, finding an oddly familiar thread in her features that he could not trace to its origin.

"Not at all, though I don't often take tea with people whom I do not know." And nor should you went unsaid, though heavily implied.

"I'm Georgina, but my friends call me Georgie. In fact nearly everyone does, except Daddy, because he has a special name for me unless I'm in trouble. And you are?" she asked, extending a hand. Mycroft took it a bit awkwardly, enveloping her small hand in his own long fingered grip and giving it a polite shake before releasing her.

"M... Mycroft," he decided. Though nearly everyone calls me Mr. Holmes. Because I don't have friends. "Very pleased to meet you, Miss Georgie. And if I may commend you on not including your surname in the introduction to a stranger. It is a wise move."

"Thank you, Mycroft. Daddy said something like that, but he also says friends should know your first name. The last is only needed if it's useful."

"Hmm. Sound advice."

Mycroft's last name was almost always useful, regardless of situation or company. So few people had cause to use his given name, let alone leave to do so, that he almost forgot the sound of it in anyone's voice except his brother's.

Though there had been the rare instance when Lestrade had slipped up, that rich warm voice forming the otherwise uninteresting syllables of his name giving him a rare and cherished memory to savor like a fine Bordeaux... At any time other than the present.

Manners and social navigation were second nature to him after all, as comfortable as any bespoke suit, and he settled into the role of host with a soft squaring of his shoulders. Checking the pot's contents and preparing a cup and saucer, he examined his companion a bit more as she returned her attention to her book, trying and failing not to dissect her at least a bit.

9, perhaps 10. Intelligent, a year ahead in school. Social and outgoing, friendly though prudent in her selection of additions to her inner circle. Parents divorced. Close to her father, less so to her mother. Imaginative. Chronic reader. 2 pets, small - rabbit and hamster, unless it was a guinea pig, kept at her mother's. Precociousness and memory could lend themselves handily to acting if she chose it as a pursuit. She will be devastating when she gets older.

Her costume was slightly fantastical- a dress of cool slate grey linen shot through with silver threads and embroidered in silver leaves and vines. The ankle-length skirt was full enough to swirl when she walked and the bell sleeves tapered to fine hanging points 6 inches under her wrists, giving it a Renaissance flavour that would not be out of place in the court of Cair Paravel.

He said as much as he poured her a cup of fragrant chamomile, doctoring it with a generous spoonful of honey and setting a few biscuits on the saucer before he handed it over. She carefully set her book aside to claim her treat, a rather adorable blush creeping in at the literary compliment as she thanked him and waited for her tea to cool.

"May I inquire where your parents are? Surely you're not here alone," Mycroft asked as he prepared a cup for himself, staring longingly at the biscuits a moment before leaving them where they were to settle back into the cosy corner, crossing one leg over the other as he did so.

"Only temporarily. Daddy dropped me off so I could select a reward for myself while he parked the car. Not counting the bookshelf incident, I've been very good and I like having things I can read at Daddy's. Mummy says I shouldn't be such a bookworm and start "engaging" with the real world, but I think it just makes her bothered that I don't want to learn about makeup and nice clothes. I mean, I like clothes, but I have my own style, and I think I agree with Daddy that I'm too young for makeup. He'll be by shortly. You should have a biscuit," she concluded, taking a nibble of one.

He was a bit thrown by the non-sequitur, having been caught in some bizarre contemplation of her wearing makeup or clothing others might deem 'fashionable.' It would take away her vulnerability. The costume she currently wore suited her immensely, and he lost another few moments as a wild hare of fancy ran through the fields of his imagination, screaming that his tailor would adore creating such things for a charming young lady such as her, and wouldn't she look precious in a mini tailored suit?

He drowned the thought in a sip of still-too-hot tea, turning the wince into a thin smile. "No. Thank you. I'm... most content."

"Mycroft..." She blew over the top of her tea, head inclining a few degrees to the right. "I'm not sure I believe that. You keep looking at them like you really want one, and you're a grownup, so there's no one to tell you you'll spoil your supper." She took a cautious sip and smiled, then carefully set her cup and saucer aside on the couch, leaned forward and picked up the plate of biscuits, offering it to the man at the other end of the sofa. "Have one."

Lord give me strength.

"No thank you, Georgie." His tone was gentle but firm, as was the hand he used to push the plate away.

"Why not?"

"Because I... am not hungry." His traitorous stomach chose that unfortunate moment to contradict him.

Georgie's brow slid into a silky little arch, though the smile on her face remained just as kind. "Care to pull the other one? It's got bells on it." His face displayed a bit of his surprise at the cheeky reply without his consent, and the girl offered a small shrug that didn't unsettle the plate still in her grip. "S'what Daddy says." She set the plate in the small field between them and retrieved her tea, cradling the cup in her palms as she took a sip. "Besides, who doesn't like lemon biscuits?"

"Sadly such savages do roam the planet." The tension seemed to ease a bit with the sound of her giggling at his jest, so he attempted a different tack. "However, you seem to like them rather a lot. Therefore it is only right you should enjoy them, as long as you won't spoil your supper."

Small humans should not sigh. The implications of such noise were far too effecting.

"If you won't have one, you should at least tell me the reason why. If we're meant to be friends, we should be honest with one another." 

"Georgie..." Mycroft's eyes rolled in a circuit of fond exasperation. Are you certain you're only 9 and not secretly a 36 year old MI5 analyst? ... Wait. 'If we're meant to be friends...'  Are we meant to be friends? He considered it, not remotely hating the idea.

To even potentially become friends with a 9 year old fantasist bookworm was not the least conventional idea he'd ever entertained, nor would it be the most unusual alliance he'd ever formed. Alright. Drawing in a deep breath, Mycroft exhaled slowly to blow out the butterflies, and took a sip of his tea to avoid her gaze.

"Very well. If you insist on an answer, it is because I'm dieting." His admission was met with silence. He chanced a glance up and spotted a look on her face that practically demanded to know why he would ever do such a silly thing. "I have supreme faith in your intelligence that you know what that means."

"Of course. Mummy's always on some diet or another, trying to get into a dress or pair of jeans she thinks a man will like. But I think she's quite pretty the way she is. She's not fat or anything. And neither are you, so you should have a biscuit if you want one." Mycroft's sip of tea nearly spluttered across the floor when his petite companion's conclusion reached his consciousness. "Are you alright?"

"Y-yes," he managed, mopping at his mouth with a napkin. "Ahem. It's nice you think that about your mother, as well you should. But I am a different matter. And a grown-up besides. No one to tell me things, remember?" Except my infernal brother and his unerring observations and inability to keep a comment to himself. "Therefore, it is my job to know what my body does and does not need. And at the moment, I do not need biscuits."

"But you want them."

Yes.

"No."

"Friends are meant to be honest, Mycroft. Remember?" The child was a bloody polygraph in playclothes. He narrowly resisted the urge to roll his eyes once more.

"You and I are not alike. I am older, though I will not claim to be wiser. When you are older, Georgie, you will understand that just because you want something does not mean you need it. Much in the way that one may need something and know they cannot have it."

It had been spoken without cruelty or an increase in volume, if laced with notable sadness, but he was left uncertain if he'd said too much or gone too far. She was a child, after all, and an exceptionally bright and precocious one. The fact he'd devolved to stress eating after the business with China and the American trade conferences was not her fault. The fact that he'd let 4 separate chances to spend some time in the company of a certain delectable DI go by and then drowned his disappointment in Scotch and black forest gateau was not her fault either. And the fact that he'd gained nearly a stone in the past fortnight as a result was resolutely no one's fault but his own.

Most of the weight had gone to his tummy, though his tailoring did him proud, holding him in and smoothing him down and making him look almost normal. His face was a little more filled out, but he hadn't gone thick in the neck as of yet, nor were his fingers pudgy sausages. And his power at Whitehall was such that anyone catching sight of him outside the 'kind' dim lighting of his offices knew to keep their opinions to themselves. Even Anthea hadn't said anything, though surely she must've noticed the change. But it didn't matter. All he had to do was persevere, avoiding sweets and Sherlock and unnecessary reflective surfaces like the Devil's plague until the treadmill and sensible meals and conditioned privation took their collective tolls and he was less again, once more himself.

A gentle pressure on his shirtsleeve jolted him from the morose reverie. He looked down to see that Georgie had laid a hand, soft as a kitten's paw, over the fabric on his forearm.

"Friends make friends feel better, best they can. So here's what Daddy always tells me: don't let anyone ever make you feel like you don't deserve something you want." The child was entirely too perceptive, if a little simplistic in her reasoning. "Of course, there are rules and exceptions to that, like if it breaks a law or hurts anyone, but honestly Mycroft, I don't think you having a biscuit will hurt anything."

Except my waistline and meager progress back away from the ledge of disgusting corpulence on which I frequently find myself hovering.

"And you don't need a diet. You're adorable, no matter what your brother says."

Outside of classic American cinematic offerings, he had never before experienced a doubletake. His neck whipped up and twisted so fast it cracked, and his eyes threatened to pop clean out of his skull.

"I- you- how- I beg your pardon?"

"Your brother. The funny detective in the long coat, with the little friend in the jumpers? Daddy says he's mean to you. Actually, Daddy says he's mean to everyone and would probably be mean to me if we met but I shouldn't take offense and am allowed to tell him off for being a snarky brat if he was and I wanted to. But I don't like being mean even if someone was mean to me first, so I would probably just ask him nicely to be nicer and leave it at that."

Georgie? His darling new little friend. Knew about Sherlock? The fact aside that nearly everyone in London and the greater UK knew about his brother, it didn't make sense that this girl - who by her own admission hadn't met Sherlock - should know about him.

"Sherl... But... how?" There was a question going unasked here and something in him was whimpering at the prospect of forming the words to ask it and then forcing them past his lips.

"Daddy talks about him sometimes. It's to do with his work. He really cares for him, even though when he's had a really bad day he calls him a lot of names that I'm not allowed to use yet. And the stress makes him smoke too which I don't like. But Daddy says your brother's mean to you sometimes and calls you names too and it can make you sad, even though it's a pot of... other things I'm not allowed to say yet. But I don't want you to be sad, Mycroft. You should be happy." She paused and took a final sip of her tea, draining the cup. Mycroft filled it on autopilot, amazed at the lingering warmth to be found in the ceramic under his fingers. Her gaze did not immediately return to his.

"I'm... sorry I didn't tell you I knew who you were. I didn't when I asked you for the book, I just thought you were nice then. But when you said your name... I knew. Daddy talks about you too. Says he wishes you were happy 'cause you deserve to be, and you should get three weeks in the Caribbean every year for all you do, for us and the country and your brother. Now I've met you, I think I have to agree."

"Georgie..." She'd been looking at him for the space of the past few sentences, but Mycroft had to screw up his courage to look back. "Friends should be honest, right?" She nodded, smile bright, auburn tresses swinging as a streak of late afternoon sunshine picked out the copper in her hair. "What... else... does your Daddy say about me?"

That little blush she'd had earlier bloomed anew. Oh, Lord. I will not survive this.

"Well... if you're Mycroft Holmes - and I could've likely guessed just from his description but the name was a nice clue - then you're the one. The posh ginger in the posh suit with the brolly and the sad eyes, and you've got a brilliant brother who's mad as a balloon but cruel sometimes and makes you sad. Daddy would rather see you happy, and I think he likes you rather a lot because he's always saying that you're the most beautiful man in the whole world." Blue eyes dropped to her half-empty teacup, and her head tilted a little ways to the left, a smile curving her mouth. "I think he is, but he says that's just loyalty."

The thread of familiarity he'd noted earlier pulled tight, shivering momentarily before settling into place. The tapestry was complete, the image revealed. He'd seen that smile before, been surprised by the same warmth bubbling up inside his chest when it was turned his way. She must've inherited her eyes from her mother, but the nose was all her father's. And from the far recess of his mind came an echo, bouncing off the walls of his memory, tapping his shoulder gently to gain his attention. 'Easy to remember. The L stands for loyalty.'

Oh, no. 

"Georgie, who-"

"Lucybear! Where's my girl?" Even filtered through the high stacks, the voice was all too recognizable. Georgie's eyes went impossibly wide with delight and she set her plate aside as she turned to call into the store.

"Daddy!"

Oh if ever God was merciful...

In the space between two heartbeats, Gregory Lestrade appeared in the gap between the shelves that formed the entryway to this half-hidden oasis of solitude, grinning ear to ear as his daughter hopped onto the low table and vaulted into his arms.

"There's my princess!" he declared, spinning the giggling creature in his arms until she squealed with glee, then peppering her face with noisy teasing kisses. "Thought I was gonna have to call Sal and send out a search party! What were y'doing back here all by y-" His eye landed on the other occupant of the space, going wide and dark as the smile dropped off his face like a suicide. "Mycroft. What're you- I mean, Mr. Holmes, sir. What a surprise. How're you?" He let Georgie's feet touch down and tucked her into his side, half-shielding her.

For a man so typically in command of every nuance in his expression, Mycroft Holmes had not the first blinking notion of what his face was doing right now. He scrambled with as much elegant speed as one could muster in such a situation, retrieved his coat and had the buttons half done up before he could bring himself to properly look at the pair still blocking off his only means of escape. Every similarity, every genetic echo screamed in his mind, and he was helpless to stop himself noting that Lestrade had gotten off work early, changed his jacket but not his shoes, smoked 4 cigarettes today and not eaten since the egg & cress he'd had for lunch after politely giving up the last tomato and prawn.

His umbrella was in his hand before he realised he'd reached for it, knuckles nearly white around the handle.

"Quite well, Inspector. Thank you. Your charming offspring was nice enough to keep me company, though the daughter of an officer ought probably know better than to keep company with strangers." His mask hadn't quite settled fully when he gave the little Lady Lestrade a final glance, the quirk of one corner of his mouth not yet a wry twist. "Even strangers who leave as friends." Her hand came out in his direction as he moved, and he caught it lightly in his own, inclining to press a gentle kiss to the back before releasing it again. "Again, it was a great pleasure meeting you, Miss Georgie. Thank you for your many kindnesses." As he straightened to a rigid posture, the mask sealed itself into place. "Alas, I must take my leave. If you'll excuse me."

It was not an ill-mannered push into the other man's bubble so much as a presentation of himself as a moving object not to be disrupted in its course, but as Mycroft passed close enough to Lestrade to feel a faint warmth radiating from the man, the detective made no physical effort to stop him.

"Mycroft... wait." The elder Holmes did not. "Please-"

But Mycroft could not, would not stop or stay. He had to get out of here, before Georgie related their conversation to her father - heaven help him, Daddy Lestrade - and the man was forced to kill him out of basic self-preservation. She'd misunderstood, that had to be it. There was no way on Christ's green earth that a man like that, let alone that actual man, could harbor such feeling for... well, him.

Arturo had his things ready but Mycroft couldn't even spare the time to grab them. Slapping enough notes on the counter to cover his selections, Anthea's present, Georgie's reward, petrol and a thank you for the tea, he simply called a brief string of syllables in Italian to convey "Home. Delivery. Sorry. Theirs. Thanks!" and made it out the door with his skin intact.

That night, later than he'd thought, the front door alert pinged on his mobile. A few seconds later, the bell actually rung.

At least his day would end better than it had begun. He wasn't hopelessly intoxicated nor stuffed with calories. He hadn't indulged in anything other than comfortable clothing, a portion of rice and steamed vegetables, and a pot of herbal tea. He'd managed to be productive without burying himself in work, and the load was cleared well ahead of the lockout. And best of all, his books were finally here.

Tying the sash on his blue and grey pinstriped dressing gown over navy silk pajamas, he headed for the door, expecting Arturo or perhaps his assistant.

The quiet chorus of 'hello' that greeted him instead almost knocked him off his feet. Gregory Lestrade was here, holding a box of books and looking positively edible in dark jeans and a long-sleeved henley under a well-loved leather jacket. Georgie stood at his side, face wreathed in a hopeful smile, rainbow sneakers not quite clashing with the princess pjs she wore under a fluffy robe patterned in castles.

His only response was a Morse code of blinking as his brain struggled to make sense of the situation. The Lestrades were here. At his home. And he was in his pajamas. As was Georgie. And her Daddy thought he was the most beautiful man in the world.

That last bit did not matter. That last bit was not true.

What are you doing here? Why are wonderful people like you bothering with someone like me?

"W...would you like to come in?" Civility on pain of death. Georgie gave him a luminous grin and plucked her father's sleeve to drag him inside with her.

"Thank you very much, Mycroft. It's nice to see you again."

"And you, Miss Georgie." He turned his attention to her father after he'd closed the door. "Good evening, Detective Inspector."

"Mycroft..." Those espresso eyes were hitting him like a shot of whiskey. Those teeth sinking into that lush lower lip would be the death of him. "We're in your foyer. S'late. My daughter's in her pjs. Think you can call me Greg."

Oh.

"Very well... Gregory." The man's smile somehow increased in radiance, and as Mycroft dropped his gaze to shield his eyes from the blinding glow, he noticed the box the man still carried in his arms as though it were full of air instead of classic literature. "Oh! Please, put that down and... would you like to join me in the kitchen? I can make some... cocoa." Georgie cheered her approval, and Greg set the box down where Mycroft directed and followed him to the gleaming kitchen.

He left the overhead lights off, opting for the cosy glow of the small lamps and light over the stove as he got out a saucepan and filled it with milk. He ignored the sensual shedding of Gregory's leather jacket while his guests sat in his breakfast nook, and focused on the exact temperature for the milk to simmer and not scald, selecting Mexican vanilla and the premium dark Swiss cocoa to add when the time came. There was a steady flow of chatter behind him, punctuated by the occasional question he managed to answer on autopilot.

When all was ready, he opened a cabinet and chose two mugs he thought might be suitable - a pearly white bowl stamped with gold crowns, and a tall tapering mug in vibrant blue with a running fox motif. He had full tea sets, of course, but wished to lessen any lingering anxiety in the air. Anthea alone was aware of his hidden penchant for whimsical mugs, and was responsible for at least half his current collection. He was especially fond of the TARDIS she'd given him at Christmas.

Before he could close the cabinet, a hand reached in and drew out a third mug - a plain cherry red cylinder emblazoned with neat white letters reminding them to Keep Calm and Carry On - and set it down beside the other two. He looked over his shoulder and straight into the eyes of Gregory Lestrade. He became keenly aware of the urge to press back, feel the man against him, absorb his warmth, see if he could be wrapped up in his arms, let the man's gentle strength shore him up and hold his weight...

That thought was enough to send him a step to the side, though he needn't have bothered. Greg was settling back onto the padded bench at the table as though nothing had happened. Just as well. I'd have flattened the poor man, or at least cracked a rib.

Mycroft delivered the mugs and a small plate of peppermint chocolates on a tray that he slid to the table before settling in across from his company. Any hint of heft was safely out of view as he relaxed his posture to lean in a little, wrapping his hands around the mug of rich velvety cocoa he had no intention of actually consuming.

"So," Gregory ingeniously began, running a hand over the back of his neck.

"Yes," Mycroft supplied, equally unhelpful.

"Here we are! And here's to being... where we are, as we are, with who we are... here with." Unorthodox toast done, Georgie held up her mug, waited patiently for the grownups to do the same. Said grownups shared a look before obliging the young miss in their midst, Greg adding a hearty 'here here' to the clink of their mugs.

The Lestrades took small sips of their cocoa, followed by deep appreciative drinks taken through delighted smiles. Mycroft feigned a sip and set his mug down, wondering exactly what turns the conversation they seemed fated to have might take. He was temporarily saved by the soft tinkle of a bell and an imperiously quiet 'mrrrp' from the fluffball nuzzling his ankle.

Reaching down, he scooped the snowy queen of his castle into his arms, trying to convey without actually talking to her as he normally would that they had guests and to please behave. She pushed at his nose with her paw and tipped her head back over his arm to regard their company. Georgie's eyes lit up and she carefully licked away the chocolate moustache on her lip before reaching out a hand for the cat to sniff.

"She's beautiful, Mycroft! What's her name?" As the cat licked a fingertip and presented her chin for scratches, Mycroft hid a smile at her correct assessment of his ladyship's gender and prepared to blow her mind a little further.

"Jadis."

Georgie's eyes went as round as the perfect 'O' her mouth made. "The White Witch? False queen of Narnia?"

"Indeed, though she's made it thoroughly clear she is the true queen of my home." Jadis stretched, executed a clean rotation so her paws were tucked against his arms, pushed up once to nuzzle her human's chin, then settled back down so Georgie could continue lavishing her with her due of attention. Her father gave her a gentle correction about leaning so far across the table, but before he could slide out she'd ducked under and popped out the other side, settling next to Mycroft as soon as her mug had been moved within reach. Jadis oversaw the development with mute curiosity, then examined her human with an inquisitive mew as to how best to proceed, fully expecting him to answer as he always did. Gregory was attempting to hide his delighted smirk in his cocoa mug, not quite pulling it off. Hell with it. At this rate either I'll never see them again or they'll have assigned rooms by Monday. 

"Beg pardon, your ladyship, for my failing manners. This is Princess Georgie, though she occasionally travels incognita as Lucybear, named for her favourite Narnian monarch if I'm not mistaken. You have my leave to get better acquainted if you so desired."

Amber eyes ringed with pale jade swung from human to human, sedate in her selection as Bast. With a reassuring lick to the tip of Mycroft's nose, she evaporated into semisolid form and materialized in Georgie's lap, nosing around the folds of her robe for any tidbits of interest before settling where she could be petted while still allowing her new acolyte access to her drink.

"So now that her majesty is all set and dealt with, what's say we proceed to the elephant in the room?"

Mycroft blushed to the tips of his ears, aware of every flaming molecule he possessed.

"Daddy!" Her head rested against Mycroft's bicep in a show of supportive sympathy. "He didn't mean it like that."

"I... know."

"He just meant we should talk about why we're here besides bringing your books to you. That's not the reason but I wanted to say thank you for my book and that you have some really cool taste in literature and I wrote down a lot of the titles to read when I get a little older." She sipped at her cocoa, nudging the man at her side gently to follow her example in this. The small bit that hit his tongue tasted like a glop of wet ash but he made himself swallow it and brace for impact. "I told Daddy what I told you."

Oh God. The small glance he could manage in Lestrade's direction revealed a suppressed wince and suspiciously pink ears. Oh Georgie please. Friends do not torture friends.

"It might not have been my place to say it, but it is what he said and I know he meant it. And I know I'm not a grownup so I don't see things the way you do, but I think you should go out." Her father manfully kept the spray from his spluttering cough contained to a dribble down his chin and a spot on the tabletop, both easily relegated to a clean napkin that he twisted the end of round and round a broad knuckle.

"Georgie, your father may have said what he said" though I can still scarcely credit such a miraculous occurrence "but that does not necessarily mean he bears any romantic feeling for me. To demonstrate, I adore my cat and think her the loveliest of all the petulant monarchs to exist on the planet. I also find you a very lovely young lady and I cringe at the beauty you will hopefully wield with great mercy when you grow up. But that does not mean I would like to date either of you, or assume any role other than loving human and friend."

She absorbed this with the last of her cocoa, stroking little patterns in Jadis' fur as her father and her new friend did their damnedest not to look at one another.

"Alright. If you're sure. But I wouldn't mind. I think you'd be very cute together, like a pair of foxes. Your hair is almost the color of the foxes I saw in the park and I overheard my teacher telling the school secretary she thinks Daddy is a silver fox. Even though I don't think there are silver foxes, just white ones in the wintertime." Greg looked almost pained by this revelation, and Mycroft just barely managed to wrangle the smile threatening to split his face in two down to an acceptably normal smirk. "But you're both quite handsome in your own ways, and nice and smart, and we get along, and you both want each other to be happy, so couldn't you at least consider being happy together?"

The soft rumble as Greg cleared his throat left Mycroft imagining large dragons and summer storms. "We'll consider it, princess. I promise. Now why don't you take the cat and go...erm..." He faded a bit, unfamiliar with the layout of Mycroft's house and where his daughter might be safely allowed to roam. The elder Holmes didn't seem the secret sex dungeon sort (though very little surprised Greg about anyone after 2 decades on the job) and even if he were, he seemed the smart kind that would have an impenetrable lock engaged on the door.

"If you set her down, I'm sure her ladyship would be glad to lead you to her spot in the lounge. It's not quite her bedtime yet so she should know better than to lead you upstairs."

Georgie set the cat down and started to follow, then stopped, spun and threw her arms about Mycroft's neck, giving him a fond squeeze. Once the shock at the pleasantly unexpected contact wore off, he patted the arm atop his collarbone, allowing one arm to wrap around her back in return when she gave no sign of letting go.

"Promise you'll really consider it. Okay?" came the whispered request.

"Upon my honour, milady. I shall give it all due consideration." Even if the outcome is laughably assured to go against me. Satisfied with his vow, she bussed a small peck to his cheek, released him, gave her father similar affection, and scampered through the doorway after Jadis, who had patiently waited through the touch of human melodrama before hightailing it.

Greg ruffled his fingers through his hair, suddenly needing something to do with his hands besides run them all over the man sat opposite.

"So..." 

"Your daughter is... wonderful, Gregory." He fairly glowed at the praise of his offspring.

"Yeah, I know. Can be a handful sometimes but I love her more than anything." Swirling the half serving of cocoa that remained in his mug, the detective elected to be honest. Because that's what friends did. "Think you've got a new friend there." The small smile on the minor government official's face grew wider and warmer.

"I... should like that very much. So long as you did not mind."

Chance to spend some extra time with my two favourite people on the planet and get the British Government to keep my daughter safe? Where do I sign?

"Nah. She's a good judge of character when it comes to her friends. And she could do a lot worse than a nice smart person who just happens to 'occupy a minor role in the Government' couldn't she?" Their laughter blended smoothly like notes in an orchestra, and they managed eye contact through the grins.

"Indeed," Mycroft agreed, a playful little arch overtaking his right eyebrow. "Would you care for something a splash of something a bit more... grownup in your cocoa?"

"Genius suggestion." As Mycroft slipped to his pantry to retrieve a bottle of Highland scotch, he continued, letting his smile bleed through his tone. "Though one would have to be daft to expect anything less from a Holmes." The man in question experienced a brief stall on his way back that Lestrade chose not to point out as a generous finger of malt was added to his cooling cocoa. The mug was an inch from his lips before he noticed the bottle had gone from his mug to the table without a second stop. "You not having any?"

"No. I shan't finish the rest of the cocoa in any instance, and wasting scotch is a jailable offense in this house."

"You've had one sip of cocoa, gorgeous. I don't exactly see you driving under the influence." He reached for the bottle, only to have Mycroft's fingers bracelet his wrist with the speed of a viper on meth. Their eyes locked and he was instantly let go. "Mycroft? You okay?" He clearly was not, and the indefinable flash Greg had spotted before the gaze skittered away like a frightened deer felt like a small wound. He set the bottle down and his hand covered the one trying to retreat across the tabletop, light firm pressure, skin on skin. "Myc." The diminutive was a caress. "Look at me. Please."

It took visible effort for the man to comply with Greg's request. He might've been trembling. There was a faintly glittering sheen over those piercingly blue eyes that sent his heart lurching in his chest. 

"D'y'think, honestly, that you need to diet?" Mycroft's eyes dropped to their hands, still layered in the center of the table, and gave a single tight nod. "Sherlock been at you again?" Lips pursed before he shook in the negative. "Then what is it?"

"Despite what my brother says, you are far from a blind incompetent."

"Ta very much." His voice was still soft, still kind.

"Then look at me." Don't. "It shan't take long to deduce." And then you shall collect your daughter and leave me, as you should. As anyone would.

Greg took a slow contemplative drink of his doctored cocoa and gave the man a slow contemplative perusal. His fingers tightened just a fraction on the hand still caught beneath his own.

"And... exactly what is it I'm meant to be seeing when I look at you? Hmmm?" Besides a gorgeous posh boy lightyears outta my league, that is...

"Oh please!" Mycroft hissed, rolling his eyes as he reached the end of his tether. Yanking his hand away from the comforting hold, he stood and snapped on the overhead, fairly quivering in his agitation as he waited for Lestrade to stop blinking in the sudden light and look his fill. "As if it's not patently obvious."

"Apparently, to anyone who isn't a Holmes, it's not!" Greg retorted, pushing to his feet and into Mycroft's space. "Now what's bothering you? Use that great cracking brain of yours and just tell me so I can help!"

"You can't help! No one can, short of someone following me around and smacking unacceptable food and drink out of my greedy hands!" He turned on his heel, struggling to breathe, gathering the sides of the robe up again like armour and retying the sash so tightly it hurt. "I've been... so good for s-so long, and... the stress of the past month or so... I gained. I... increased. I hurled myself down the slippery slope of gastronomical temptation and... ugh. But I shall persevere. I shall rise above such earthly vices and once again prevail. I shall... once again be myself."

"Oh, Myc." Strong arms wrapped around him like tender vines, and a solid warmth molded itself to the lines of his back. The tip of a nose trailed over the edge of his collar, sending little shivers down his spine. He felt like he was melting, any ounce of strength he might've possessed to remove himself from this borrowed embrace bleeding out of his toes onto the tiled floor. A voice spoke very close to his ear. "You... are beautiful. You hear me? Georgie was right. I do say that about you, more'n I realised, but I do. More'n that, I mean it. You are one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, and it breaks my heart that you ever doubt that about yourself."

Mycroft let his brain masticate the words a while, searching for some hidden meaning he knew he wouldn't find. Gregory had always dealt honestly with him, even when he couldn't claim the same. Even if this still made no sense.

He laid trembling arms over the ones encircling him and pulled a little, sealing the embrace a bit tighter about himself like an impenetrable cloak. His head tipped back a little, resting on Lestrade's shoulder, and a sigh floated up towards the ceiling as the man pressed his stubbled cheek to Mycroft's own, nuzzling like a fox with its mate.

"You... think... I'm beautiful?" His voice was full of cautious wonder.

"Yes. I do." The pronouncement was punctuated with a line of little kisses up his jaw.

"You... truly don't mind my extra pounds?" He felt as much as heard the answering chuckle, relished the feel of it vibrating against and through him.

"Didn't even notice 'em, darlin'."

"But... I'm up nearly a full stone." A wrinkle of confusion furrowed between his brows. "How is that possible?"

"Didn't notice because there's nothing to notice, gorgeous. If you've honestly gained more than 5 pounds, I'll eat Sherlock's silly hat. And frankly both of you could do with a bit more flesh on those bones of yours, but that's probably a topic for another time. For now..." He turned Mycroft gently in his arms, pressing a kiss to the tip of his nose. "I will endeavor to leave you with no doubt of my sincerity..." Another kiss went to his cheek. "My honest affection..." A warm brush of lips smoothed over his forehead. "My fond regard..." The very corner of his mouth. "And my appreciation for the impressive aesthetic you present. From those gorgeous ginger curls and those eyes I could lose myself in, to this luscious backside of yours." He broke off his cataloging to slide an appreciative hand over one sculpted cheek and give an affectionate squeeze that made the other man press closer with an adorable squawk. "Down those unfairly long legs to the toes I'd love to see curled with pleasure." Given the way Mycroft suddenly flexed up an inch or two, he might have gotten a head start on that one. "And every last bit in between."

He stretched to the side. Grabbing the handle of his abandoned mug and tossing back the contents like a shot, he straightened and pressed his lips with firm resolution to Mycroft's. The mouth against his opened and Greg licked his way inside, reveling in the flavour profile presented by mixing cocoa and whisky with the incomparable taste of Mycroft Holmes. A small moan echoed, though he couldn't have said which of them had produced it.  As their tongues began to tangle and slide, Greg went to cup Mycroft's face - only to recall he was still holding his mug. He tried to find the table edge by memory, then feel, not wanting the mug to drop and shatter, but loath to break the kiss or open his eyes for something as unnecessary as kitchenware.

He was suddenly relieved of the ceramic in his hand and heard a decisive clunk as Mycroft unerringly found the table edge without parting from Greg by so much space as would let a breath between them. Thank God.

Eventually the need for air forced their lips apart, but they stayed close, foreheads resting together. Greg's arms were securely around Mycroft's waist, and the politician's fingers were toying with the buttons on the DI's shirt.

"Would you stay? The night? With me? We needn't... do anything, but I'd like to go to sleep knowing you're here, wake up with you. If you think you'll have time, I can make you and Georgie breakfast in the morning."

"Sounds... perfect," Greg breathed against the tantalising skin of Mycroft's neck, tasting the resultant shiver before pulling off in an attempt to behave. "As it happens, I've got a late start tomorrow, and she's got a teacher in-service at school, so we can hang out in the morning. Maybe meet you for lunch before I have to drop her off with her mother and head in." Mycroft's vote of approval for the plan was delivered in a sweetly demanding kiss. "Mmmm... okay. Let's go check on the princess and head to bed." Greg laced their fingers together and tugged him out of the kitchen, snapping off the lights and promising to take care of the dishes in the morning.

As Mycroft led him towards the stairs, they stopped in the downstairs lounge, using the buttery pool of light from a reading lamp to check on the happily dozing daughter of his soon-to-be bedfellow. and the cat curled contentedly on her chest.

"Seems a shame to wake her." Greg leaned in to sweep a fond hand over his daughter's hair, sparing a finger behind the ears of Jadis, who favoured him with a sleepy blink. "Almost tempted to leave her down here, but..."

"It's quite alright, Gregory." Mycroft pressed a small kiss to his temple and moved to collect his cat. "There are plenty of bedrooms upstairs." And Gregory's protective paternal nature would not allow him to rest easy so far from his child, even with the fortress-level security Mycroft's home possessed. He understood. It was perfectly alright.

Gathering his slumbering child, Greg followed Mycroft noiselessly up the stairs and down a wide carpeted hallway to a spare room 2 doors down from the master suite. Working in unrehearsed harmony, they removed her shoes and robe without disturbing her, tucked her in securely under the sedate blue covers, pressed gentle kisses to her forehead as a guard against bad dreams, and left a note where they could be found in the morning before relinquishing her to Jadis' watchful care.

Slipping into the master suite, a spare toothbrush was produced and they attended their oral hygiene side by side, smiling every time their eyes caught in the mirror. Greg opted to use the facilities one final time before bed. Mycroft was shedding his robe in preparation to slip under the covers when Greg's voice broke the peaceful stillness.

"So... one last thing. You got something I could sleep in?"

"Besides my arms, you mean?" The mischievous spark in Greg's eyes lit up the room.

"I mean, I'm good sleeping in those, yeah. But otherwise I'm down to my boxers and... just in case."

Mycroft let the effect Greg's regard for his daughter was having show on his face. "I have just the thing." Stepping to the armoire, he rooted in the bottom drawer and produced a pair of loose grey cotton sleep pants and a soft black cashmere blend tee. "The pants might be a touch long, but otherwise these should be quite comfortable."

Sneaking only a peek or two as Greg changed, Mycroft settled in on his side and waited for the pajama'd detective to join him before dousing the lights. They snuggled close, finding a mutually comfortable position and breathing a collective sigh of happy relief.

"G'night, gorgeous."

"Until the morning, my sweet."

****

In a flat across town, a lovely young woman sat on her couch, sipping tea from a Dalek-shaped mug and watching the screen of her laptop. She smiled as the alarm code was entered and the lights went out on her CCTV feed. She smiled at the heat signatures when she switched filters and feeds. The small warm blob in the third guest room seemed as peaceful as a small coral lump could appear to be. The two orange shapes in Mr. Holmes' bedroom, thought not so stationary as of yet, also seemed at ease.

The night was both a first and nothing really out of her ordinary. Ever since Lestrade first appeared on the scene, she'd been monitoring the situation. She knew of his daughter, adoring the little bookworm from afar, working a bit of magic here or there on her behalf like a distant fairy godmother. Good parking spots could always be found during Greg's weekends with his daughter, discounts not offered to most patrons of the cinema or museums she liked found their way onto bookings with Georgie's name on them, and her mother typically hit every red light and traffic snarl that could be orchestrated with a few strokes of the keyboard whenever she was trying to cut or butt into the DI's already precious visitation.

Then came the promise of a book as a reward for good behavior, excellent incentive and a mark of the insight Lestrade had into his uniquely wonderful child. After she heard that, it was the work of a few minutes over their next few encounters to slip Lestrade the name of the bookseller so dear to her employer. Neurolinguistic programming and the power of suggestion were weapons that rarely failed in her hands.

The day had arrived and Mr. Holmes (already so down on himself for the perceived sin of less than half a stone gain) had needed a firm hand to grant distraction - and a gentle nudge into the path of the more charming members of the Lestrade line. It occurred to her only after Mycroft had left his driver and started to walk that it might not actually be today. The stars might not align. Despite her best efforts Lestrade could get called back into work, or Georgie might find a book faster than expected, or Mr. Holmes might have nipped into Berry Bros. & Dunn first to check on the Madeira he'd ordered for the Spanish ambassador due in next week. Of course she could always work a little more magic another day, but something told her this would be the ideal, the one, the time that would make the universe bend to her will and finally bring these two dear men out of orbit and into a close encounter.

If the figures merging into each other's arms in bed as they kissed and subtly increased the shade of their indications were any indication, she'd been quite right. That it also meant her continued vigilance would not be required for the remainder of the evening was just icing on the proverbial pudding.

Closing the laptop with a grin she headed for bed, making a mental note to clear a space on her shelving unit tomorrow. She was very much looking forward to the book Mr. Holmes had selected for her.