The old, dented, rusted watering can was from his mum. Greg handled it with care, focusing on the remembered smile, the way her eyes sparkled. Affection warmed him through. Then, warm water from the tap and salt. Where usually he’d spit, he instead used a needle and jabbed his thumb. Blood welled up, an obscenely bright splash of red.
Mycroft’s mouth was open a bit as Greg shook the watering can, only a quarter full. “You do this often.”
Not a question, and Greg could afford amusement at the care he was still taking. “Twice a week at the quietest times.” An old rag, and around to the windows, to the doors, to the vents; a careful dab around the electrical outlets and a measure poured into every drain.
Mycroft followed silently, unobtrusively. The shadows hugged him comfortably. Greg had that odd feeling he got when Sherlock joined an investigation: pleased, almost smug, with a tiny thrill; “look who I’ve got on my side.”
Not necessarily the safest feeling. Sherlock attacked verbally, but Mycroft could do much worse. A lazy heat flowed through him, and Greg tried to shrug it off.
“Anthea will return shortly.” Mycroft looked distant, solemn. “We’ll leave then. If you prefer, she will stay in your flat--”
“No, no, and no,” Greg said, dumping the rest of the salt water. He left the watering can by the window to dry in the weak, late morning sunlight. “That’s as bad as letting you stay in my flat, and I still haven’t worked out how you get in.” He glared at Mycroft over his shoulder. “You seemed impressed, too.”
“It is a formidable defense,” Mycroft allowed, and straightened his cuffs. “I’m sure most would be stymied.”
“But not you.”
Picked up his umbrella, inspected the tip. “Ah, but I have a special allowance.”
“Since when?” Greg snapped.
Mycroft winced, but it seemed theatrical. “Since I became your landlord.”
Greg’s jaw dropped.
The street flowed away around them. Greg stared at his hands, tried not to look at Mycroft. Who was talking to someone in the Home Office. Lecturing him, rather. About national security.
“What are you?” he burst out when Mycroft ended the call. The big black car, the suits--he’d thought the suits were a quirk of appearance, not real, tailored, paid-for things. The phone. The personal assistant, who apparently would go and buy the entire contents of a floral shop without blinking an eye. The lecture--bloody hell, Greg was still red-faced from vicarious embarrassment.
Mycroft’s lips quirked. “I occupy a minor position in the British government.”
“Right.” Greg gestured at their surroundings, looked meaningfully at the pocket in which Mycroft had put his phone. “Try again.”
“It’s the truth, Gregory. I’m little more than an accountant.” Mycroft paused, and tilted his head charmingly at Greg’s glare. “Officially.”
“Unofficially?” He may have growled. Bad enough to think of Mycroft as Sherlock’s brother, as his landlord, good god.
“I run it.” Mycroft paused again, another little smile wreathing his lips. “The government, that is.”
Of course he did. “Of course you do.” Could he go to Canada? Greg considered the state of his finances.
“And several others, part-time.”
“How many secret lives do you have?” Greg burst out, and the car stopped. He hadn’t noticed it slowing. A few shops, a few flats; Greg raised his eyebrow at Mycroft.
Mycroft’s face was unreadable. “Just enough, I’m sure.”
It was the woman who opened the door who gave him the first clue that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
“Oh, hello, Mr. Holmes,” she fluttered. Looked between Mycroft and Greg with bright, worried eyes. “Does Sherlock know you’re visiting? He’s been upset about something, poor dear.”
“Sherlock--” Greg repeated, ice climbing up his spine.
“Yes, thank you, Mrs. Hudson,” Mycroft said. He slid around her and guided Greg with a hand to his back. “Come along, Gregory.”
“Hello,” the woman said again, smiling a bright, if overwhelmed, smile. Greg nodded to her, managed a grimace. Mycroft propelled him up the stairs before he could get his whirling mind in order.
“But Sherlock--” he began, and was jabbed viciously with the umbrella.
Herded into a sitting room on the first floor. “Good morning, Sherlock, John,” Mycroft said, incredibly tense. Sherlock sat up from his sprawl on the sofa; a shorter man with a put-upon air about him jumped up, seemed ready to be polite enough for everyone. Must have known Sherlock well, then.
“Changed your mind, have you?” Sherlock said, now on his feet. Disgusted tone. “You didn’t let Mycroft meddle you into it.”
“What?” Greg said. There was some sort of lab in the kitchen. Something burning. He should probably call someone’s attention to it.
Sherlock’s eyes were narrowed. “My brother, Mycroft. Did you meet in the hall? No matter; I’ll be dressed in a moment--”
“Does anyone want tea?” the other man, Greg assumed a flatmate, asked. He managed a nice enough smile and held his hand out to Greg. “Hello, I’m John Watson.”
“Why are you introducing yourself to Lestrade?” Sherlock demanded. Incredulity sharpened his voice to razor wire. “Have you found something else? Did the parents change their minds, finally? No one else has died, surely.”
“What are you on about?” Greg asked.
“The Graham girl, in Croydon,” Sherlock said. “Is there something in the water?”
“I haven’t had a case in days,” Greg protested.
“The--the murder, the girl--” Sherlock was spluttering, deep red spots of colour in his cheeks. “Is this some kind of prank?”
“A case?” John Watson asked. “I’m sorry, are you with the Met?”
“Lestrade was in charge of the Study in Pink!” Sherlock half-roared, hands curled into his hair. “You’ve met him! What are you--John, what--Mycroft!”
“Sherlock,” Mycroft said easily, standing near the door.
Sherlock was wild-eyed, curls all over the place, dressing gown fallen down one shoulder. “I’m not high.”
“What, hey now,” Greg said, alarm spiking through him.
“Are you--” John cut himself off, looked at Greg with some concern.
“Do you know this man?” Mycroft asked Sherlock, sounding honestly curious. Sherlock’s mouth opened once or twice. Then he stood up straight and began to recite.
“Gregory Ian Lestrade, born 1965 to Marcus Gregory Lestrade and Eleanor Mary Lestrade, nee Winstead--”
Sherlock went on. Loud and angry, as if his voice was enough to write it all back into being--and with a sensation like falling through sunlight and rushing water, it was. Greg stared at John, watching memory catch up in it. Knew his own face mirrored it.
“What the hell?” John said faintly. He brought his hand to his head, turned to Sherlock.
Sherlock. Greg’s blood ran cold. Sherlock, who wasn’t supposed to know anything, who was supposed to be protected--
“What the hell have you done?” Greg hissed, turning to Mycroft. Still and silent, near the door, the target of his brother’s darkest glare.
“Yes, brother,” Sherlock said, acidic. “What have you done?”