Billowing fog, an empty street, yellow lamplight somewhere in the gloom. Greg glared until the fog scattered, slunk off into the night. Revealed a wet scene from an oil painting: under his umbrella, a cherry red point of light at the end of his cigarette.
“I told you not to do this.”
“I’m afraid it can’t be helped.” Mycroft Holmes, insincere smile and entirely too perfect suit. A jewel-green frog peered out from his pocket, blinked, and disappeared. Greg didn’t know what that meant. He didn’t much care.
“You can damn well--”
“There’s another one,” Mycroft said, his voice rolling easily over Greg’s. Smoke framing the words. Greg wiped moisture from his face; a very damp, chill dream, this.
“It would be a bit more helpful if you could tell me before they happen,” he groused.
Mycroft’s lips quirked into a grin. “I’m only magical.”
Magical. Unreal. The most dangerous being he’d ever met. “You couldn’t tell me this over the phone?”
That earned him a frown. “You wouldn’t accept the phone I offered.”
“I meant you could call mine.”
“But yours isn’t secure.”
“Where are you?” Greg asked, because otherwise he might have come, or sent Anthea, who was astonishingly normal once you got past her inability to let go of her Blackberry. He cursed himself almost as soon as he’d asked.
“Doesn’t matter.” Mycroft sighed, smoke curling from his lips, and smiled sly. “Care for a drag?”
“Don’t pretend you’re playing by any rules,” Greg snapped, stepping back to avoid the cigarette held out loosely in an elegant hand. “I’ll get out of it.”
“You won’t be able to,” Mycroft said, certainty like rock in his voice. “Same modus operandi as your open.”
A cold that had nothing to do with the chill of his dream swept through him. “Someone who fought, then.” Someone who didn’t know the rules. Someone who tried, nonetheless. Someone who lost.
“Keep my brother out of it.” The light was gone. He was alone, in the dark, with only the smell of cigarette smoke and Mycroft’s voice to keep him company. “Whatever it takes.”
The fine line between trying and losing.
Sherlock Holmes had a mind like steel. For all his faults--and there were many, Greg could attest--he was always certain, and his certainty was safety. He knew what was real and what wasn’t.
It was one way to protect a loved one, Greg supposed.
His mum had taught him awareness, to see the shimmering line, to carry a bit of iron and sleep behind doors lined with salt. To be careful what he looked at, to take care with what he saw.
She was beautiful. Even now, in her seventies, or perhaps especially now, as age softened her edges, leached her of colour, leaving her translucent and glowing--all but her eyes, dark and deep as wells, broad and ageless as the night sky.
Her eyes which were her curse, and Greg’s, too.
Mycroft Holmes was not the first. At seven years old, there had been that strange child-not-a-child in the hedge out by his granddad’s house. His dad’s dad, who didn’t believe in superstitious nonsense. Who was a doctor. Who nearly lost his grandson one fine moonlit night after sweeping up the salt spilled over the threshold.
The first time Greg had run through a world not his own. The first time he’d seen London, climbing back out into an alley a very long way away. Calling his mum from the police station. Safe, there in a world that never slept, that lined itself with steel.
He’d been lucky, incredibly lucky, his mum had told him. There were worse things over there.
The woman with the teeth. The shadow that stayed in mirrors. Greg hated mirrors. He wasn’t sure it wasn’t still in there, even now.
But Mycroft Holmes was the worst, and what made it worse was that he was so very concerned with protecting his brother from anything like him, but didn’t bother to think that maybe Greg might want some distance from things like him and, more to the point, from him, as well.
Or maybe he did think it, and didn’t care.
He was the worst, worse than shadows, worse than teeth, worse than creeping vines and cold hands in the dark, worse than whispers, because he was half-real, and that meant there were no rules to govern him. He was human when magical rules came into play, and magical where human rules took over. And where they might collide, well, he took to changing the human rules, because he could do that.
And he, too, like the others, thought it might be nice to have Greg exactly where he wanted him, no matter where it was Greg wanted to be.
The parents were in for questioning.
Fourteen year-old girl, alone in her room, found in the morning clutching a stainless steel knife that appeared to have been used to hack at something that bled, but that was not her. Something that might appear to have the DNA of a wolf, or a crocodile, or a crow; something that really had the DNA of no such thing. Something that was nowhere in her room, of course.
Bruises, cuts, scrapes. Broken ribs. And, same as seven years before, the missing eyes, scooped right out of her head.
That being an act of anger, jealousy; a reaction to perceived betrayal. More than one of that kind had gone for Greg’s eyes. That which see, and having seen, want not to see. Betrayal of the highest order.
But the parents wouldn’t be held. Greg could do that much for them. Really, that was all he could do. His next job was to let the investigation spin along far away from Sherlock’s awareness, because nothing would be found.
You can’t arrest monsters. At least, the ones that aren’t human.
It was his second job, his unofficial job, that would prove a problem, because Sherlock was already texting him by the time he got back to the office.
-You need me. SH
“You are the last thing I need,” he said to his phone, earning an approving glance from Donovan.
The personal car was parked on his street. Greg resisted the urge to kick it, or to run, and gripped his keys tightly. His door would be open.
Mycroft was nowhere to be seen, but there was tea on the table. Greg avoided it, as he avoided everything Mycroft tried to give him, even though this would be canceled out by Mycroft’s invasion of his flat. He got a beer from the refrigerator and waited. There was a gentle shimmer of a light between the posts of his kitchen doorway.
“I don’t like you making holes in my house,” he said as Mycroft appeared, stepping out from the space between two breaths.
“It’s only to mine,” Mycroft said mildly. “Oh, I didn’t realise you wouldn’t want tea.”
Of course he’d wanted tea. Until he’d seen that Mycroft had made it.
He stayed leaning against the counter as Mycroft sat down, hanging his umbrella from the back of the chair. “Your brother won’t leave it alone.”
“No, I didn’t think he would. Not once he saw the papers.” Mycroft took a sip and sighed. “They put in your cold case.”
“What do you--” Greg paused, stared into the middle distance, and rethought asking a question quickly. “I don’t suppose there’s anything you can do. About Sherlock, I mean.”
Mycroft was staring into his cup. “If you would be so kind as to continue denying him access, on any premise you choose, I’m sure I can find something else to keep him busy.”
Sherlock, investigating, would find something. And, finding something, he would find everything. Forget the thirty years his brother had spent keeping him safe; Sherlock would plunge into the unreal and never be seen again. “Please do,” he said, closing his eyes against the thought.
Mycroft’s hands were cool on his face. Greg tried to jump back, but he was already against the counter, and there was nowhere to go.
“I could love you,” Mycroft whispered, staring searchingly into his eyes. His thumbs traced over Greg’s cheekbones, confident and cold. “I’m sure of it.”
Greg bit his lip hard enough to taste blood. “I don’t want that.”
“No, don’t do that,” Mycroft said, frowning at his lip, and then swept over it gently with his thumb. Greg gaped, breath stopped in his chest, and Mycroft’s lips tilted into a strange smile. He swept his thumb over Greg’s lips again, then left it still, pressed very gently to the bite.
“Let me,” Mycroft said, pleaded, his other hand sliding to the back of Greg’s head, pulling him forward, tilting their heads together. Warm breath gushing over his lips, lightning tingling in his palms. He wanted. Oh, god, he wanted.
“No,” Greg said, almost wept, and fought Mycroft’s grip. Mycroft stepped back, but only as a courtesy.
“You’re pushing me rather far,” he said, almost conversationally. Greg’s lips were tingling, and not in a welcome fashion. “I warn you, I may push back.”
He licked his lips without thinking and felt dizzy from the rush of heat, the heady pleasure that surged through his veins. Damn, damn, and damn--he pressed his ring, steel plated with gold, to his lips, calmed it somewhat.
“Gregory,” Mycroft said, and the heat rose again, making his breath stutter. Greg fumbled the drawer to his right open and took out a skewer, holding it above the handle, feeling a little more control come back to him.
“Get out,” he ordered, holding it tight and low.
Mycroft sighed again. “You do make things difficult.”
“Get out, and go distract your brother. We have jobs to do,” Greg said, feeling the lust recede even further as Mycroft let it go. It wasn’t entirely gone, because it wasn’t entirely unreal.
If it had been, things might have been different. But different could be better or it could be worse. Greg couldn’t say, and it didn’t really matter.
What mattered was that there was nothing to be done for a little girl murdered in her room by a monster, but Sherlock was still alive. Greg wanted to keep it that way.