“Is it?” John glanced out the window, then tipped a bit more vodka into his orange juice.
“Hey – don’t forget me.” Lestrade pushed his own nearly-empty glass across the table toward John. John obligingly filled it halfway.
“You’d better add more orange juice. That looks suspiciously pale.”
“We shouldn’t have to drink to get through an afternoon.” Greg picked up his glass and clinked it with John’s.
John looked out the window again. “They seem to be behaving themselves.”
Greg – resolutely – did not look out the window. He took a fortifying drink and repeated. “Your move.”
“Oh, right.” John pushed a pawn forward.
“You’re pants at this game,” Greg said, quickly capturing the pawn.
“I can’t believe we’re playing it when they’re both outside.”
Greg laughed. “Old habits,” he said.
“I also can’t believe we’re sneaking vodka,” John said with a grin. He eyed the water bottle on the table. Today it was filled with vodka, not water.
“We wouldn’t have to if you’d not fallen after our last pub night and broken your arm.”
“Ten years ago,” John complained. “Ten. I was in my fifties back then.”
John’s gaze drifted to the window again. The two heads, all he could see of Sherlock and Mycroft, bobbed together out near the hives.
“He’s fine, John. Your move.”
“Of course he’s fine.” John studied the board, then pushed another pawn forward.
“He’s looking better than he has in several years,” Greg continued.
“I shouldn’t be drinking,” John said. “He’s kept his end of the bargain.”
“A ridiculous one – you aren’t an alcoholic. You’ve never even been a heavy drinker.”
“It was the only way to get him to quit,” John sighed. “And even then, it was too late.”
“Not too late,” Greg reminded him. “Your move.”
John glanced at the board. He took more time with his move this time, and positioned a rook with care. He leaned back in his chair and watched his old friend consider his move. They’d been playing chess, he and Lestrade, for nearly thirty years. Back in the day, it had given them an excuse to break away from their partners and vent.
“Well, he had what – two years? – after he quit for good before he was diagnosed.”
“And it’s been three years since, John. Look at him. Missing most of a lung and still a windbag.”
“That deerstalker came in handy when he lost his hair,” Greg said.
John chuckled. He could chuckle now. Now that Sherlock’s hair was nearly as lustrous again as it had always been, even though it had come back in totally grey.
“He’s got an appointment in London next month for his yearly scans,” John said, watching Greg make his next move. “I expect good news again.”
“But you’re nervous as hell anyway,” Greg said. He waited for John to move again, then made his move. “Check.”
John moved his king forward diagonally. “I’m dying first, anyway. It’s already decided.”
“You can’t just decide those things,” Greg countered. “Besides, he’d die without you. Or he’d move in with us, which would be infinitely worse.” He moved a bishop. “Don’t die. Please.”
“Hey – he’s not such a bad roommate,” John protested. “You will have to get him his own refrigerator, though.”
“You do know I still remember finding you both handcuffed to your bed.” Greg spoke casually as he moved his queen. “Check.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” John scooted his king backward again.
Greg laughed. “And that buzzing. I’ll never forget that – ever.”
“Right. Just like you’ll never forget the red pants.”
Greg laughed. He lifted his glass and clinked it once more against John’s. “To the good old days, John.”
They drank, and John looked out the window toward the hives again. “These are the good old days,” he said. “They’re good. And we’re old.”
“Why you insist on using these archaic racks….”
“If my racks offend you so much, you don’t have to help.”
“Of course I have to help. You’ve far too many hives for one person, and the production this year is over the top. You didn’t have to add so many honey supers – you’ll never be able to harvest all of this in time.”
“John can help me later this week. Once you take your boyfriend home and they stop pretending to play chess.”
“Oh – they actually play,” Mycroft said. “Though a trained monkey could beat John.”
“He had other strengths,” Sherlock said distractedly as he loosened a rack from the frame. “He’s remarkably good at fellatio.”
“For God’s sake, Sherlock, he’s sixty-eight and has had two knee replacements.”
“Is that how Lestrade gets out of it?” Sherlock said, smiling as he watched the queen moving about on the rack he’d pulled.
“You’re an idiot. And honestly, Sherlock, could you please call him Greg?”
“No.” Sherlock replaced the rack and started putting the hive back together, finishing off with the two small honey supers. He glanced back at the cottage, then quickly peeled off his gloves then rolled back his sleeves and pulled a nicotine patch off his arm. As they walked back to the shed, he took the lid off the top of a super on the end hive and dropped the used patch in it.
“What do you do when it’s full?” asked Mycroft, glancing in the top of the decoy hive. The compartment was half full of used nicotine patches and empty boxes. “And why do you feel you need to hide this habit from your husband? Nicotine is certainly addictive but there is no demonstrable link between nicotine patches and cancer.”
“You tell him that, then,” Sherlock said. He adjusted his sleeve and removed his hat, hanging it on a hook and placing the hive tool back on the work table.
“He worries too much,” Mycroft stated. He hung up his own netted hat, revealing a shiny pate with a rim of salt and pepper hair.
“He has a right to,” answered Sherlock. “I’ve given him nothing but trouble and heartache.”
“Trouble, yes.” Mycroft stepped out of his coverall and shook the wrinkles out of it before placing it on its hook. “Heartache – hardly. He owns your heart, Sherlock. He always has. And you his.”
Sherlock sighed. “Greg seems fond of you as well.”
Mycroft shook his head. “And has been for more than twenty five years. I don’t need your reassurances, Sherlock.”
“But I need yours?”
“John thinks he is dying first. But he’s wrong.”
Mycroft held the door open and followed Sherlock into the yard. “Is there something you’re not telling me?” he asked, a note of worry in his voice he wasn’t quite able to hide.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Mycroft,” Sherlock stated. “Neither one of us is in imminent danger of dying.” He paused, regarding his brother. “You’ll take care of him, won’t you? You and Greg?”
Mycroft blinked. He stared at his brother. “Greg?”
“Of course. Greg. Greg Lestrade. Come now, Mycroft, did you really think I didn’t know his name? It’s not been easy maintaining this charade for thirty years, and I’ve finally grown tired of it.”
“You’re a child, Sherlock.”
“So – will you?”
“Take care of John after your demise? Need you even ask? Do you think we moved to Sussex to help you care for the bees?”
“Sentiment, Mycroft,” said Sherlock. But he stopped, several paces away from the front door of the cottage, and extended his hand to his brother.
Mycroft stared at the proffered hand a long moment, then took it, wrapping his long fingers around the equally long ones of his brother.
“To what am I agreeing?” he asked quietly.
“To care for whoever remains behind,” Sherlock said. “To help John with the bees, or to make me eat every now and again, just as we will make sure you have someone to beat in a game of chess, or that Greg doesn’t drink before noon.”
“They’re in there drinking now, you realise,” said Mycroft. He shook Sherlock’s hand firmly, then released it.
“What we don’t know won’t hurt us,” Sherlock said. And he scratched at the spot on his arm where the nicotine patch had been, and went inside without another word.
The day was warm, the sky a deep blue, and before too long, both Mycroft and John had fallen asleep, Mycroft in his reclining lounge chair and John on the small outdoor sofa, feet propped up beside Sherlock’s on a low wicker table. From time to time, Mycroft would snort, though John’s breathing was even, his face relaxed.
“I saw you kiss Mycroft in the rain,” Sherlock said, looking steadily at Lestrade.
Greg raised his chin, stared at Sherlock.
“That day outside the hospital – my God, Sherlock, that was – that was thirty years ago.”
“You finally told us two years later.”
“We didn’t tell you. You walked in on us – and now would be a good time to add that we weren’t naked and there were no handcuffs or sex toys in the room.”
“A calculated move. By the time I surprised you in the act, your patterns were more than obvious. I knew exactly where I’d find you and what you’d be doing.”
“Though I admit the black stilettos were a bit of a surprise. And the fur coat.”
“Role playing, Sherlock. I’ve explained this before.”
“Right. But back to that kiss in the rain. It rather changed my life, and I thought you should know.”
Greg looked curious. “Go on.”
“Mycroft looked … happy. You looked happy. You kicked a puddle. You laughed. He laughed. I don’t think – no – I don’t think I’d ever seen him smile like that before. You kissed him on purpose. You didn’t have to pretend it was an accident.”
He stopped and looked at Greg, perhaps trying to assess if the man understood.
“You see, don’t you?” he asked. He didn’t wait for an answer. “I already had what I wanted – what I needed.” He looked at John, and a fleeting smile danced on his lips. “But I’d never kissed him in the rain.”
“And now I have. The next time we were caught in the rain, I stopped in the middle of the street and kissed him. We were almost hit by a cab, and he called me an idiot, and I stepped in a puddle and ruined my shoes, but then he pushed me against the wall outside of Tesco’s and gave me a proper snog.”
Greg smiled. “Glad we taught you something, then.”
“Seeing you and Mycroft bewildered me, of course,” Sherlock added. “And I had to question your sanity at choosing to inhabit Mycroft’s goldfish bowl.”
“Do keep up, Greg. Goldfish bowl.”
“Right.” Greg glanced at Mycroft, obviously hoping he’d wake up and save him.
“When I got sick – we were walking together back from the oncologist’s, and it was before we knew the severity of the disease, and the prognosis. It started to rain, a regular downpour, and John tried to pull me into a boutique we were passing, but I planted my feet and refused to go in. So he went in without me – stubborn idiot – and we had a regular staring match through that store window. And I must have looked pathetic, soaking wet and shivering, because finally he just gave up and came out to the street and I kissed him right there in the pouring rain, and when we walked away, I kicked at the puddles and ruined my shoes and got mud on my coat.”
“You’re an idiot,” said John, not opening his eyes, but fumbling for Sherlock’s hand and squeezing it.
“I knew you were awake,” claimed Sherlock.
“Is that why you didn’t tell Greg about the fabulous blow job I gave you when we got home?”
“Of course. He’s still traumatised by the handcuffs and vibrating butt plug.”’
“I’m still traumatised by that one,” muttered John.
And Sherlock smirked at Greg, and stood, and, without another word, wandered off to take another look at the hives.