Gregory Lestrade was a happily married man, blessed with a genteel wife and more children than he sometimes knew to do with. Mrs. Lestrade was very much an amiable character, kind and sweet, and matched with a generosity that had no bounds. She was awfully fond of painting and baking and writing and would have been the epitome of the renaissance lady had she been in the right era. As it was, she made do with pockets of leisure between raising five children and the part-time job at the nearby primary school where her youngest was also enrolled in.
Their family was perfect (if one was as understanding of Mr. Lestrade’s working hours as his wife).
But a scant year prior, Gregory received a frantic call from his son, a garbled chain of words through which he caught ‘fainted’ and ‘mother’. He had dropped everything in an instant, oblivious to his second in command’s raised brows and had sprinted the distance to the squad car. Donovan had just barely caught up and insisted on driving, because the crazed look in his eyes was distinctly worrying. Gregory had mechanically instructed her to head for St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.
In the ward, he found his wife bedridden, and looking incredibly sallow and small – a complete polar opposite to her normal appearance that he couldn’t help but wonder how he’d missed it. His work had been ridiculously demanding ever since he’d made Detective Inspector, but surely he wouldn’t have missed such a radical change in his wife’s health. And yet… the evidence lay before him and Gregory had to look away.
Gastric cancer, he was told. Her annual health check-up hadn’t picked up any abnormalities earlier on, and without any specific screenings there was little that could have been done. As far as records show, there had been a slight weight loss several months back, indicating that it might have been a sign. At the time, his wife had been given the option to undergo a routine screening, but it was declined (and if he knew his wife at all, he’d say she had thought it an unnecessary waste of money). This late into the illness though, the cancerous cells had already metastasized to distant lymph nodes and surrounding organs – there was little chance of a cure, the damage was too extensive.
On the third of April, Gregory held his wife’s bony hand for the last time. Surrounded by his children, he watched his eldest – Aurelia – place a trembling finger just beneath her mother’s nose. Blue eyes darted to Gregory’s… and that was that.
He hadn’t cried at the funeral, he hadn’t cried at the wake. Gregory had been numb for the entirety of the process and told himself he wasn’t heartless; he was merely providing a stronger front for his children. That night, amidst sniffles and gummy, red eyes, he had dutifully tucked his youngest, and the twins into his bed, seating himself by their sides until sleep finally claimed them. Later, he padded quietly out to the small living room of their little flat, and slumped down into the old armchair.
Then, and only then, had he broken down, all the emotions he thought suppressed had overwhelmed him like a broken dam. He hadn’t even heard the door to his two older daughters’ room creak open, nor did he pick up the shuffling of socked feet. One moment he was alone, head buried in his hands, and the next, there was the warm weight of his eldest curled around his feet, her strawberry blond hair ruffled against his knee. Icy hands had gently moved his own away, and Gregory found a wet towel cleaning his face. Then, Melantha had neatly inserted herself onto his lap and mashed his face against her shoulder.
It wasn’t until that very moment that he’d realized that for all the love he had for his children, his job had consumed so much of his life that he barely knew them at all – when had the two grown up so much?
“You hate my touch, Mela,” he’d murmured into his daughter’s jammies. Warm, warm, comforting arms had simply tightened around his chest.
“But you need mine right now,” he’d heard her mutter softly.
Gregory closed his eyes.
“Oh bloody sodding f- ”
“Mela! Christ, their ears are still virgin ears, and we’d all like to keep it that way for a mite longer, thank you!”
“Oh, shut it, Aurelia. It’s not your share of the toast that’s got stupid marmalade all over.”
“Melantha,” their father huffs as he ambles into the tiny kitchen. He narrows his eyes at her, but accepts the cup of coffee his daughter all but shoves into his hands. Gregory yanks out his chair at the table and nurses his drink carefully.
“What happened, then?” he asks after the caffeine has entered his system.
“James stole my toast and slapped on the entire tub of marmalade on it,” she mutters darkly, shooting a glare at his son. Jamie has the audacity to grin at him in triumph. Gregory rakes a hand through his hair and sighs. To be honest, all of his children are more than well-behaved, but Melantha has the quickest temper and the darkest nature of the lot and his son just cannot pass up the chance to rile her up. His second daughter has always been feisty and somewhat temperamental, and when she’d been younger, the only one who could make her smile was her older sister. But ever since she turned fifteen, her sense of detachment had spiked abruptly and she’d grown unbelievably quiet, barely responding to any digs, in jest or otherwise. Her teachers had mentioned this observation too during the parent-teacher meetings, telling him of how withdrawn she’d become, how mechanical.
There were, however, periods of time during the day that he realized cracks appearing in her wall – she has never been a morning person.
“James, apologize to your sister or you’re not touching the computer for two days.”
“But she doesn’t even eat the toast anyway,” James protests, munching rather obscenely on his breakfast. Christ.
“Just. Apologize, Jamie.”
Gregory raises a brow as he watches the proceedings; it had only been a matter of time, really. Elysia, bless her, was James’ twin and the one everyone could count on to keep him in line. Jamie scowls fiercely at his mug of milk, but grumbles a mutilated apology into his peanut butter and marmalade toast.
Ely turns a placating smile at her older sister, one which Melantha doesn’t quite return. Instead, she rises with controlled grace from her chair and grabs six brown paper bags from the counter, heading for the door where everyone’s bags are amassed together.
“Yes, Ilien?” His youngest daughter peers at him with large, bright hazel eyes and he watches her form the words in her mind, finds the way she thinks before speaking terribly endearing.
“Could we have pizza for dindin tonight?”
He glances at Aurelia, who has joined Melantha in gathering up the dirty dishes to be washed.
“Well, it is Saturday, tomorrow… Aurelia, I’ll leave the money in the snow man, yes?” Gregory raises his voice slightly. The blonde raises a hand in acknowledgement.
“Alright, c’mon then, you lot, time for school.”
“Oy, sir,” Donovan hollers with a rapping of her knuckles against his door. “Funds, if you please?”
“Do I still have to if I don’t show up for this year’s?” Lestrade says to the stack of papers he’s been signing for the last half hour.
“You are not escaping, sir. Just spoke to Aurie not a day ago. She says she’s got your fluffy hat out of the box already.” He can hear the grin in her voice.
As part of an ongoing tradition, there was an annual Christmas party at the Met and ever since his wife passed on, Lestrade had taken to using it as a necessary family outing in a bid to spend more time with his children. It wasn’t novel, no, he’d attended them for as long as he had been part of the force, but it wasn’t until last year that he made it a point to bring his family along. And much to his dismay, the blasted tradition of having him don the silly Santa hat had been enforced rather strongly by the children. He was completely useless against the doe-eyed look, even more so when leveled on him by four of his kids (Melantha didn’t do doe-eyed. She pursed her lips and furrowed her brows upwards just so.)
“Well, that’s quite settled then, isn’t it,” Gregory sighs helplessly. He takes out a few notes and dumps them into the ridiculous silver brief case that Donovan insists on using as a demented piggy-bank of sorts for the force.
At five o’clock, he receives a call from their resident consultant detective regarding a triple homicide and he knows his night is as good as blown. Resigned, he gives his home a ring and snags Aurelia on the phone (early day at university).
“Not going to be home for dinner, sweetheart. I’m sorry.”
“Oh. Alright, then.” He hates the falter in her voice.
“We just got a breakthrough for the homicide case,” Gregory explains. Aurelia hums in response.
“It’s fine, Doddy. Mela and I will just do the usual, okay?”
Despite the reassurance that everything’s fine, that nobody’s going to be angry, that they’ll understand, Gregory still feels like an asshole when he ends the call.
Melantha climbs the stairs, ditching the elevator, parchment-wrapped slices in a paper bag. It’s about eight in the evening, not too late that her father would’ve gone hungry for hours and not too early that she might’ve missed him, still, it’s always a gamble when there’s a case. She weaves her way around the grey cubicles, minimum lights still switched on what with it being after hours, and nods to the skeleton staff that remains.
As she nears her father’s office, her footsteps come to a halt just before the door. Through the glass windows, Melantha sees a man, a very well-dressed man seated primly in the seat opposite her father’s desk. The room is otherwise empty. She squints a little and discerns a smart three-piece suit, a brolly clutched and poised in one hand. Peculiar. For some reason, her heart beats loud in her ears and she feels more than a little afraid.
Swallowing, she gives a faint knock on the closed door before letting herself in.
The man is close to her father’s age, faintly ginger and sharp nosed, his face rather understated and ordinary but for the pair of startling silver-blue eyes that regard her impassively. He holds himself with a regal air, all sharp lines and economical movements. It’s a little unnerving.
“Pardon me. I just wanted to leave something for my father,” she says to the man. Her voice, however soft, sounds overly loud in the silence.
“It’s quite alright. Though if you wait another ten minutes, I’m rather certain he’ll be right around,” the man offers a polite smile that reaches nowhere near his eyes.
Melantha catches herself gnawing on her lower lip and quickly ceases. She squares her shoulders and gives a curt nod, placing her package on the cluttered desk regardless.
“I don’t think I will. It’s best I’m gone before he returns,” she says. Melantha resists the urge to shrink before the faintly narrowed gaze she finds herself on the receiving end of.
“Well then, have a safe trip home, Miss – ”
“Melantha.” She is rather startled with herself for offering up her name. She never does that.
“Ah,” the man says. “Mycroft Holmes. A pleasure to meet you.” The tension eases minutely as his tone takes on a warmer shade. Melantha returns the perfunctory handshake firmly, then bolts in as ladylike a fashion as is humanly possible.
Lestrade twitches rather badly for the nicotine patches he’s left in the drawer of his desk, a reaction wrought from hunger and exhaustion. His feet take him to his office by muscle memory alone and he has to suppress a groan at the man seated in front of his desk. As if it wasn’t enough to have had his ear talked off for the last few hours by one Holmes. (Although, to be fair, Mycroft was a lot more pleasant to deal with than Sherlock.) It was just tedious, really.
“Good evening, Detective Inspector.”
“Lestrade. Or Greg. Either, please,” he says, making a beeline for his chair.
“If that is what you prefer.”
“It is,” he answers with equal politeness. “What can I do for you, Mister Holmes?”
“Mycroft, please,” the man says with a tilt of his head, the blatant understanding for ‘come now’ painted in the gesture alone.
“Right. What can I do for you, Mycroft?”
“Just a quick check on how things have been going with my… little brother. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes of your time, I’m sure.”
Lestrade nearly caves in to the desire to slump his shoulders and squeeze his eyes shut.
“But before that, it behooves me to inform you that your daughter dropped by not fifteen minutes ago to deliver, presumably, your dinner.”
At the nonchalant remark, Lestrade’s eyes widen and flicks to the inconspicuous paper bag resting at a corner of the desk, shielded by a mountain of files.
“She was most charming.”
The smile that Mycroft offers is disarmingly sincere.
“I heard you met someone at my office,” Gregory says tentatively.
It’s a Saturday night and the children have all gone to bed, leaving just the older girls and their father sprawled lazily across the old couch, crap telly buzzing in the background. Melantha’s finished her homework by the afternoon, mentally weary and more than willing to forget she possesses a backbone in favor of flopping across the entire loveseat. In the armchair pulled close to her, Gregory’s fingers toy with her long, auburn hair. He’s been at it for the past twenty minutes, a bit of a record in his books, and he does wonder briefly if he should continue to press his luck.
“Mmhmm. I liked the suit. Don’t see that whole ensemble very often these days,” she answers him absently.
“What did I tell you about trusting easy, though?” He doesn’t mean it as an accusation but his words come out a little sharper than intended. Instantly, Gregory feels his daughter’s entire body tense up, notices the way her left fist clenches sharply before unfurling.
“I imagined Dimmock had seen him and deemed him safe. Also, he was just sitting in your office all quiet-like. I…” she pauses. “I guess I can’t really explain and yeh, it was a risk I suppose.”
An awkward silence descends on the three of them.
“Would you like me to apologize?” If the question had been delivered in any other tone than the one Melantha uses, Gregory would’ve snapped back at the belligerence. As it is, he hears the thinly veiled trepidation and forced calm. It unsettles him, how robotic his daughter becomes when she feels the least bit defensive.
“No. I don’t. I just want you to be more careful.”
“Who was he, Dodds?” Aurelia intercepts, breaking up the tension in a bubbly voice.
“Mycroft Holmes. Erm, the older brother of Sherlock. You two remember him?”
The girls snort. Of course they do. The first time they’d met the man, Sherlock had been in the middle of a tirade against their father – it hadn’t earned him any brownie points in either of their books. Melantha had knocked very sharply at the door, disrupting the man’s speech rather pointedly and had waltzed deliberately into his office. She’d then set a positively glacial glower at Sherlock as she deposited her father’s forgotten lunch bag on the table.
John, poor sod, had merely looked helplessly at the staring contest between teenager and overgrown man-child. True to form, Sherlock had picked up instantly on one of the issues that bothered Gregory the most about his daughter and pointed out rather acerbically, “You’ve not eaten a thing for the last twenty-four hours.” John had blinked, Gregory had frowned and Melantha had simply breezed past him with an indifferent, “Bravo.”
Donovan, having witnessed the entire exchange, hadn’t bothered stifling her giggle. Sherlock getting dismissed – successfully – by a sixteen-year-old. He’d have laughed too if he hadn’t been so worried about that little factoid Sherlock had announced. Aurelia had been given strict instructions to watch her sister consume something just before she turned on her heel to chase after Melantha.
“He’s not so bad, actually. Decent bloke; a little overprotective of Sherlock though he refuses to express it in the usual overtures of us mere mortals,” Gregory rattles on with the resigned affection one comes to bear for the Holmes after spending years in their company (whether willingly or not).
He does not notice the conspiratorial glance his girls exchange.
“He’s lonely, do you think?”
“Have you seen the way he looks at the pictures of momma and him?” Aurelia murmurs softly into the space between them on the bed. Ever since Melantha was old enough to be upgraded from the baby’s crib, she’s always shared a bed with Aurelia – the two of them utterly inseparable. Their father had offered them individual beds at one point, only for the girls to rage protest against the very idea.
“Mmhmm. But it’s different now. It used to be that… sad, red-eyed look. Now… it’s as though he’s just lost or something. I dunno, Aurie,” Melantha half-mutters into her pillow.
“It’s worth a shot. You can’t go wrong with a nice date. Good company’s always nice,” Aurelia says, thoughtful.
“That Mycroft person. You should try to catch him if you can. He might be worth a try for Doddy, I think.”
“You sure? He didn’t creep you out? You sounded like you were creeped out.”
“Nah. You know me… it’s instinctive for me to be uncomfortable around people I don’t know. But he seems… enigmatic and what-have-you. Think Heathcliff. Or something. The Byronic Hero,” Melantha laughs quietly, more than a little wistful.
“Dodders did sound amiable, or at least neutral when he spoke of him,” Aurelia concedes.
Melantha hums in vague agreement before her fingers tighten around the edge of her pillow and silence fills their room.
With Christmas right around the corner, Lestrade cannot help but feel like the Grinch. He eyes the fortress he’s unconsciously made of the files and files and papers and mugs around his desk and has to resist the urge to fall into depression. In order to actually take the long weekend off, and not give a rat’s arse about his work for once in the entire bloody year (his daughter’s words, not his, though he can’t but agree), Gregory has to tackle the inevitable holiday rush of paperwork made worse by the sudden, inexplicable spike in crime rates nearing the festive season. He hates his job sometimes.
To top it all off, he doesn’t have a clue what to get his children. The younger ones, he can churn up something easily enough, but for the two older girls… He’s long given up asking them what they want because their automatic response was always an infuriating “Anything’s fine, Dodds.” or if they were trying to be particularly frustrating, “You don’t have to get me anything, Doddy.”
Which child said such things to their long suffering parent? And the truth of the matter is, there were things his girls wanted, things he knew they thought too expensive or frivolous, things they would love to call their own if not for the fact that they believed the money ought to be saved or spent on their siblings. Most days, their maturity was staggering and greatly appreciated, but when it came to such situations, Lestrade wishes they would just be selfish for once.
He is startled out of his musings by a sudden bout of murmuring from just beyond his half-shuttered window. Past the blinds, Lestrade sees the familiar head of strawberry blond and to his mild horror, the tall figure of the elder Holmes. If he didn’t know his girls better, he’d swear this meeting was planned. Not by Mycroft, no, but more likely than not it was a concerted effort between Aurelia and Melantha to ‘stumble’ upon Sherlock’s brother. Girls.
Lestrade watches for a moment as Aurelia gives her most winning smile, the one that perpetually has him on the alert for the swarm of hormonal, adolescent boys he just knows are a fraction away from pouncing. He was well aware that his eldest was awfully pretty and sweet and all manner of things that made her extremely well-liked in school, but it wasn’t until he’d been with her on a trip to the ice cream shop near their flat that the implications of such traits dawned on him. It was made glaringly clear when the fumbling, grinning boy behind the counter had kept heaping the peppermint chocolate onto her waffle cone after a mere smile from Aurelia. Lestrade had stared at the vast difference in their orders – Vesuvius and a thumbtack. He completely blames his wife for leaving him the arduous task of fending off the incessant eyeballing of her daughter.
At the small quirk to Mycroft’s lips at something his daughter says, Lestrade finds himself standing and striding over to the door, clearing his throat quite audibly.
Aurelia is a girl on a mission. When her father forgets his lunch bag, again, she snaps up the opportunity to visit his office. If Doddy has noticed her dropping by the Met more often, he has yet to say anything about it. Just as well, really. She’s a terrible liar, a failure on her part, much to Melantha’s chagrin (it makes for a horrible accomplice).
She just catches the elevator as the door’s almost closed, and huffs a ‘thank you’ to the person inside.
The voice is crisp and cultured and sticks out like a sore thumb. Aurelia blinks and strives for a discreet glance out of her peripheral vision. It is a man, not unlike what her sister has described, dressed in a perfectly tailored charcoal black suit and taupe gray waistcoat, crisp white dress shirt tucked smartly into trousers that of matching black. In his left hand, he grips an umbrella set precisely perpendicular to the floor.
“Is something the matter?” the man inquires politely, no inflection in his voice to suggest irritation at the staring.
Aurelia whips her head to the side, shyly meeting serene silver-blue eyes – no, they are more of a light green with flecks of brown. The man, Mycroft, has his head cocked a little to the left as he waits patiently for her answer.
“No,” she stutters, covers her nerves with a laugh. “I’m sorry, it’s just… I thought you might be someone my sister had spoken of.”
“Oh?” the man straightens himself a little imperiously. But Aurelia has seen Sherlock on quite a few occasions and if the man is his older brother, a Holmes, then the action doesn’t quite look as pompous as it would for anyone else. “Does she know his name?”
“Sherlock Holmes’ older brother. Mycroft Holmes, I think she’d said.”
The man’s eyebrows rise fractionally, startled for a moment, she thinks, but as quickly as it comes, the expression is smoothed once more to cool indifference.
“Indeed. I am Mycroft Holmes. Are you related to the Inspector?” he asks, even though he most likely already knows the answer to his question.
“Yes. I’m his eldest daughter, Aurelia,” she says, smiling. “I believe you've met my sister.”
There’s a faint twitch to the corners of his thin lips.
“Ah, yes. Melantha. You’ve both fascinating names,” he says at length.
“Just as you and Sherlock do too,” Aurelia grins. Mycroft huffs out a choked off sound that might be construed as a laugh.
The elevator doors open and he motions politely for her to proceed before him, a gesture so gentlemanly as to be foreign. Aurelia recalls only the childishness of the boys back in school, racing for the elevator and leaving the girls with a smug smirk to climb the stairs instead. She bites back a sigh.
Together, they make their way past the maze of square cubicles peppered with staff hunched over dingy computers and take-away boxes. She makes out her father’s shape through the half-pulled shutters, notices the too dark smudges beneath his eyes and the small legion of coffee mugs by his elbow.
“He always forgets his lunch,” she mutters to no one in particular. Mycroft hears her, of course, and smiles warmly down at her. “I’d best pass it to him and be off.”
“Sociology textbook beckons?” Mycroft says.
“Yes,” Aurelia says, startling. The inevitable question almost leaves her mouth when she decides otherwise. She should’ve known better; naturally, Mycroft would have the same deductive powers as his younger brother.
Instead, she giggles.
Mycroft raises a brow, but turns a small smile to her.
“It was a pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure’s all mine.”
Standing by the doorway, her father clears his throat and Aurelia nearly jumps.
Subject: Oh. My. GOD. I’ve met him, Mela. I’VE MET HIM. O.O
Subject: Hah. And?
Subject: He’s marvelous. He’s got the old school charm thingamabob going for him. <3
Subject: He does, but remember, he’s Dodd’s mark, not yours. I like the brolly.
Subject: Oh for goodness sake, Mela. And yes. HIS EYES ARE AMAYZING.
Subject: I find your spelling most worrying, Aurie. So, are we going to do this or not?
Subject: You are such a wet blankie. Honest to god, Mela. Yes, yesyesyes we are going to do this. What shall we call it?
Subject: On the contrary. Anyway. Project GL?
Subject: Doddy’s initials? Seriously?
Subject: NO? GL=Get Laid. ;o)
Subject: Oh Christ, Mela. That’s just wrong. What about Project L.N.M.?
Subject: I’m open-minded. Now you’re just scaring me. Do you not know your alphabets? O.o
Subject: Ha-bloody-ha. LNM = Lonely No More.
Subject: You swore. I’m immensely proud. Yes, I suppose that’s fine. Project LNM it is.
The front door very nearly slams shut with a resounding bang.
Gregory lifts his head from the study desk placed behind the couch, facing away from the telly. He looks over his shoulder in time to see his daughter walk stiffly across the flat, eyes glassy and jaw clenched.
She ignores him, and the curious looks the twins and his youngest gives her, the sound having interrupted their movie. The girl closes her bedroom more sedately and he hears the snick of the lock sliding into place.
Aurelia would have been able to help if she’d not been out with a couple of her friends. Gregory looks helplessly at the door and frets. There could be a whole host of things that her daughter could be doing in there, given her inclination for what Gregory simply labels ‘dark’ in his mind. It’s so blatant in the colors she dons, in the books she reads, the music she listens to, the art he chances upon when he finds it in himself to tidy up the house a bit. She’d taken after her mother in that regard, painting and sketching on any piece of paper when the fancy struck her. She wasn’t to be left with anything one could possibly draw with when she’d been a toddler; their walls had suffered thoroughly.
When Aurelia returns home sometime after midnight, he’s still staring at an array of documents, progressing at a pathetic pace what with his daughter being an utter distraction.
“Heya, Doddy,” she greets sweetly.
“Aurie, I need your help,” he says outright. His daughter immediately frowns in concern.
“Mela. She’s been in her room the moment she got home and – ”
The corners of Aurelia’s lip dip down and she nods. He needn’t say anymore.
Aurelia shuffles to their shared bedroom and fishes out the only other key that opens the door (Gregory has a copy too, of course, but nobody knows that.) and enters The Den.
The room is illuminated by the one table lamp on Aurelia’s side and it’s enough to throw a shadow on the lump that is her sister under the covers.
Melantha remains silent, curled into a ball and Aurelia sinks into the mattress just beside her. Hesitantly, she extends her hand, hovering just above a shoulder.
“Don’t. Please,” her sister says into the pillow.
“I doubt you want to talk,” she says dubiously.
“No.” It was worth a shot.
“Well,” Aurelia huffs. “I managed to steal M’s phone number from Dodd’s phonebook.”
Melantha perks up from the covers, tousled hair emerging from beneath the duvet. It is the reaction Aurelia had been gunning for.
Subject: Dear sir, this is Melantha, Inspector Lestrade’s daughter. I am very sorry to bother you like this and for texting you directly but my sister and I knew no other way to contact you covertly. Forgive me for being presumptuous but would it be possible for me to meet you at a bench near the Serpentine Bridge of Hyde Park on the 16th? Please and thank you.
Subject: Good morning, Melantha. Would 1500hours suit you? I trust you will use this number with care.
“Dodds? What exactly does Sherlock’s older brother do?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Well, in the man’s own words, he’s supposed to be a ‘minor government official’. Which is a whole load of poppycock, really. He’s practically the government itself if you ask me.”
Subject: Yes sir. And yes, 1500hours would be perfect.
Subject: Splendid. I shall see you then.
Melantha wraps her arms around herself and snuggles into the warmth of her oversized jumper. She’s ten minutes early and seated on a bench by the north bank, overlooking the shimmering waters. The sun is still shining somewhat through the clouds but for some reason, there is a stark absence of joggers and families milling noisily about. She tries to recall if there was something special about today, but her memory draws a blank.
She takes a peek at her mobile’s screen, checks the digital clock for the umpteenth time and draws her feet onto the bench. The movement jars her left arm and the throbbing starts up again. Her fingers twitch with the desire to scratch away at the annoying itch.
“Good afternoon, Melantha.”
Her dark hair whirls around her as she snaps her head to the left. Mycroft stands beside the bench in a rich navy, knee-length coat with a peak lapel, cut to fit his shoulders perfectly (Melantha spots the label stitched to a sleeve – Zegna), and his ever present three piece suit beneath it. She makes to rise, only for him to wave her down with a hand.
“Good afternoon, Sir.” Her eyes dart from his calm expression to the lady sitting on the bench a few feet from theirs. She hadn’t been there a minute ago. Melantha doesn’t remark upon it.
Mycroft settles a respectable distance from her though she can feel the warmth he emanates. It settles her somewhat.
“Are you not cold?” She grins a little at the skeptical brow he gives her, taking in the large, forest green jumper and black, skinny jeans.
Melantha wiggles her boots, “I’m alright, thank you.”
“I see.” The disbelief is palpable in his voice. “Well, then. How may I be of service to you, Melantha?”
Mycroft doesn’t turn, his body facing the lake; he merely regards her with a slight tilt of his head. She likes his fedora; it’s very dapper.
“I… given your… resources, I imagine you already know or could know all that you’d want to about my family. And ever since mother died, father’s been throwing himself into his work while juggling the family – ”
Mycroft begins analyzing everything about the girl the moment she comes into view. As he settles himself into the bench, he pays attention to the too stark collarbones that expose themselves from the stretched collar of her knit-jumper, the heavy bags under her eyes, the prominence of her cheekbones, the rigidity with which she holds herself, the ram-rod straight line of her back and most of all… the care that she places in keeping her left forearm immobile.
He listens with half an ear, though he processes everything that she says. She’s telling him a highly abbreviated situation of her home, setting the premise, as it were, and it intrigues him, her choice of words. It’s so very formal and a little archaic and rather endearing. Her voice does not rise above a certain level, soft-spoken though the number of piercings on her ears and the slight furrow between her brows say otherwise.
She’s suddenly nervous, the lines of her body sharp and tense – ah, the crux of the whole meeting, then. He’s actually rather impressed with the young lady, an opinion’s he’s not harbored since Anthea had her not-interview.
“ – my sister and I were wondering if you might go on a date with him.”
Mycroft blinks. He doesn’t doubt his hearing, and yet.
“I beg your pardon?”
“It’s just… father wouldn’t ask, wouldn’t bother finding anyone either because he’s annoying and irrational like that. But Aurie and I think you’re marvelous and she thinks a date’s rather harmless and – ”
Mycroft endures the babbling if only to witness Lestrade’s very proper daughter throw decorum to the wind, revealing fragments of childlike behavior he imagines she cannot indulge in often. It’s most charming.
He smiles and raises a hand to spare them both.
“You would like me to ask your father to dinner. Or some such,” he says, deadpan.
Mycroft barks a laugh at the frankness. It’s terribly refreshing.
“I should doubt your father would appreciate you and your sister conspiring against him,” he remarks lightly.
“I wouldn’t quite call it conspiring. You’re quite the catch, Sir,” Melantha informs him with the unabashed innocence only a child could manage.
Mycroft tips his hat at her. He pauses for a moment, the grin not quite gone from his face as he finally turns on the bench to face her.
Curious, wary eyes regard him.
“Alright, I shall endeavor to have your father join me for a date. Whatever progresses thereafter, I will not force. Yes?”
Melantha gives a sharp nod.
“However, I will do so only on one condition.” He is serious now, pinning her with a stern look.
“You must promise to have that looked at,” he says, pointing at her arm, his eyes never leaving hers.
She swallows, and her expression falters, morphs from anger to muted irritation. It reminds him of Sherlock when he’d been a little boy denied the rather dangerous contraption he’d attempted to build, consisting not only of knives filched from the kitchen but a myriad of tools from their father’s laboratory.
“It isn’t of your concern, Sir,” she says icily.
“It might as well be, Melantha.”
She glares at him, and he simply matches her with a frustratingly serene gaze. She’s the first to look away.
“Will you tell him?”
“Does he not know?”
“I think he suspects something but no, he doesn’t know.”
“It will have to depend, Melantha. I cannot, in good conscience, withhold information from him when your life might be in danger.”
The girl huffs in disbelief.
“You know my brother, yes?”
She nods, reluctantly looking back at him.
“Then you ought to know John.”
She nods again.
“This is their address, and this,” he types a quick message to Melantha’s phone. “Is his number. Ask for him, at least.”
Melantha doesn’t take out her mobile to check for the new message.
Mycroft extends a hand, removes the leather glove.
“Do we have an accord, Miss?”
Just as he predicts, the smile he sets upon her wears down the edges and Melantha permits a tiny grin as she shakes his hand.
The story continues and it's a little darker this time.
As mentioned, this chapter has rather vivid descriptions and contains material that might be triggering. Just a warning, folks.
*I woke up and wished that I was dead, with an aching in my head*
In Melantha’s far from jaundiced opinion, it only looks worse than it really is.
But she did promise Mycroft, and if all the espionage novels and films she’s seen are anything to go by, the man is sure to know if she goes back on her word. So.
Melantha sits cross-legged on the bed, ensconced in her blanket, and fiddles with the keypad of her mobile. Her fingers trace the edges of each button, a sudden anxiety gripping her from the inside, each indent and scratch on the underside of the phone all of a sudden glaringly present. There was a reason why she’d avoided counselors and silly ‘heart-to-heart’ chats her peers were so bloody fond of. She flexes her fingers, gulps a huge breath that leaves her dizzy, and dials the number, her heart hammering away with each ring.
The phone is picked up after the fifth.
“Hullo?” says a somewhat nasal voice.
“Erm. Mr. Watson?” she whispers. In the confines of her blanket ball, the sound is rather louder than she would have liked.
“Speaking. Er, who is this?”
“It’s Melantha. I’m awful sorry to bother you, sir,” she says, careful to enunciate clearly.
“Oh! Oh, right. Mycroft said something cryptic a few days ago about … expecting… this. Please, call me John, yeh? I feel like an old foggy when you say ‘sir’ or ‘Mr. Watson’.”
John clears his throat.
“Okay. How may I help you, Melantha?”
“It’s… rather personal… a matter.” She wants nothing more than to throw the phone against the wall and suffocate herself with the pillow. “And I was hoping… for your medical, erm, expertise. Sort of.”
A tremendously awkward pause descends with nary a care for invitation, during which Melantha blushes furiously at the implications left churning in the air. It’s terribly stuffy under her blanket now, the prickling of sweat uncomfortable.
“No, I’m not pregnant.”
The loud exhalation of what can only be relief leaves Melantha with the maddening urge to cry hysterically.
“Right, right. That’s – that’s good. Okay. Christ. Not that, I wouldn’t have helped, no, I would have, of course I – ”
“It’s just a cut, Uncle J.”
“No, sorry, should I not call you that? It feels wrong; calling you John. You’re older than I am and there’s supposed to be respect and – ”
“Wait, wait. Melantha, before we both start rambling in sync, it’s fine. Uncle – what you called me is fine. Now, then. You said something about a cut?”
“It’s really not that bad but I promised someone I would get it looked at.”
“Let me be the judge of that, alright?” he says gently.
“Fine. So… when would it be convenient for me to pop by?”
“Does your father know about this?” Something about his tone tells her he’s narrowed his eyes. Typical.
Melantha toys with the hem of her nightie. (Nobody’s here to deduce whatever it is from that so she’s going to do as she pleases, thank you very much)
“Ah. Right. How about tomorrow after lunch?”
“No cases. Sherlock’s on his, erm, streak again. You know the one.”
“That’s true… actually.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Uncle J.”
“Hah. That’ll take some getting used to. But it’s nice. Erm. Yes, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Once the connection deadens to a lonely, prolonged beep, Melantha tosses the phone over her shoulder to fall face first into the pillows. She ignores the soft question Elysia hesitates from beyond the door at the (Possibly. Who cares at this point?) lewd groan.
The stairs creak under each heavy step, and the wallpaper of a peculiar shade of green that leans a little too charitably towards bile looms obscenely close today. He’s watched it peel away in a progression of his life, having lived in this building from the moment he’d entered the force. That is, even before his first little girl had turned up in his life like a small, unexpected bundle of blinding sunshine. God, he feels so sodding old some days.
Gregory ambles into the flat and the first thing his exhausted body acknowledges is that his home smells like an explosion of chocolate. Which could mean only one thing.
“Mela, darling, are you baking? Are you?”
Gregory stumbles into the living room to the sight of his entire family perched on whatever surface was available in the kitchen (the twins on the edge of the sink, Ilien draped over a chair, Aurelia on a stool with her face propped on her palms), watching their sister putter about. The dodgy oven they’ve got is lit and he spots a tray already shut inside.
“What are you making, honey?”
“A German Chocolate Cake of some kind,” Aurelia says distractedly.
His daughter’s face is flushed pink from the heat, her long hair done up in a messy bun, a style chosen in haste, all sloppy and tangled but it keeps her from swatting at loose strands and Gregory thinks she looks beautiful. The maroon tank top clings to her tummy with suspicious hand-print patterns – tell-tale signs of another bit of clothing being turned into an impromptu apron.
“Tin,” Melantha finally rasps, a little frantic, and it makes Gregory smile.
“Tin!” Elysia chirps. Her still small hands grapple for the circular pan and she presents it to her sister with a flourish.
“The way to bake a delicious cake.”
“To make a princess proud~”
“Is to use all the right ingredients!”
Gregory jerks at the sudden burst of song, swiveling an incredulous stare at the twins.
“It begins?” Aurelia laughs at their bobbing bodies, setting rhythm to just one of a whole host of tunes the family has ingrained in their heads from seeing Disney a time too many.
“It begins,” she says to her father over their voices.
“Right, then. There’s nothing else to do but – It’s fun to bake a delicious cake but make sure you prepare…”
Aurelia doubles over in laughter, ignoring the murderous glare being sent her way from her sister. Her blue eyes water further at the hurt of betrayal all but written across Melantha’s flour smudged face. But try as she might, there is that nigh imperceptible softening around the corners of her eyes and for that singular moment, Aurelia sees her sister again, her little sister whom she adored with a crippling intensity – not the shadow of a girl hidden behind walls, far away where she cannot follow.
“My ears are going to bleed!”
“They’ll hold a bit longer, sweetheart.” Aurelia can almost see it emerging just then, the rather energetic twitching of Melantha’s lips, the half-hearted scowl.
“Jamie, you’re a boy, for lord’s sake. Why do you even know the stupid lyrics?” Melantha splutters.
James shrugs, innocent in the I-had-to-see-it-with-Elysia-and-then-Ilien sort of way when he really means he knows because he’s thrown himself into the task with all the ferocity of a tiger to its prey given his sister’s well-known loathing of the song. Snow White, she’d decreed once upon a time (harhar), was the most annoying of the so-called princesses. (How is it a hardship to leave off one red apple?)
The paper bag is a dead weight in her hands.
The off-white front of 221 Baker Street is unsettling in the weak sunlight filtering past the gray clouds, boarded windows encased in black panels, misleadingly harmless black door just staring at her. A woman in a power suit breezes past her, a man in a well-worn parka strolls by her, a group of boys, boisterous and crude as they always seem to be in her presence (“Peacocks, I tell you. It’s all an act to get you to notice them,” Aurelia always said. What rubbish – it’s all a plot to have her flailing and nervous on the inside, that’s all. Assholes.) amble past and for once she’s much too engrossed in scavenging for courage to care – must’ve left it back home. All around her, people meander about, milling past in the mundane drone of life, so unutterably boring that their sheer ignorance chuffs at her. How, just how, could the world continue spinning when here she was, at the very precipice of what seems a lot like stepping into certain doom?
She doesn’t jump a foot in the air. Her arms crush the paper bag to her chest, wild amber eyes darting to the now open black door.
“Sherlock says he’s seen you standing there for the last fifteen minutes,” John revises. “Precisely, I was told to add.” He’s wearing one of those jumpers he’s become synonymous with in her mind, a soothing sky blue this time. She wonders if his wardrobe is composed entirely of jumpers, if it spills over into Sherlock’s because, really, they’re so obviously mad about each other or at least John’s messing with some notion of madness to willingly plunge into flatmatehood.
“Sorry,” Melantha says hastily.
“It’s quite alright, come on in.”
The landing is even darker and gloomier than the one back home, a depressing paint job if she ever saw one. Still, she’ll keep the commentary to herself. The space is narrow and a little musky, the short staircase creaks under foot, and Melantha is a fish floundering in a desert.
“Sherlock. I thought we agreed,” John hisses. His attention is shifted from the short, worried glances over his shoulder to the tall, gangly man leaning against the doorway with all the grace of a sloth.
He’s abandoned the usual suit she always sees him in when not clothed in that funny bath robe of his, and settled for a dark purple dress shirt. Melantha has yet to decide if that’s an improvement. Sherlock doesn’t provide a response, merely stares past John as if the man were invisible, his penetrating gaze fixed solely on the girl trailing quietly behind. It isn’t until John stops directly in front of Sherlock, wordlessly demanding the man lower his forever tousled head of brown hair, that those distracting silver eyes turn away.
Melantha resists the urge to crinkle the edges of the paper bag as she watches the staring match from the sidelines.
“As I recall, you spoke, and I agreed to nothing,” the taller man finally says.
“I don’t have to explain what ‘personal’ means, surely.”
“I have need of the kitchen, John. The experiment requires my attention, and since you do not permit me to transfer it to the bedroom – ”
“Don’t you dare start.” John shakes his head. Sherlock draws himself up to his full height, smoothes the front of his shirt primly.
“Ergo, I will inevitably be privy to whatever… asinine, emotional babble you both shall indulge in.” John visibly grits his teeth.
The adjective stings. It does, but Melantha wouldn’t care for false sympathy either. The fact of the matter is that there is wont to be a certain amount of emotional babble that the doctor is going to squirrel out of her, and describing it as anything other than it is – asinine – would irk her all the same. The feeling is convoluted and explained to herself as best she can but it courts an oncoming headache all the same and Melantha sighs.
Both men look at her.
“Oh. Oh, sorry. It’s… sorry. I mean, that is, it’s fine if Mr. Holmes is around, Uncle J,” Melantha offers, subdued.
“You’re sure?” John confirms.
“I’m sure. Not much you can do about it either way, I imagine,” she says, very sincerely.
Sherlock narrows his eyes when she doesn’t take the bait, narrows them further when she says what she says. But it wasn’t remarked in irritation or as a backhanded insult – Melantha’s rather certain he realizes this by the disgruntled look that crosses his face.
He turns away with an indignant harrumph, stalking into the flat.
John spares a moment longer to watch the man walk away with all the likeness of a panther with its hackles raised, and then tries to look nonchalantly at Melantha.
“Well, then.” John breathes out, leading the way into the living room of sorts. It’s the first time she’s set foot in their home and it’s dimly lit, a mite gloomy with the beige and browns but cozy nonetheless. There’s a fireplace that has probably seen better days, a cluttered study table, frankly adorable union jack throw pillows and a curious smiley face spray painted in yellow on one wall. If anything, the apartment is spacious and warm, more so than one might have expected from the outside, the latter undoubtedly thanks to John.
“Shall we get cracking?” John scuffs his feet across the floor, says a little absently, “Here should do nicely, it’s brightest.”
“Erm, Uncle J, this is for you,” Melantha cuts in, smiling a little at the man.
John blinks curiously at her.
“It’s erm, just something I made for you and Mr. Holmes.”
John accepts the brown paper bag from her, unfurls the folded edges to peer inside, the paper crinkling noisily.
“What is – oh, wait, I smell chocolate. Doesn’t matter what as long as it’s chocolate.” John grins winningly.
“There’re two parchment wrapped cakes in there. Labelled one for each of you. Took a stab at the sort of chocolate you might like – ”
“Melantha, it’s perfect, thank you. You really shouldn’t have,” John says, moving towards the kitchen.
“It’s no trouble.” Melantha chews on her lip.
She sinks into the cushion of the armchair, and angles her body into the light. John comes back in a series of steady floorboard creaking to push aside the day curtains that shield the large windows. Outside, the skies are clearer, a surprise for a winter day, really. John hauls a stool from beside the desk and parks it a fair space from Melantha.
“Alright, let’s have a look.”
Melantha stretches out her left arm, props it atop a throw pillow and into the full shine of the light streaming in. John gently pushes back the sleeve of her baggy jumper, giving her an encouraging smile as he does so.
Her forearm’s familiar topography is a peculiar thing, shaded a little tan at certain patches, old markings faded and merged into them. The scars aren’t always stark, aren’t always visible, some were no more than browned lines and faint indents, others, far fewer, were short linear bumps along the skin. It isn’t, by the standards of the majority, pretty, she knows this, she’s felt and seen the judging, questioning stares of complete strangers on the bus or the train. It bothers her sometimes, a little, brings up the contemplation of hiding them better, but then she’ll remember that they’re strangers and this is her and this is hers and nobody should have her be ashamed of the scars. It is what it is; to call it anything else would be an insult to its gravity.
She hears a soft but sharp intake of breath that makes her steel herself. John’s staring at the memories carved onto her and the recent entry now scabbing, his brows furrowed and his eyes sad.
“Who told you?”
Melantha jerks violently at the voice that pipes up beside her. She hadn’t heard him walk over from the kitchen.
“Who told me what?” She’s careful to school her face into a blank mask.
“Who told you to change the direction in which you cut your flesh? Who told you that it was more likely for a scar to remain in doing so?” Sherlock looks down his nose at her, cool indifference reflected in cold silver irises.
“Sherlock,” a warning in John’s voice.
“A friend of mine. He’s a medical student. And no, he doesn’t know why I’d asked,” she answers tentatively.
Sherlock raises a brow at her, but says nothing more.
“Do you always leave the wound bared like that?” John clears his throat.
“Pretty much. Unless it’s… worse or I’m in school. I usually leave it uncovered, even if I’m wearing something long-sleeved.”
“Even when it’s not begun to scab?” John inquires, frowning. Melantha nods.
“It’ll hurt more and bits of lint could get into the wound, love,” he says absently, focused on turning her forearm this way and that. “You should use a bit of gauze, not a plaster, if your sleeve’s going to have contact with it. Breathes better.”
“It doesn’t look bad, I agree,” John declares. “It’s healing nicely.”
The ensuing silence stretches excruciatingly across the flat. John looks like he’s bitten a particularly sour lemon, consternation so telling in his frown. He’s probably forming the right words in his head, poor man. She should spare him the effort, really.
“Listen,” he starts quietly. “I know your Da may not be the easiest to talk to about certain things, like this,” he gestures to the forearm. Melantha slowly retracts it. “I know parents aren’t always the most ideal to confide in.”
“He doesn’t know, Uncle J,” she reiterates.
“Yes, yes, that makes confiding in him even harder. So, what I’m trying to say is that if you need somebody to talk to, about anything at all, I’m right here. You’ve got my number, you know where I am, so feel free to drop by. Whenever,” John insists, not unkindly. Melantha has heard such offers a million times over, from friends in school who’ve managed to observe that much or had the courage to ask her about it (not that she ever gave a proper answer), from her sister too. But not once has she ever taken them up on it, opening up and confiding in people left her far too vulnerable, and the one time she’d made such an attempt had ultimately ended in a terrible bout of self-loathing. This won’t be any different.
“Not that you will,” Sherlock chimes in.
Back facing the man, Melantha closes her eyes briefly. “But thank you for offering, Uncle J.”
She doesn’t see the silent exchange between the men, doesn’t see the scowl and the answering quirkof brows or the flickering of gray eyes towards her and the dubious nod of acquiesce.
“I’d best be off. Thanks again,” Melantha murmurs, rising.
“Allow me to walk you to the front door,” says Sherlock. Melantha blinks rapidly at the lightning quick flip from condescension to flawless manners.
“Sure. See you, Uncle J.”
Melantha walks calmly out of the flat and down the stairs, ignoring how Sherlock fairly glides down the steps. They’re both silent and tense all the way to the front door.
As she turns to shake his hand in a goodbye, Sherlock grasps her right arm, stilling her. In the next moment, he’s jerked his hand away as if scalded. She doesn’t know what to say.
“You do realize that whatever I’ve deduced from that, my brother would more than know too, don’t you?”
“I’d expect nothing less,” Melantha answers gravely. “Though I’d like to think that there are some things no amount of deduction can tell you about it, Mr. Holmes.”
“Call me Sherlock. And not ‘Uncle S’ or whatever. It’s disturbing,” he mutters under his breath quickly, as if it was simply a bothersome point he has no choice but to address before continuing. “And I fairly doubt that.”
Melantha looks away.
“What John said…” Sherlock’s voice is low and quiet, almost whispered and warm. She closes her eyes.
“I know better than anyone what it feels like to be an outsider. It’s cold, solitary confinement in the sanctuary of your mind. Not fitting in… I suppose it plays on all the insecurities a person might possess. Yes, perhaps I may not be able to deduce with absolute clarity the reason for your self-destructive patterns, but listen to me.”
The pads of chilly fingers nudge her chin, and Melantha turns open eyes to meet his.
“There was, is, a difference between you and me. I’ve always believed without a shadow of a doubt in my brilliance. It was a fact. The rest who shunned me, who hated me, did so out of a lack of understanding. Of this I have no doubt. Knowing that I was different, that it was no fault on my part but theirs for intolerance, it made emotions easy to compartmentalize, to ignore. It makes me immune to the opinions of the world, to its influence, to how it might otherwise destroy. But you, you give them free rein, you allow them to affect you more than they should ever be permitted to. It forces you to doubt yourself, because you don’t know. You think you’re less than them, you think the problem lies with you.” Sherlock leans close until their faces are mere inches apart. Melantha doesn’t flinch though she bites her cheek at the flickering rage that dances violently in Sherlock’s silvery eyes.
“Learn yourself, on your own, and forget the world while you do. Don’t underestimate what you do not yet know.”
She cannot pinpoint at which point the few tears had streaked down her cheeks, only that they have and that they stung. Melantha ducks away; it’s one thing to be analyzed unabashedly, and quite another to weep like a child in front of company. She scrubs the tracks with a brusque swipe of her sleeve’s cuff and looks away, trying to compose herself.
Without a warning, she wraps her arms around Sherlock in a flurry of auburn hair and flying scarf.
“Thank you,” she whispers harshly in his ear.
Melantha fumbles back, before there is need for Sherlock to respond with the appropriate gesture, and pecks both of his cheeks in parting.
“Your share of the cake’s made of fifty-five percent cocoa. I thought you would probably be different from the supposed majority of men who presumably prefer dark chocolate.”
She thinks it’s something of an achievement to leave the man a little wide-eyed.
*And I watch the stars from my windowsill*
At first, he doesn’t say anything. His attention is riveted to the brown paper bag and paper cup of steaming tea that has been placed on his table. It’s the same one his children use to bag their lunches, and the same one he’s sure more than several thousand others use too but that’s an irrelevant concern right now. His eyes dart to the clock – just after lunch hour; his eyes flick to the man standing poise-perfect before him. He pinches himself for good measure. It still hurts like a bitch, so yes, this really is happening.
“Er,” he says intelligently.
“Lunch,” Mycroft says, making a sweeping gesture at what he’s just placed on the Inspector’s table with all the care and wary distance of a bomb disposal unit.
“Er,” he tries again.
“Your daughters told me you’d forgotten to take it with you and I happened to be driving in the general direction. So.” Mycroft smiles a little, doesn’t quite reach his eyes at all. “Oh, and Elysia tells me to congratulate you on only having forgotten it just once this week.”
“Y-You. My daughters speak to you? How did you even meet? How do they communicate with you? Just… how?” Mycroft sniffs – Lestrade looks rather manic with the bewilderment. Hmm.
“Well, you know I’m acquainted with Melantha and Aurelia. And they seem to have managed to procure my phone number.” He doesn’t add that he doesn’t quite mind, or that Lestrade’s second eldest daughter had come forth with a stunningly forward request. He’s having quite a ball of a time, really.
“Christ.” Lestrade breathes. His shoulders slump dramatically and Mycroft finds the exasperation of a single father of five children rather endearing.
“Sir.” Lestrade’s forgotten all about the man’s creepy personal assistant who has been standing beside the door from the moment Mycroft waltzed (well, walked, actually) into his office.
“Ah. Yes, of course. Well then, if you will excuse me, Inspector.” He’s numb and his mind is still attempting to catch up with this whole chain of events, torn between the sneaking suspicion that his girls (Jamie would be on his side, surely) are plotting something, and the fact that Mycroft Holmes just used a flimsy excuse to explain his sudden presence in the office to drop off his lunch.
Mycroft is out of his office and almost at the elevators when Lestrade finally bolts from his chair and heads off in a sprint to catch up. He skids to a halt just as the man is about to enter the lift.
The doors re-open and Mycroft’s crafted look of polite curiosity greets him. Anthea spares him a brief glance and then returns her attention to her Blackberry.
“I – Christ. Sorry, you’re in a hurry, I know. But I have to thank you for driving all the way here to drop off my sodding lunch and apologize, sincerely apologize for whatever it is my daughters are planning. I’m sorry they’ve managed to haul you into one of their crazy schemes,” Lestrade gushes out in a single breath, his words puffed out in a wheeze at the end.
“It was no trouble, Inspector. They are most interesting individuals, your daughters. I am thoroughly amused,” Mycroft replies. His thin lips curve just so, enough to have Lestrade startle at the hint of mischief the man apparently cares for.
“Yes, well, I’ll make it up to you,” Lestrade insists. It takes a moment for his brain to register the words that have tumbled out of his mouth, as if there exists no filter for the stupid, insipid things that might be uttered.
It’s worth it, Lestrade eventually thinks, to see Mycroft blink twice and allow a slow, lazy smirk to tug his lips.
“Well, if you insist,” says Mycroft. “Do join me for dinner tomorrow.”
Subject: Target acquired. Anticipate interrogation upon return.
Subject: Roger that. Preparation underway.
Subject: All systems go. Thank you for the notice.
Subject: Good luck. Do your worst.
The kitchen is the very definition of calm. The chairs are placed in their appropriate angles, their respective occupants all seated accordingly. Plates are placed neatly before each child, cutleries aligned on either side of a plate atop a table mat. The pot is on the stove, puffing steam sluggishly over a low fire, as it’s been for the last two hours. In the fridge, a modest bowl of Tiramisu sits waiting, flavors soaking into the store bought sponge fingers.
A giggle interrupts the unnatural quiet.
“Elysia!” A boy hisses, though his lips quiver in a valiant attempt to suppress laughter of his own.
The familiar jangling of keys just outside flings silence upon the flat in an instant. It is followed by the creak of the door hinge, and the heavy thuds of well-worn Oxfords.
“I’m home,” their father says when he comes into view, taking in the tableau. His youngest turns her widest, sweetest smile at him in greeting. The whole picture is unsettling at best. Warily, he slips into his seat as Aurelia rises from hers to dish out the beef stew.
Ilien suddenly erupts in a bout of hysterical giggling that usually occurs only after worrying amounts of sugar ingestion. James buries his face in his hands, Elysia a mirror image of him. Only his two eldest daughters remain unfazed, though perhaps the slight hunch to Melantha’s shoulders could be an indication of exasperation. It does nothing to dispel his suspicions.
“Ilien? Darling, what’s so funny?”
His eyes dart around to note any warnings that might be mouthed or any changes in facial expressions that might suggest the truth.
“I’m sorry, Doddy,” his little girl gasps between giggles.
“What is this all about then?”
“Presents!” Ilien squeals. He blinks. That was not what he’d expected.
“Presents?” Aurelia digs politely into her dinner, as does Melantha, disinterest settling into their eyes. It’s very much normal, Gregory knows, what with their steadfast campaign to make his life a living hell in deciding what to get them. Speaking of which, he’ll have to seek Sally for advice yet again.
“Jamie thought that if we were really, really good, you and Santa would read the notes you always tell us to leave in our stockings,” she chirps, chubby cheeks flushed and adorable. Gregory humors his children in this charade.
“Really,” he says in that tone which clearly means not-really, and he sees his older girls pick up on it even if their younger siblings don’t.
“What else might it have been for, Doddy?” Elysia asks, her confusion genuine enough to throw Gregory off for a moment.
“Well, darling, something very interesting happened at work today and I thought perhaps I had you lot to thank for it,” Gregory says cheerily, looking each of his children in the eye.
“Oh?” James says.
Gregory hums in agreement, spearing a cube of beef into his mouth. He has to hand it to them; their acting is more than decent. He takes his time to chew, savoring the burst of flavor on his tongue and the inevitable suspense he creates.
“Indeed.” Gregory turns his attention to Melantha and Aurelia, who are regarding him with a masterful mix of interest and disinterest. “Would either of you happen to have had a part in it?”
“In what, Doddy? You still haven’t said.” Oh-ho, well played.
“I now have a date for tomorrow night.”
Melantha stares at him for a long moment, a blend of surprise and trepidation. Gregory could sympathize, would, actually, if not for the fact that he knows it’s all a ruse despite the sincerity of the reaction.
“Well, that’s lovely, Doddy.”
“Yes, he seems like a nice man.”
Gregory snorts. “Mmm, sure he is.”
Gregory glowers at his daughters.
“Eat your dinner.”