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The Difference Between Misfortune and Calamity

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Mycroft Holmes was a self-possessed man. The type of man one would describe as reserved, composed, confident, and in control. And many people did. Clearly not his brother, who took great pleasure in ruffling the unruffleable, agitating the tranquil, disturbing the otherwise placid façade, and most of all, reminding him that a self-possessed man is still just that; a man.

Mycroft never wore humility well. And he never had the intention of learning how to do so. His leadership was calm and collected, a small misdirection here, a subtle redirection there, never claiming the credit, but always aware of the impact. So Mycroft wore competence like he wore his suits—neatly tailored, carefully selected, and perfectly coordinated. Flawless authority as a second skin that was equal measures reassuring and terrifying. Many who met Mycroft would assume he was heartless, ruthless, and fearless. Which was, of course, the way Mycroft wanted it. Though, it wasn’t exactly true.

Mycroft Holmes was, in fact, just a man. And as such, he had fears. Not many. But he did. He worried over the rogue element that was unpredictable and unforeseeable that brought with it chaos. He was, reluctantly, afraid for his brother, who seemed hell-bent on raging against the world. Though, oddly, his brother’s new partner was far more of a moderating influence than he could ever have predicted; see first concern. And more than anything, Mycroft Holmes was terrified of the Thames. Laugh all you want; he’ll see you drown in it.

When he’s feeling more philosophical about it, willing to explore the ebbs and flows of his fear, irrational as it may be, he might suggest that he’s aware of the root cause. It wasn’t water. Or even large bodies of water. He found swimming in the sea most refreshing. He found lakes, and particularly the large ones which abound in the Lake District, calming and meditative. Small brooks and streams were whimsically natural. Even the Seine, the Mississippi, the Moskav, the Nile, all impressively large, perhaps equally as filthy, and all together intimidating. Hell, on one particularly bad day, Mycroft had been thrown into the Bosporus; no one is allowed to talk about that. No. Mycroft was not afraid of water, or swimming, or rivers, or large bodies of water, or moving water. Mycroft Holmes was scared of the Thames.

And Mycroft had been scared of the Thames ever since he’d been young. Ever since he was eleven, and enjoying a family trip to London, and seeing the highlights from a riverboat cruise, and his four year-old brother had climbed the railing, and tumbled headfirst into the filthy, churning current. In a moment of pure panic, Mycroft had nearly leapt over the side after him. Thankfully, his yell of horror had brought people, and sensible ones who held him firmly on the deck as someone, much larger and stronger than he, managed to pull his brother to safety. Whether or not that was also the day Mycroft developed a rather strong preference for members of law enforcement remains up for debate. Though, never, ever in Mycroft’s presence.

Regardless, Mycroft never felt it necessary to repeat his brother’s mistake or mistakes. He could happily live his life without the fear or drama or rounds of antibiotics and simply know that the Thames was not to be trifled with. Still, it was years before Mycroft could look at the Thames without breaking into a cold sweat. Though, once living in London, Mycroft did force himself to do so and often. Confronting one’s fears was both necessary and excellent training. So Mycroft had stood on the roof of the Shard before it was completed and surveyed London from very, very high up. Mycroft learned how to assemble and disassemble all forms of firearms and use them, rather effectively, and how to be on the wrong end of one without crying. Mycroft once stayed awake for nearly seventy-two hours, not by choice, and certainly not by any legal method, and only hallucinated a little bit. Probably. Maybe. And at least once a month, Mycroft took a pleasant cup of tea in a keep cup, left his office, found an empty bench on the banks of the Thames, and calmly sipped his tea… Mostly calmly. Because tea was lovely. The Thames was not. And they somewhat balanced each other out.

And that was how it went. Mycroft aged. He gathered power slowly but surely, and most important subtly. And he moved out of the realm of standing on the edge of buildings and being tossed into the Panama Canal and knowing exactly how to pull the slide from a Glock while on the wrong end of the muzzle. Not that he forgot. It just became less and less necessary. But the Thames remained. Full and filthy and cutting through the centre of Mycroft’s city without remorse. So Mycroft continued to stare it down from a bench at riverside. With tea.

Except this time. This one time… The bench was occupied. His bench was occupied. Not occupied the way other benches were, with multiple people creating a mess with sandwiches and conversations on their mobiles. Just with a person. Sitting. On the edge, as if leaving the spare space for Mycroft to use. He could walk away and come back after lunch, or next week, or never. And that was a dangerous thought. Dismissing the need to confront it was as dangerous as the fear itself. So, Mycroft braced himself to face two fears at once: people and the Thames. Lovely. With a fortifying sigh, Mycroft gripped his tea and settled at the far end of the bench, glaring with all his strength at the unappealingly churning waters.

He stayed silent as long as he could, watching the smoke rings drift lazily towards the river. If he’d been down wind, Mycroft would have made sure his bench-mate was floating downstream. “Those things will kill you.”

The man startled, turned, and a toothy grin stretched slowly across his face in recognition. “Not today, they won’t.”

Well, he had opened communication. No use pretending otherwise. “What brings you here today, Detective Inspector?”

He took a long drag on his cigarette before offering a heavy sigh. “Could ask you the same question.”

Evasive? No. Conversational? Perhaps. “As I am not a Detective Inspector, that would be an odd question.”

Lestrade snorted and Mycroft felt the corner of his mouth twitch in response. “McGregor is up my arse about the Gibson case, The Ex apparently thinks I’ve robbed some of her CDs somehow in the past few days, and your brother…” He stubbed out the remains of his cigarette and waved a hand absently. “I’m sure you can imagine.”

Mycroft could imagine. If he wanted to. He did not. But he also didn’t need to, as he tended to keep a very close eye on his brother, and at the moment, he seemed to be on a manic tear of irritatingly legal destruction and frustratingly pointed verbal abuse. As quickly as his mind wandered down the horrifying path of his brother’s serious lack of manners, it circled back to the beginning of Lestrade’s complaint and did a few small, rapid calculations. “The Gibson case?”

“Ah, yeah, some city bloke ended up on the wrong end of a-”

Mycroft cleared his throat and effectively cut him off. “I am well aware of how Kevin Gibson met his end. I simply meant to enquire over the wisdom of assigning the case to you.”

“Oi,” Lestrade frowned. “I’m not as stupid as your brother pretends I am.”

Mycroft sighed patiently. “You mistake me. Adding the Gibson case to the small rash of assaults, the Davis murder, the arson two weeks ago, the Finnegan kidnapping, the non-suicide underground death, and the recently resurrected Kirkland cold-case, your workload is extensive. Which, incidentally, when you find my brother becoming far too much, as people are wont to do, do let me know. I can certainly point you in the correct direction and you may lay a rather well solved case at his feet purely out of spite.”

“I…” he closed his mouth with a huff. “How do you even know…”

“I assume that Gregson and Dimmock are equally burdened with a similar volume?” When Lestrade didn’t answer, Mycroft raised a brow. “I wonder why the Detective Chief Inspector felt this case belonged with you.”

After a long pause, he shrugged. “What can I say? I’m a work horse.” Mycroft found himself barely managing to keep back a smile. Lestrade settled back against the bench. “So. Mycroft not a Detective Inspector Holmes. What brings you here today?”

“I am simply here to watch the coming and the going of the tide.”

Lestrade grinned. “Horseshit.”

 

~

 

As much as Mycroft hated the Thames, he grew to find it far more palatable with the right company. And more often than not, his cup of tea and river loathing was tempered by conversation with the Detective Inspector. And the more frequent their meetings, the more frequent the interruptions.

Once, it was a call from The Ex, which led Mycroft down a rabbit hole of not expressly legal data mining. He was not entirely pleased with what he learned, but he was quite adept at vague threats, and the harassment stopped.

Another time, it was work, for both of them, for not completely unrelated reasons. That event kept both of them in work for three days straight and by the time the dust settled, Mycroft was nearly certainly hallucinating.

A third, and unfortunately memorable time, Mycroft’s own brother interrupted their bench session with an angry rant about work, and needing it, idiocy, the general populace, the lack of murderers in the city, and the Detective Inspector’s apparent belligerence in not bothering to involve him in cases. It later was divulged that his partner was away at a medical conference for the week, and his brother was no longer to be left to his own devices. But that only followed the wholly unnecessary divulgence of Mycroft’s purpose on the bench in the first place.

When the dust settled, Mycroft was sitting perfectly upright, and yet staring morosely into the remnants of his tea, and Lestrade was tapping out a fresh cigarette with a sigh. “No offense, but your brother is a right twat.”

“None taken,” Mycroft answered reflexively.

“So… the Thames?”

“Please, Detective Inspector. Everyone has their short-comings.”

Lestrade frowned. “Short-comings?”

“I have been assured that every person is allowed one irrational fear.”

“Irrational?”

“And I would greatly appreciate it if you could dispel yourself of all knowledge of this unfortunate demonstration.”

“Mycroft.”

“And I would thank you never to repeat…”

“Mycroft, stop.”

He did.

“First of all,” Lestrade started with an incredulous glare. “Why on Earth would I repeat that to anyone?”

Mycroft blinked. “Weakness is…”

“It’s not weakness. The Thames is as likely to drown someone as any other body of water. You have to have a healthy fear of the thing. It’s what keeps kids from just jumping off bridges and making my life hell.” He took a thoughtful drag on his cigarette. “If the Thames is the only thing that scares you, I wouldn’t want to know what you see on a daily basis.”

Mycroft considered that. “And what, then, is your fear, Detective Inspector?”

He shook his head. “I have a lot of them.”

“Just one will do.”

“Hard to pick, really.”

“I would certainly feel better knowing we were on even footing.”

“What, like some sort of mutually assured destruction?”

“If you must be crass.”

“It would make you feel better?”

“Your fear?”

Lestrade let out a long breath. “Slavery. Being beholden to a cause I don’t believe in. Saddled with responsibility that I could never…”

“I doubt you’d ever be…”

“Fear, Mycroft. It doesn’t have to be rational, does it?”

“No. No it doesn’t.”

 

~

 

After nearly two years of the intermittent, though not entirely accidental, shared bench breaks, Mycroft Holmes finally admitted to himself, though to no one else, that they were more than tolerable. In fact, he often looked forward to them. So much so, that they started scheduling them. It appeared in Mycroft’s schedule nearly every alternate week as ‘Special Joint Security Meeting.’ Anthea assured him that the Detective Inspector kept it in his paper diary as ‘This is so the smoking kills me not the work.’ It made Mycroft smile; though no one would ever be made aware.

It was an open secret. Protected in the fact that they were in public and casually seated on a bench. They rarely discussed anything that could be misconstrued as confidential. Instead, it was quite personal, which was, in and of itself, far more dangerous. And perhaps, the most treacherous bit of all was that Gregory Lestrade was a terrible flirt. Terrible as in incorrigible, not poor in skill. No one who could make Mycroft Holmes blush could be berated for their skill. It was so rare an offence, though, that Mycroft had no idea what to do with it.

Charming. His smile was charming. Roguish. Just this side of teasing that it was almost, nearly impertinent. But it wasn’t. The Detective Inspector selected the oddest things to tease about as well.

“It really is a filthy habit.”

“Does my smoking really bother you that much?”

“I’m merely observing.”

He laughed. “I don’t even smoke every day.”

“Oh?”

“It’s an indulgence, Mycroft. Just when I’m feeling particularly relaxed.”

“I’m glad you find me relaxing. But is this now the only time you partake?”

“Yup.”

“You couldn’t have quit outright? Or, perhaps, opted to quit during these meetings first?”

“There’s honestly only one other time I smoke.”

“Oh?”

“Post coital.” He blew out a long, lazy plume of smoke.

Mycroft choked on his tea.

 

~

 

Mycroft had met with the Detective Inspector enough times that he felt comfortable in his measure of the man. Background checks and hard data were all well and good, but face to face observation and communication held limitless and invaluable volumes of information. And Mycroft had gathered sufficient intell to know when Lestrade was not his usual self. In spite of the mild, late spring weather, ignoring the soft drizzle that intermittently kept it from being perfect, the man seemed down. Greyer than usual. Almost douer. Burdened with weighty thoughts that broke the conventionally strong line of his shoulders. And while he couldn’t quite pinpoint the source of Lestrade’s mental load, Mycroft was certain it existed. 

He waited until they were into the second half of their tea before he pried. “Are you poorly?”

“Poorly?”

“Unwell, Detective Inspector. Are you feeling unwell?”

He snorted. “We’ve been friends for years, Mycroft. I’d of thought you could call me Greg by now.”

“Friends?”

“Bench mates?”

“I… Had not considered it. Nevertheless, are you ill, Gregory?”

“No?” He flashed a wry smile. “Why? Do I look sick?”

Mycroft folded his hands over the lid of his tea. “I only ask as I find you to be far less… chatty than usual.”

Lestrade’s half smile morphed into a wince. “Sorry.”

“It was not a criticism. Merely an observation.”

“Yeah, well.” He ran a hand through his hair, the salt and pepper strands clumping damply from the leftover rain that seemed to resolutely cling to him. “How many times have we done this and I’ve never let work get in the way before.”

Mycroft hummed. “If anyone could understand the everpressing burdens of employ…”

Lestrade huffed. “We don’t talk about work. No matter what it is you put in your diary.”

“There is no rule mandating you continue to wallow in disquietude for the sake of a cup of tea. I assure you my clearance is higher than yours. And I am well able to keep a secret.”

“I’m sure you are.” He took a fortifying swig of his tea. “It’s a bad case. That’s all.”

“You have managed difficult cases before.”

“It’s…” He weighed his words. “Grotesque. I haven’t seen something like it in a long time. It just,” he wrinkled his nose. “Is sticking more than I’d like.”

“Is this in regard to the disemboweling in Wandsworth?”

Lestrade’s expression tightened and he grunted in response.

“I see.” Grotesque was an apt word from what little information the reports had offered. Gruesome. Grisly and shockingly morbid. And rare. “You’ve seen something like it before?”

“Hm?”

“You said you have not seen something like it in a long time.”

Lestrade blew out a long breath and tried to relax his posture. “Yeah. Well. Hard to forget, right? But I’m not sure we’re going to be able to arrest anyone for this.”

“This lack of optimism is quite unlike you.”

“Sorry.”

“Not a criticism. Though should there be any support I can offer in assistance, you need only ask.”

“Ta. But I think I’d rather you keep out of it. You and your brother.”

Mycroft frowned. “Really?”

“Some things just shouldn’t be understood. And I’d rather you not have to really look at how awful things can be.” He plowed on before Mycroft could interrupt. “I appreciate the concern though. I really do.”

Mycroft studied his face, reading the truth of it in the prominent dark circles under his eyes, the yet healthy flush to his skin, the spark of mischief glimmering behind the weighty depth of his eyes, and the slowly emerging grin that only grew in the face of Mycroft’s scrutiny. “Alright. You are sure you’re not unwell?”

“Ah, g’wan, Mycroft.” Every trace of worry seemed to melt into glittering humor. “I’m as healthy as a horse.”

 

~

 

Mycroft sipped his tea, startling as his phone vibrated in his breast pocket. His phone did not vibrate. And it certainly didn’t receive messages on his break unless a war was starting. And if a war was starting, that should, at the very least, have warranted a call, not a text. He opened the offending message and winced.

Chasing your brother. He’s chasing a suspect. If I can catch them before they cross the river, shouldn’t bother you. Literally running late.

The internal groan was equal parts disappointment in the delay and objection to the poor humor. He contemplated leaving. Cancelling and rescheduling for a better day when the specter of his brother wasn’t looming and the work wasn’t pressing. It shouldn’t be a surprise; they were both quite busy people. Perhaps that it didn’t happen with more frequency was unexpected.

The squeal of tires and angry shout of familiar voices startled him again. He looked up from his undrafted reply to see his brother and partner crossing the bridge in an unsubtle foot chase with the likely aforementioned suspect. Mycroft revised Lestrade’s assessment - not a suspect, a perpetrator. Clearly. And one that would be caught sooner rather than later.

The tires and associated squeal had come from Lestrade’s unmarked, lights flashing, which was now stopped at an awkward and completely illegal angle near their bench. Acting as a shield of sorts, keeping the comotion on one side, the bench on the other. Lestrade was out of the car in a flash, running in a purposeful direction to cut off the perpetrator, who was, otherwise effectively evading his brother. Rare enough that someone was able to outrun him. This one was determined if nothing else.

Determined and dangerous. And perhaps a touch desperate. Mycroft could see it happen in the half second before it started, and he was on his feet, prepared to shout a warning that was more than too late. Dead set on escape, the suspect planted his feet, twisted to the side, and dropped his shoulder right into Lestrade’s midsection.

Terror froze him as Gregory was first airborne, then disappeared with a shout over the railing and into the river below. He could hear the thunderous smack as Lestrade hit the water, and Mycroft couldn’t breathe. Lestrade had been there one moment and the next, he was gone. Unseasonable rains had swollen the banks of the Thames and the current was brutal and fast. He was gone. He’d be gone. Lost to the river.

In an unexpected moment of humanity, his brother caught himself against the railing, altogether distracted from his pursuit. “Lestrade!”

Not to be outdone by the hypocrisy of the moment, his brother’s partner completely ignored the sudden departure of Lestrade in favor of tackling the suspect to the ground. The smack of body on pavement only slightly distracted Mycroft from the horrible rushing sound of the river.

The Thames had never been so loud.

“Er… your brother. Is he alright?”

“Probably not.”

“Do you think you should…”

“No.”

“Would one of you two clowns give me a hand?”

And just like that, he could breathe again. Lestrade’s drenched form emerged from below the rail and Mycroft couldn’t decide what shocked him more: that Lestrade was whole and rather unharmed or the helping hand his brother extended to guide him back over the railing. Rather than making any type of decision, Mycroft dropped rather heavily onto the bench and started counting his breaths.

“Get off! This is police brutality!”

“Oi!” Lestrade barked. “You tossed me in the river. Keep your mouth shut or I’ll return the favor.”

“You can’t do that! I’ll sue. I’ll tell my lawyer that you threatened me!”

“Threatened you?” Lestrade flashed a confused grin towards the innocent expression on his brother’s partner’s face. “Did anyone hear me threaten him?”

“Nope.” His brother popped the stop plosive for emphasis.

“I didn’t hear a thing.”

Another car arrived, suspiciously late, to the scene. “Boss? Why are you all wet?”

“Had a bath, Donovan.”

“Well, you need another.”

“Ta. Can you sort this nonsense out? I need a change.” Lestrade let out a low growl of disappointment. “And a new mobile. Bollocks.”

“I got this.”

“Thanks, Sal.”

The chaos moved away from the bench, and much to Mycroft’s relief, away from the riverside.

“Myc?”

He looked up to find Lestrade trying to dry his dripping hair with a hand towel.

“Christ, are you ok?”

Mycroft just stared. No. He most certainly was not ok. He had to watch Gregory Lestrade get thrown into the Thames. The Thames . He could have died. That river was cursed. And it killed people. And Lestrade had gone in.

“Hey, Mycroft? You’re scaring me.” Lestrade sat, rather wetly, on the bench beside him. “Breathe, yeah?”

The palm stroking up and down his back was warmer than it had any business being. The gentle rhythm had his panting slowing into less heaved breaths. And he swallowed back the urge to be sick all over the pavement at their feet.

“There you go,” Lestrade murmured. “In and out.”

Mycroft winced. “You went in.”

“In?”

“The river.”

“Ah.” Lestrade sighed and settled back on the bench, rubbing small circles between Mycroft’s shoulder blades. “I did.”

“I heard you hit the water.”

“It was a bit of a belly flop.”

“You could have drowned.”

He hummed. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“It’s The Thames , Gregory!”

“It is.” He agreed readily. “But the good news is I’m rather unsinkable.”

Mycroft choked out a laugh.

 

~

 

It was rare for them to meet beyond their bench. Even following the unnecessary, unexpected, and unwanted swim Mycroft was forced to witness, they continued to meet on their bench. And it was their - possessive and plural in Mycroft’s mind - bench. Rare, but not unheard of. After all, the purview of law enforcement often crossed interests with Mycroft’s unspoken profession. And should the intelligence services require the input or acquired information of New Scotland Yard, Mycroft would much rather glean said data from a trusted and amiable source.

It was, therefore, much to his dismay to find Lestrade out on a case when he arrived at New Scotland Yard. He could, rather easily, have left and sent his PA in his stead. Managing the DCI was never really pleasant; an ungrateful, crass excuse for a man - McGregor treated the Serious Crimes Division as his own personal plaything, and the people in it as disposable. Mycroft had little to no respect for a leader who failed to see the potential or worth or those beneath him, and as such, meeting to request information or manpower was loathsome. For reasons beyond even himself, after realising that Lestrade was unavailable, Mycroft stayed to interact with the DCI. It may have been the best and worst decision in recent history.

“Cheers, Mr. Holmes. Good to meet you mate.”

Mycroft only barely resisted the urge to wipe his palm on his trousers. He couldn’t keep the wince from his face. Thankfully, it was interpreted as a horrifying rendition of a smile. “Detective Chief Inspector. I believe you know why I am here.”

“Ah, yeah.” He gestured to one of the chairs, which Mycroft eyed suspiciously before perching carefully on the edge. “Something about the files on the Grimes case. Something about data.”

Mycroft raised a brow. Complete disregard for protocol. Lackadaisical attitude to interdepartmental cooperation.

“It’s Lestrade’s case. But I’ve him out on the new one from Clapham. Should be back soon. He’ll get you what you need.”

Mycroft tilted his head ever so slightly. Indifference to authority. Contempt for skill and effort. “Would it not be more efficient for another-”

“Ah, I can’t make heads or tails of Lestrade’s filing system, if you can call it that.” There was a loud guffaw that lacked any and all humor. “Besides, I can loan you him for a few days too.”

Mycroft felt the corner of his lip curl. “If Detective Inspector Lestrade has been issued another case on top of this one, then I can only-”

“Another?” McGregor scoffed. “I’ve him on five. What’s one more? The man is a workhorse. Real dogsbody. He’s made for it.”

This time, Mycroft frowned outright. “Should my office take on the assistance of New Scotland Yard, I must insist we have their full and undivided-”

“Here.”

Mycroft glanced at the unusual badge that landed on the desk between them before lifting a brow at the DCI. “And this is?” 

“Lestrade’s original badge. Bit modified. Consider it a token. He’s yours for the moment. Just send him back when you’re done with him.”

He picked up the medallion with the utmost caution. “... I see.”

“He knows where your office is, yeah? I’ll have him call over when he’s back.”

It was a dismissal. Clumsy. Ham-fisted. Rude. Incredibly rude. And Mycroft was already itching to leave. He would exact his revenge deliberately and purposefully when it suited, and not a moment before. Also not while seated in this troglodyte’s office. He rose and straightened his waistcoat, placing the badge in his pocket with a smile that spoke of nothing but disappointment. “I look forward to collaborating with the Detective Inspector on this matter. In the future, her Majesty’s services prefer a prompt response.”

“I can call him in from the field.”

Mycroft narrowed his eyes. “See that you do.”

 

~

 

Two hours later, Mycroft found himself seated at his own desk, fidgeting with the badge - turning it over in his hand almost absently. The brief and destable meeting with McGregor had left him unsettled. Aside from the disregard for interdepartmental regulation, the man’s contemptible treatment of his own staff was, in fact, shameful. The implication that Lestrade was some sort of object to be traded or loaned out at whim, rather than a person with self-determination, riled him.

He startled at the light knock on his door. Bringing his focus resolutely back to the issue at hand.

“Come in.”

The Lestrade that entered was far from the amicable, easy-going man that shared his bench. There was no quick smile, no warm greeting. In fact, his shoulders were curled up and in, hands firmly fisted in his pockets, and an expression of grim foreboding carved across his face. “Sir.”

Mycroft only just managed to tame the frown that threatened at the corner of his mouth. “Do sit. Would you like a cup of tea?”

Lestrade shook his head as he sat, looking for all the world as if he hated the thought of it. “No. Ta.”

“I have had a rather unusual conversation with your DCI.” Mycroft very gently set the badge on the desk between them and watched what little color there was drain from Lestrade’s face. “I should, of course, remind you that anything said in this office is highly classified. It shall never reach ears beyond my own.”

Lestrade swallowed.

“Aside from his frank mismanagement of resources and utter disregard for polite societal manners, I believe DCI McGregor is of the opinion that I sought your cooperation purely for your dogged work reputation.”

Lestrade continued to watch him silently.

“I assure you that is not the case.” Mycroft sat forward and interlaced his fingers. “I prefer your company to other potential assets at the Metropolitan Police Force. I find your work ethic astounding. I find your personality appealing. And I rather hoped we had formed a camaraderie beyond work that eased our interactions.”

Lestrade narrowed his eyes.

“So I ask, with all due respect earned and otherwise deserved on your part, what exactly is this?” He tapped the badge with his index finger.

Lestrade let his eyes flick to object and back to Mycroft. “What…” he wet his lips absently. “What did McGregor say it was?”

“He described it as a token, your badge - more specifically your original badge. Is that accurate?”

Lestrade glanced at it again. “More or less.”

Mycroft sighed and tilted his head. “The weight of it seems unusual. I’ve handled the various badges from The Met, from other law enforcement, from the military and otherwise. It feels… unduly heavy.”

Lestrade shifted, a grim half smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. “Oh?”

“I was under the impression that they no longer used silver.”

“I don’t think they do.”

“Curious that DCI McGregor felt it necessary to give this to me. As if my possession of it would somehow influence our work together. Expedite it.” He traced the cross outline in the badge. “Do you know what he said to me, before I left his office?”

Lestrade shook his head.

“He said, ‘Just send him back when you’re done with him.’”

Lestrade’s expression went dark. “Sassanach lavvy heid.”

“Quite.” Mycroft’s mouth twitched. “I now find myself in a rather uncomfortable position.”

“Do you?”

“It is not often that I question what I know of the world. Things have their place. Fiction and reality are very much separate entities. Magic does not exist. And yet the use of the word ‘token’...” He picked the badge up and studied it again. “Most myths are based on some small portion of reality, are they not? Fairytales carry messages of morality and necessary truth?”

Lestrade shrugged a shoulder. “I suppose.”

Mycroft tilted his chin up, the affected air of nonchalance lost in curiosity. “When you entered this office and I asked you to sit, was there any possible action for you other than to do so?”

“‘Do sit’ is not a question,” Lestrade murmured.

“Did you always wish to be a police officer, Gregory?”

The bluntness of the question seemed to startle him. “I… Not always, no. But I enjoy my work.”

“And if left to your own devices, free to pursue whatever your heart desired, what would you do?”

“I…” He paused, a mildly lost expression softening his features. “I don’t really know.” He shook his head. “Not that it really matters. It’s not something tha-”

“What would happen if I gave this back to you?”

Lestrade drew his hands slowly from his pockets and crossed his arms, settling back into the chair in affected ease. “Why would you do that?”

“Morality. Dislike of McGregor. Morbid curiosity.” Mycroft raised a brow. “Mutually assured destruction.”

A wide grin stretched across Lestrade’s face. “Mycroft Holmes, you dark horse.”

Mycroft smiled. “Pot, kettle.” He slid the badge across the desk.

 

~

 

Mycroft was unsurprised to find their bench empty the next week. There was the number of cases the Serious Crimes Division was working through, and more so for which the Detective Inspector was responsible. There was also the horrible business with the vanished DCI. And of course, there was the simple fact that Gregory Lestrade was under no obligation to meet him for tea. It did, however, leave Mycroft to feel the tiniest bit unwanted.

Nevertheless, Mycroft sat himself on the bench, sipped his tea, and fought with his age-old fear of the Thames. And when he’d finished his tea, he stood, returned to his office, and went about finishing his day.

The day, it seemed, would stretch longer than it had any business doing. And so, Mycroft found himself chauffeured home well after dark. He was tired. Perhaps world-weary. As such, it was greatly, if not a bit wonderfully, surprising to find Greg Lestrade waiting on his doorstep.

Caution always the better part of valour, Mycroft smiled politely. “Detective Inspector, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

Lestrade grinned easily. “I felt bad that I missed out on our chat today. Thought I might drop by and see if you wanted to grab a drink.”

“A drink?”

“A beer, or wine, or whiskey…” He shrugged. “I owe you a thanks, and well… We’re friends, aren’t we?”

Mycroft raised a brow. There were a great many things to wonder about Greg Lestrade. Sure he was a workhorse, rather unsinkable, charming, and a bit of a flirt. But more than anything, it made no logical sense that he often found himself where he was. And this evening, it was on Mycroft’s stoop, inviting him out for a drink. “You wouldn’t be trying to lure me off towards the water’s edge with your charms?”

Amusement flashed through Lestrade’s eyes. “I would never.”

“Perhaps you should come in? I believe I have some lovely Campbeltown Scotch in the press.”

“Well, if it’s a Campbeltown…”

Mycroft unlocked the door. “After you, Detective Inspector.”

“It’s Greg,” he shrugged out of his coat and waited patiently while Mycroft hung it in the closet.

They moved in the comfortable silence as Mycroft led the way to his home office and procured them both a glass of whiskey. And once seated on opposite ends of the surprisingly comfortable sofa, Mycroft let his curiosity get the better of him. “Why was it, Gregory, that you couldn’t make our meeting today?

Greg took an indulgent sip of scotch and sighed. “Things have been chaotic since McGregor disappeared. Everyone’s working overtime to make up for the lack of organisation.”

“Ah yes.” Mycroft’s eyebrow rose sharply. “Quite the calamity, that.”

Greg tisked, “There’s a difference between misfortune and calamity, Mycroft.”

“Disraeli?”

Greg’s eyes glittered with mischief. “People have always known that the Thames is dangerous.”

Mycroft placed his scotch carefully on the side table and leaned forward. “Incidentally, there is something over which I have been incredibly curious.”

“Oh?”

“Is it true that a Kelpie’s skin is adhesive if one were to pet it?”

Greg grinned broadly. “Do you want to find out?”