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The Least of All Possible Mistakes

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The first time George meets Mycroft Holmes, she tases him.

She’s just wrapped up teaching a self defense class sponsored by the Westminster council — a proposition which, after seeing so many bruised-looking eyes, always leaves her a bit bloodthirsty — when she’s more or less Shanghaied into a black town car and deposited at Battersea power station without explanation. It’s dark, her feet hurt, she spent the better part of the morning trying to roust Sherlock out of the New Scotland Yard bullpen, and George has never been fond of being kidnapped.

It’s hardly her fault that when she hears, “Ms. Georgiana Lestrade — a pleasure to finally meet you in person,” coming from just over her shoulder, she reaches into her handbag and opts to tase first and ask questions later.

At this point, a cadre of thugs in black, descriptionless suits haul her off to a black, descriptionless holding room, ignoring her protests that she’s a police officer and demands for identification. They take her taser and her mobile and George is trying to figure out if she can break the one-way glass when the door bangs open and Sherlock bursts in, eyes manic with glee.

“Lestrade, you are marvelous,” he declares, and rapturous, begs for details.

George is of a mind to beg for some fucking details of her own, except looking over Sherlock’s shoulder, she comes face to face with the man she’d tased again. He looks flawlessly put together and wholly put out, a red spot on his cheek from where his knees gave out and he’d hit the concrete. He’s stiff as a board, clutching at his umbrella as if he’d like to use it for some compensatory damage.

She points at him. “I’m arresting you — for illegal everything,” she snarls.

“Feisty,” the man says mildly. “I can see why my brother favors working with you among all of Scotland Yard’s detectives.”

Sherlock doesn’t even turn, still gripping George’s shoulders as he says, “Mycroft, do shut up, or I shall have her give me a live demonstration of how she tased you,” and attention back to George, demands, “Was it amazing? Did he lose bowel control?”

“He’s your brother?” George asks, angling her face toward Sherlock but keeping her eyes on Mycroft: bespoke suit, antique cufflinks, handmade umbrella, Italian shoes. Everything about him is whisper quiet like a silver tea set on padded damask cloth, elegant with old money, which George supposes answered several questions she’s always harbored about Sherlock, too.

“Genetics are boring,” Sherlock dismisses. “Now, tell me, and you must be comprehensive: did he twitch? Remember, you owe me full disclosure — if I hadn’t intervened, Mycroft’s people were going to have you disappeared under the Official Secrets Act.”

Apparently reaching the end of his tether, Mycroft intervenes. “Sherlock, that is ridiculous,” he snaps, and says to George, “And yes, I am his brother, Ms. Lestrade, so as you can see now, there was no reason for you to react so violently.”

Scoffing, George says, “You’re having me on, right? If you’re his —” she nods at Sherlock “— brother, even setting aside the kidnapping, then I should have tased you harder.”

“Still a charmer then, dear Sherlock?” Mycroft asks, one brow arching eloquently.

“Frankly, it horrifies me there’s more than one of you,” George tells him.

Mycroft’s face changes incrementally, the corners of his mouth curling up just the tiniest amount. It’s too small to be called a smile really, but it’s a strange expression that makes George think, it looks unpracticed, and it only lasts a moment, anyway, before Sherlock creates a series of horrified noises and it vanishes again.

Later, after she’s turned down Mycroft’s generous — if poorly timed — offer for a ride back to her flat, she finds herself sharing a cab with Sherlock, and turning to ask him, “What the hell was that about? Why is your brother kidnapping people? And how is it he seemed thoroughly unconcerned that I was going to arrest him?”

Sherlock, off on one of his irrelevant tangents, clearly, ignores her question completely in favor of saying, a tremor of faint horror in his voice, “If you two were to breed, any and all of your more tolerable characteristics would be drummed out, you know.”

The cabbie darts a worried look into the rearview mirror, which George returns.

“Right, well, that’s close enough to mine,” she declares, and gets out at the curb.

She’s got a half-mile walk ahead of her before she reaches her house, but honestly — Holmeses.


The next three times she sees Mycroft are as follows: (1) trespassing in the New Scotland Yard car park, (2) trespassing in the New Scotland Yard second floor break room, and (3) with his hands in his face in a moment of obvious vulnerability, waiting outside the door of Sherlock’s room at the University College Hospital after what is apparently Sherlock’s third overdose. She decides to put off berating him for his boundary issues — “minor government official” her arse — and goes downstairs, crosses an extremely perilous interchange, and triple-stacks some thermal cups so that when she returns with tea, it’s still searing hot.

“Here,” she says to Mycroft. “All hospital tea is shite.”

He looks up, and looks faintly surprised to see her. George can’t imagine why. She’d been the one to leave the urgent message with one of Mycroft’s myriad of assistants. Or maybe he’s already forgotten about everything that led up to this moment. She doesn’t blame him if he has.

George presses the tea on him, and he closes his hands around it. She’s added whole milk and three sugars, because he has that look to him, like all of her old friends from uni who now spend their hours trying ludicrous diets. A man deserves sugar by the third overdose.

“Careful, it’s hot,” she warns, when Mycroft goes to take a sip. He must have an asbestos mouth though, because he just does that thing again, the corners of his mouth tugging up tiredly, and says:

“My thanks, Ms. Lestrade.”

“Detective Inspector Lestrade,” she corrects him, feeling strangely off balance. She hasn’t been Ms. Lestrade since school. “Or Lestrade. Or George.”

Mycroft’s momentary zen transforms into a faint moue of distaste.

“Georgiana?” he proposes.

George scowls at him. “Do I honestly look like the sort of woman who can carry off a name with that many syllables?”

“Georgiana it is,” Mycroft decides, just like that, and before George has a chance to confiscate his tea on violation of Code 14 subsection Not Being A Twat line item Fucking Holmeses, a doctor peers out of Sherlock’s room and says, “Mr. Holmes? If you have a moment?” and Mycroft vanishes on near-silent feet, leaving a vapor trail of clean linen and an elegant, “Thank you again, Georgiana.

It sits in her stomach, making her feel stupid and too young, and she carries it with her like an unwanted obligation all the way home and through dinner.

“You’re acting strange,” Tom says, over carbonara.

George shrugs. “Odd day. Sherlock ODed — this is number three.”

Tom sighs. “Honestly, some people,” he comments.

The rest of the moralizing about substance abuse and not respecting the gift of life is implied. George always feels a flare of anger when Tom gets this way; he’s never been the one in soaked-through shoes on a bitterly cold January night, talking a teenager off of Waterloo bridge. Anyway, that’s her problem, not his, so she muffles her knee-jerk irritation with another forkful of pasta and clutches at her wine.

“So he’ll be all right then? Sherlock?” Tom presses.

“Probably,” she manages after a few bites. “His brother was at the hospital today.”

“Oh, God, there’re two of them?” Tom asks, looking genuinely horrified, and George peals out a laugh, because Tom is a arsehole, he really really is, but she loves him anyway, the miserable bastard.


Sherlock falls off the face of the Earth for three months. George likes to think herself unsentimental enough that she doesn’t worry, that she can just enjoy the peace like her coworkers — but then her coworkers hadn’t been the ones who’d found Sherlock at his Montague Street flat, barely breathing and white as bone ash.

I’m going to regret this, but. Is Sherlock all right? Been ages. GL, she texts Mycroft — well, she texts a number Mycroft’s assistant had given her.

There’s a beat, long enough for her to regret it, before her phone buzzes across her desk.

My wayward brother is fine.
I’ve sectioned him in an extremely upscale clinic.

Oh god, George texts back, reflexive, and almost immediately, there’s a reply:

Indeed, Georgiana. MH.

She thinks about writing back, IT’S GEORGE, but frankly it’s not worth the assumed hassle. There’s not really much she can do about posh people.

In the bedroom, late that night, Have I Got News For You playing on the telly, George sits cross-legged at the foot of the mattress and braids her hair into a pair of short, unsatisfying plaits. She’s going dreadfully gray. It’s a family trait, she knows. Her mother had been entirely silver-haired by the time she was thirty-five, which means George is already making progress by only being halfway there at thirty-six.

“Apparently, he’s in rehab,” she calls out to Tom, who’s in the bathroom fussing.

“Who?” Tom asks, obviously disinterested, most of his attention still stuck on frowning at his stomach. This new streak of vanity is hilarious, George thinks privately, but she wouldn’t ever say it, he’d pout so.

“Sherlock — who else do I know that might be in rehab?” George asks, and leans back so he can see her smiling in the sink mirror. “Stop preening and come over here.”

Tom does, swatting off the bathroom light like a child. “I wasn’t preening,” he mutters.

“You were, you absolutely were,” she laughs, and she straddles his hips when he gets on the bed, feels his hands settling on her thighs, and leans over to kiss him. She whispers, “You don’t need to worry, you know — I like you just as you are. Just as you’ll be.”

There’s a hush of silence here — too long, the Sherlock voice in her head whispers — before Tom says, “I know,” and “You, too,” and rolls them over, pressing her down into the mattress with familiar, well-loved kisses.

The next morning, clad in the magnificence of a decade-old nightshirt, knickers, and a dressing gown her mother-in-law bought her for Christmas last year, George finds herself furtively examining a coupon for hair dye. Vibrant, natural-looking chestnut, the ad promises, but it seems wrong, somehow. George doesn’t even like eyeliner.

Tom staggers in, muffling a yawn and a kiss into her temple as he passes her, casts a look down at the newspaper, and casual as anything, says, “You know, might not be a bad idea to try it,” before he goes off to fix himself a cup of tea.

It stings like a razor-sharp cut, already closed-over, that reopens to remind her for the rest of the day.


Because George’s life is absolute bollocks, Sherlock reappears the day after she says to herself, “fuck it,” in Boots and goes home to try and recapture her fading youth.

“Lestrade! Give me problems, I need wor — dear God,” Sherlock says.

She doesn’t even bother to look up at where he’s probably perched dramatically in her doorway. George just drops her face into her hands and moans, “Oh, God. Why today.”

“The ammonia alone,” Sherlock complains, and George hears him slumping into the chairs in front of her desk with an overflow of drama. “You look like you put your head in a paint can.”

Glaring, she finally lifts her head. “Hey. I did this myself.”

Huffing, Sherlock says, his face a map of morbid fascination, “Obviously.”

George withholds every pointless and scathing thing she wants to say in favor of studying him. Sherlock’s gained back some much-needed weight, and his skin is back to its fragile, Regency heroine porcelain as opposed to quicklime, his hair a tumble of dark and endearing curls again, not matted down to his frustratingly brilliant head with sweat and God knows what else. He’s in a gorgeously tailored black suit, a black shirt, and an achingly dashing coat — if she didn’t know him at all, she might actually fancy him.

“You look much better,” she tells him, retrieving her pen once more and flipping it across her knuckles.

Sherlock breaks his gaze. “Well — yes.”

She lets the silence eat away at the oxygen in the room for a while before she says, “Don’t make me do that again, Sherlock.”

He lets out a noise that could mean anything.

“I mean it, Sherlock,” she barks. “If you do, I swear, I will be the first face you see when you regain consciousness and I’ll be weepy and have feelings all over you.”

The naked horror on his face is marvelous.

“You wouldn’t,” Sherlock retorts, but uncertain.

He may be able to deduce the brand and color number of George’s disastrous hair dye, how many pounds she’d gained this month, what’s wrong with the clutch plate in her Golf, and which cases littering her desk she should give up for lost right now, but Sherlock’s always been a bit suspicious of his deductions when it comes to her female threats. He understands the biology, of course, and enough of the tiresomeness of human interaction in general to pinpoint the motive of a crime, but once, when she’d been feeling particularly effusive, George had kissed him on the cheek thank you for a case and he’d just stared at her like she’d turned green and grown antlers.

“How can you be sure?” George asks reasonably. “There could be desperate, wailing, gnashing-my-teeth, tearing-at-my hair tears. Perhaps I am concealing a secret, desperate love for you.”

Sherlock rockets to his feet, hunted. “I’m leaving. This is harassment.”

George leans forward. “But Sherlock, give me a chance — I know I’m older, but that only means I have more experience.”

Scowling operatically, Sherlock stalks toward the door, and before his coat can flare behind him as he storms away — presumably to pester some other division, which, God have mercy on their souls — he turns in the doorway to stare at her.

“For whatever it’s worth,” he says, “while the dye job you’ve chosen to go with is — frankly — appalling, it is more appalling because your physical appearance was above average beforehand. You have fairly symmetrical features and fair skin, and the silver hair will be quite striking, once you let it all grow in; insecurity is so dull. Separately, I can tell from your rubbish bin that you’re eating prepackaged salads for lunch again, which is in the letter if not the spirit of that ridiculous South Beach diet you’re probably swearing you’re not on. Future reference: salads work better if they’re not comprised of vast quantities of sweetcorn and mayonnaise. So: hair, diet? All in a woman who has worn lipstick exactly ten times in the four years I’ve observed you — marital problems, Detective?”

George throws a stapler at him, and Sherlock darts off, grinning like a schoolboy.

“Twat,” she mutters, under her breath, but she’s smiling.


Six months, twenty-odd cases (five involving Sherlock), and three arguments about the number of hours she’s spending at work later, she and Tom shore up at the NSY holiday party, still tense and a bit chilly.

There’s terrible Christmas music and the slightly sad lobby tree has been relocated to the conference room and heaped with tinsel and inappropriate decorations and loaded down with lights. There’s a small mountain of Secret Santa gifts beneath it, and London’s finest police force is gathered around it, getting soundly shitfaced on cheap liquor and bad wine and wearing awful paper crowns.

George is three glasses of sauvignon blanc in when Sherlock appears in the corner of the room, looking manic, and she barely has time to say, “Oh, Jesus,” before he’s upon her.

“There’s a case and it’s interesting and you’ve been hiding it from me,” he tells her, looming in a way that might be frightening if he didn’t sound exactly like a whining child.

She could prevaricate, of course, or even try to lie, but at this point, she knows Sherlock well enough to know it’s a waste of time. George takes a steadying sip of wine.

“You do remember you don’t work for us, right? That you haven’t a right to the files?”

“Of course not, I could never be so dull,” Sherlock ripostes. “But I thought we had an agreement that if you had a case too complicated for your tiny brains, it would be flagged to me.”

“How your brother didn’t drown you in a bucket when you were an infant, I will never understand,” George says to him fondly. “And no, Sherlock, we do not have any such agreement at all. You get to peek at cases at my discretion — understood?”

Sherlock does, but he doesn’t deign to answer in favor of looking mulish.

“And right now, my discretion is that this is a bloody Christmas party, I am here with my husband, and you should be off doing whatever it is you Holmeses do for the holidays,” she concludes.

George knows the exact case Sherlock is talking about: a triple-murder in a shipping container with a digital lock. Security footage in New York, where it had loaded, shows several pallets of laptops going in. Security footage in London, where it had ultimately decamped, showed three dead bodies. The computer techs swear up and down that the locking mechanism showed no signs of tampering, all the time stamps and date stamps and hours correct: no one opened or altered the container during its voyage, and none of the victims have been identified.

Sherlock tries for a different tack. “We could treat this as my Christmas gift?”

“I’m not giving you a bloody unsolved murder for Christmas,” George snaps at him, but it’s through a laugh. Sherlock is a ludicrous human being, and most days she’d sooner bludgeon him to death than work with him, but honestly, sometimes she can’t help but find him just the tiniest bit adorable.

“All right there?” Tom asks, suddenly standing over her shoulder, a hand curled around her elbow. He’s looking at Sherlock as he says it, a little too loud to be heard over Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, blaring out over the intercom. George is going to find who put together this playlist and commit some serious acts of police brutality later.

“I guess it was inevitable,” George sighs, waving her wine glass between them as she says, “Tom, Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, pain in my backside. Sherlock, Tom Garrow, English lecturer, Kings College, spouse.”

Tom sticks out a hand. “Sherlock — I’ve heard stories.”

Sherlock, true to form, ignores it, and only narrows his eyes at Tom instead. It takes barely a second for George to feel like all her blood’s been swapped for ice water, and when Sherlock gives her several considering looks before giving the same considering look to Tom, George only has time to protest, “Sherlock, no,” before he’s off.

“Interesting,” is Sherlock’s opening salvo.

No, Sherlock,” George tries again, free hand closing around his wrist. “Do not do this.”

Tom says, “No, it’s fine, Georgie — let him do his trick,” cocky, challenging.

“I had intended to begin by pointing out that you’ve recently started a fitness regime — undoubtedly what made Lestrade paranoid enough to consider dieting when I’ve seen her eat four sausage rolls in one breath without so much as a flicker of guilt in the past — and how that’s a boringly common indicator that you’re in the throes of a wicked midlife crisis,” Sherlock says, “but after that, I believe I ought to tell you that Lestrade hates that nickname.”

She throws back the rest of her wine. There’s her night. Tom’s face is already purpling.

“Oh, and you know so much about her?” Tom snarls, not bothering to look at George at all. “All those long nights of intimate confession.”

George gasps. “Jesus Christ, Tom.”

Sherlock narrows his eyes. “Late nights, yes, but hardly intimate considering they’re literally documented by a squad of forensic scientists — but telling that it would be your first and miscalculated swing.”

The intercom fades out to Silent Night overhead, a quieter, choral version, and so the small crowd they’ve accumulated gets to hear every word of the rest of it.

Sherlock steams on. “You’re what, thirty-eight, thirty-nine? You’re reasonably handsome for your age, if a bit worn, nothing to be embarrassed about, and you’re already married to a woman that — this is from a casual survey only, so nothing conclusive — approximately half the men at Scotland Yard refer to as a ‘silver fox.’ So why the sudden health kick? Could be you’ve gotten some news from your doctor: bad cholesterol, poor heart, family history of medical problems, but you’re holding a plastic plate of shrimp toast and spring rolls, even though there’s salad and fruit and sushi joyfully accumulating salmonella on the table buffet table. No, it’s not for health reasons. This is pure vanity.”

“Nobody calls me a silver fox,” George interrupts numbly.

“But why vanity?” Sherlock asks as Tom sputters. “You’re already married, and if your wife’s a reflection of your success, then you’ve far outdone yourself. Lestrade, even though she’s irritatingly particular about paperwork and chain of evidence, is hardly the sort of woman to be finicky about looks — obviously, that hair dye was your influence and therefore not relevant data — and humans are so inertial at heart. You’re not doing it for her. You’re also not wearing your wedding ring. Some couples don’t, and Lestrade never has, but that’s because she’s forever losing it inside gloves or worried she’d going to get blood on it, so she wears it on a chain around her neck. You have no such excuse, and the faint traces of lingering paleness on your finger indicate that until relatively recently, you did. What changed?”

It’s official, they have an audience, and George wishes she could crawl into a hole or rewind time, do something to stop this. There’s been a pit in her stomach gathering signs for months, but it’s one thing to recognize it in victims or families and it’s another to look for it in herself. She’s Georgiana Lestrade, she’s a detective inspector with New Scotland Yard, she’s been married to Tom for seven years. He’d mailed her annotated books of romantic poetry, marked up with positively filthy notes for her, dried flowers folded between the pages. She’s not easily moved, but she’d been moved by him, has been moved by him, made him promises she’s kept.

“Aside from the brief fiasco with the hair, Lestrade has been as constant as a boring metronome, so it’s nothing the two of you shared, some sort of life-altering experience. No, this was all you. Something happened to you. Kings College, English lecturer — reasonable to assume you spend a lot of time locked in with students, younger women who’re overcome by Keats or panting like Coleridge. It’s understandable: Lestrade is never there, and ever since her promotion, her life’s been so much more meaningful than yours, hasn’t it? It was different before, when she was just an ordinary dogsbody for the Met. Now that she’s climbing the ranks, and photogenically forced to lead press conferences, your infrequent academic publications fade in the face of her spectacularly sexy crime solving, don’t they? The power balances shifted — not to your liking.”

It’s only now that George realizes she’s still clutching Sherlock’s wrist, so she digs her nails in at the tendon and hisses, “Sherlock — stop it.”

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” Tom barks, spittle flying, eyes huge with fury. “I don’t know where you’re getting any of this.”

“I’m simply deducing, Mr. Garrow, commenting on what I see,” Sherlock retorts, ignoring George and her nails. “Such as the the glitter traces on your cheek. Yours is hardly that kind of school, where there might be construction paper and art supplies. It’s well past 9 p.m., and I can’t imagine your classes run much later than early afternoon, so it’s got remarkable staying power. Cosmetics, designed to stay on, and Lestrade is — thank God — not the type of woman given to such frivolities. You smell like cologne, too much of it, probably to cover the smell of cheap perfume, and Lestrade doesn’t wear any. You’ve been touching her, but it’s been from a remove: possessive but not entirely certain you’re allowed to be — guilty. Conclusion? Affair. Probably a undergraduate, maybe a first year graduate student.”

He turns to Lestrade for the next bit.

“If it’s any comfort, when you locate this girl, she’ll look exactly as you did at eighteen. Mr. Garrow’s a man of fairly simple tastes. It’s not even that he doesn’t love you anymore — for lack of better phrasing, it’s just that you’ve become ‘too much woman’ for him, as you’ve grown into yourself.”

There’s a minute of nearly dead silence in the conference room, the third verse of Silent Night still piping out overhead.

The worst part is that Tom doesn’t say anything, nothing at all. His face is just pale and his jaw is unhinged, mouth gaping, the hand that had been at her elbow drawn away. He doesn’t look angry anymore. He looks caught.

“That, Mr. Garrow,” Sherlock concludes, haughty, “is why your wife and I spend so very, very much emotionally charged time together in the small hours: my little trick, as you called it.”

The quiet is cracking, fracturing away, and Tom’s blank shock is melting into panic, the tight-eyed anger she remembers from their worst fights, right after she moved over to NSY, the kind that had their neighbors calling in mortifying noise complaints that local officers were obliged to check out. Sherlock may be able to deduce it, but George knows that Tom’s about to haul off and punch Sherlock — so she beats him to it.

She’s had semi-erotic dreams about hitting Sherlock before, but in real life, slapping him feels awful. The fine bones of his cheek make her hand hurt from the abrupt force of it, and he just looks stunned, gaze averted where his head turned with the force, a reddening mark appearing across his linen skin.

“Too right,” Tom blusters from behind her, sounding panicky. “Too right, Georgie — if you hadn’t have, then I would — ”

Tom, she punches.

The party’s effectively over after that.

The office women swarm her, cloister her off in the safety of their bird noise comforts, delivering her into the women’s room and waiting, braced, for the inevitable flood of tears, and then provide a running litany of ways Tom and Sherlock can be murdered. Sally brings her a several unfinished bottles of wine, which George drinks while sitting on the closed lid of the toilet in the handicap stall, sobbing furious, humiliated tears, while Edith runs interference with the rest of NSY. Eventually, the cleaners need to get in so they can wrap up their evening, and George is transferred to her office, where new half-finished bottles of wine appear and the cycle begins again.

“You’re coming home with me tonight,” Margaret informs her. Margaret serves as the serious crime unit’s admin and who — until this very moment — George had been convinced loathed her with a passion.

George stutters, “I couldn’t possibly.”

“You will, or you’re coming back with me,” Sally says, decisive. One day, she’s going to be a fucking terrifying boss. “Except Margaret has a guest bed and I have a falling apart couch. Plus, I would continue to pour booze into you until you slipped into a coma.”

George goes home with Margaret. She stays the night before ending up at her mother’s house the next day, red-eyed and quiet, her mom tiptoeing around her and making endless cups of too-sweet tea. Tom calls her almost thirty times before he resorts to texting, and when she ignores those, too, he stops altogether. His efforts last all of seventy-two hours, and on Christmas morning, George thinks about the stupid gift she’d made for him, her plan to cut back hours, get a transfer, whatever, to start that family he’s always wanted, formatted like a thesis proposal, and she starts crying all over again, curled up under three blankets in her parents’ conservatory and missing Tom so much she aches.

She goes to work on Boxing Day, because what the hell else is she going to do? She can’t stand her mother’s pity anymore. Sherlock’s waiting in the deserted bullpen, and as soon as he sees her, he’s on his feet, looking at close to uncertain as she’s ever seen him.

“I cannot fucking believe they let you in,” George croaks at him.

Sherlock makes a face. “Everyone was extremely childish. I was forced to establish an alternative means of entering the building.”

George makes a note to force him to tell her what those means are, so that one day it can’t be similarly exploited by terrorists, and not just bored crime-solving dilettantes.

“What do you want?” she asks. “If you have any other deductions about my life you feel compelled to make, do me a favor and shove them up your arse.”

Sherlock stares at her, eyes round. “No — no further deductions.”

George raises a questioning brow at him. “Then what? Why did you break in?”

“I — ” Sherlock starts, rushed, and then falters like a stumbling child. Regrouping, he says, “I have been informed by...interested parties that I owe you an apology for the way I handled the situation at the Christmas party.”

“Oh, God,” George says in realization. “Is Mycroft cutting you off until you apologize?”

“Yes,” Sherlock snaps. “It’s base and just like him.”

“Right, well, apology not accepted, you may fuck right off,” she says, and detours into her office. It’s still filled with empty wine bottles and the bin is overflowing with makeshift tissues: red and green napkins with reindeer and snowmen printed on them, ragged and ripped through from tears. The cleaners had clearly seen her office for the shrine to George’s personal failure it was and left it alone, a sacred place of reflection. She sighs and starts gathering bottles off of her desk.

“I didn’t do it to upset you,” Sherlock says, hovering in the doorway now and looking very put out, annoyed. Like George’s marriage is inconvenient. “I did it because it was the truth, and I thought you, of all people, would want to know.”

George doesn’t hurl a bottle at Sherlock’s head, but it’s a near thing.

He’s right, of course. Down the pub with her girlfriends in uni she’d always claimed she’d want to know, that the truth was always preferable. But she’d been young and two terrible boyfriends away from meeting Tom back then, and she’d also thought that disclosure didn’t necessarily mean she’d end the relationship, that there might be crying and betrayal but that they could make it work. It’s been a week since the party now, no word from Tom since that first flurry, and George can’t bring herself to call him, no matter how much her mother pleads. Maybe Tom’s still giving her time to cool off. Maybe he’s secretly relieved about it. George could ask Sherlock, since he probably knows, but at this point, she just doesn’t want to think about it.

Everything on the surface of her desk is blurring, her hands going weak around the bottles she’s clutching. George is glad she has her back to Sherlock now, because even though he knows she’s crying again, doesn’t mean she can bear to have him see her at it, shivering in just-bought clothes because she’s too cowardly to go back to her house.

George clears her throat, swallows it all down, tucks it away.

“Right,” she says, and her voice sounds strange. “So — you still interested in that shipping container murder?”

There’s a brief, suspicious silence from Sherlock. “….Yes.”

George waves blindly behind herself. “Sit down. I’ll get you a copy of the file.”

Someone should be happy at Christmas.


The sealed container case concludes itself by giving Sherlock two black eyes and George a concussion, which she can hardly take home to her mother, who’d burst into tears the day George had declared she was joining the police force. George opts to spend the night in hospital, enduring the cruel affections of the night nurses, and she’s ringing up an alarming bill on the hospital movie rental system when there’s the sound of fabric moving and a throat clearing in the cloaked darkness of the sixth floor hall.

“Hello?” she asks, too loudly. There are two men and a woman sharing floorspace with her in this corner of the ward — if this is a threat, it’d be worth it to have them awake enough to make a run for it.

She hears tapping — wood? on the tiles — and then Mycroft Holmes melts out of the shadows, holding up one long-fingered hand, open, placating. He’s doing that thing again, that little curl on his mouth that she thinks might be his real smile, and he hangs back, umbrella-distance from the foot of her hospital bed.

“I come in peace,” he says mildly.

George is flustered for a beat, and then she remembers how he’d gone down hissing, “Jesus Christ,” the nodes on the taser still attached to his exceedingly fine pinstriped suit, and colors. Today, Mycroft’s wearing a coat and a camel-colored suit and waistcoat, a dark teal tie that should clash, but doesn’t in the half-dark of the hospital.

“I’m unarmed anyway — you’re off the hook,” she says, waving her hand expansively over the floppy hospital chair next to her side table. “Please.”

“Thank you,” Mycroft says, thoroughly comfortable in the social niceties.

George sometimes wonders what the hell their childhoods were like, and how come Mycroft is so steeped in genteel manners and Sherlock so abhors them, though he slips into moments of innate fine breeding when he’s too otherwise distracted to remember he’s decided to act like a tosser.

“You are looking better than I would have expected after a night running around with my brother,” he observes.

“I’m in a hospital bed,” George points out.

“Yes, well, we both know why,” he dismisses, and she supposes he must. If he’s anything like his little brother, then he probably took a passing glance at the plastic cup of melted ice and water and the particular angle of her hospital gown and neatly concluded it all: the fragile mother, how she’d asked the hospital not to contact her husband, how it’s frankly easier to bunk down on the NHS’s dime for the night than go home and face the wailing.

“I suppose it’s pointless to ask how you circumvented visiting hours,” George says philosophically, “so I’ll move right along to: why are you here?”

“Primarily to assuage my guilt,” he confesses, and out of the darkness darts a beautiful girl with deep brown hair, a distracted smile, who hands Mycroft a pale green shopping bag, tissue paper tufting out. He takes possession of it, murmuring, “That will be all for tonight, thank you,” to his assistant, who just types something — rapid-fire — on her BlackBerry and clicks away on spindly heels down the hall.

George stares after her. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody thumb type that fast.”

“She won a national championship,” Mycroft says, setting the bag down on George’s bed, among the folds of her hospital blankets. “It was one of the more attractive things on her resume.”

George has to bite her lip to keep the laugh hidden away and tips her chin at the bag. “What’s this then? Bribe? Because officially, we don’t do that sort of thing anymore.”

“Please, Georgiana,” Mycroft scolds, but every syllable is rich with humor, “I should like to think that if I were ever to try to bribe you, you would know. This is a get well gift, and an apology for my brother.”

“What? Wholesale? You’re going to need a bigger gift,” she laughs quietly, and reaches over to the bag — runs her fingertips over the edges of the tissue. Her hands are ragged, three knuckles ripped up from the brawl she and one of the gunmen had gotten into, and there’s an ache whenever she extends her arm, enough to remind her there’s a dark, ugly, and rapidly greening bruise swallowing her right breast. She’ll tell her colleagues tomorrow it’s no big deal, but she’ll be moving gingerly for a week, wince into the bathroom mirror, press tenderly at her areola for days.

Mycroft tilts his head to the side. “Or I shall keep sending them to you: quantity in addition to quality.”

“Oh, God,” George says, stumbling, blushing, her heart a sudden butterfly in her chest. “That’s — I was joking, Mr. Holmes — ”

Mycroft,” he interrupts her, serenely unperturbed, and pushes the bag a bit closer to the bump of her knees, under the blanket. “Go on then.”

She does, hesitating now, shy, curled in over her legs and feeling her face go very hot. She’s a grown woman, for fuck’s sake. She’s almost forty. There’s no reason at all to be such a tit, she lectures herself, and reaches into the bag.

Mycroft’s brought her dark-colored jeans and a pair of soft-looking fawn-colored flats, a cashmere sweater in searing lapis lazuli. There’s also a little black box from a positively salaciously named boutique, which she peers into: cream-colored camisole with a lace neck — kindest thing for her breasts now, frankly, since a bra’s going to be a practical impossibility for a few days at least given her ribs — and a plain pair of panties.

George glances up at him, one brow arched, and Mycroft shifts in the seat like a bird settling his feathers, saying, “The intimates, I assure you, were selected by my very female assistant. I took no part in it.”

“And I guess everything will fit perfectly,” George says, grinning.

She’d been worried it would be something impossible, like ceramics, or a glass vase, something awful and incredibly expensive. George has no doubt these clothes are incredibly expensive, too, but they’re useful, nice, and the sweater is already warm wrapped around her hands. If George had had all the things in the world to choose from, she would have chosen these.

“She’s not just good for texting,” Mycroft assures George, and pauses a beat before asking, “Then these meet your requirements? Not going to say you can’t possibly keep them?”

George’s clothes are soaked through with filth from a number of puddles, bloody thanks to Sherlock’s oh-so-delicate nose, and torn besides. They’re beyond saving and probably best fit for burning. She’d been trying to think of who she could secret into either her mum’s for clothing or who she could send to Tom, but this is perfect. This is just what she needed.

“No, they’re lovely, thanks very much,” she tells him sincerely, closing her arms around her knees and tucking herself in close, feeling that shyness come back under the keen study of his gaze. Sherlock’s looked at her like that millions of times, inspecting, calculating, logicking out all of George’s secrets, and it’s always unsettling, feels like ants crawling beneath the skin. Mycroft’s look is different, like he’s already figured you out.

“Thank you again, Georgiana,” he says to her, solemn. “My brother is a trial, and you are extremely gracious to be so patient with him.”

George thinks about all the office supplies she’s thrown at Sherlock over the years, and how the week after McDonald’s started serving coffee she’d thrown the dredges of that at him, too.

“Well, not that patient,” she mutters.

“More patient than he deserves,” Mycroft says, rising to his feet, the tails of his coat — dark brown, single-breasted — swishing near his knees. “And with me as well. I’ve kept you up when you should be resting, my apologies, Georgiana.”

“Were made with this sweater, and all those intimates you didn’t see,” she quips at him, fond suddenly. Talking to Mycroft is like tripping into a comedy of manners.

He nods at her, acknowledging, closing his hands around the hook of his umbrella in a way that makes George blurt out: “Drive safe. Keep warm. It’s supposed to be freezing tomorrow.”

Mycroft pauses and frowns at her. “Is it?”

George shrugs, looking away to mask her horror. What the hell is wrong with her? “Nothing to do but watch telly here today — I’m caught up on the weather.”

Mycroft makes a considering noise, taps the floor twice with his umbrella. “Noted,” he decides, and favoring her with a tiny dip of his head, says, “Sleep well, Georgiana,” and strides off into the hallway.

Georgiana spends the next half an hour trying to asphyxiate herself with a pillow.

When she wakes up the next morning, the city is in chaos. There’s an inch of snow in central London and newsreaders are having apocalyptic visions about a shortage of grit. George lies in her hospital bed after a shitty and constantly interrupted night of bad sleep, seriously considering giving herself another concussion to avoid the ruckus.

“Right then,” the day nurse, Suzie, says. “Once you’ve changed, just take these forms down to the front desk and they’ll have you all processed and ready to go, right as rain.”

George mumbles something that aspires to sound grateful or happy.

“Good thing your gentleman caller came back last night,” Suzie says, burbling, and George’s head shoots back up — ow — in time to see Suzie holding up Mycroft’s coat: the dark brown one, single breasted, with an apparently robin’s egg blue lining. “Said he knew it was late but that you’d be cold today if you wouldn’t have this — very sweet,” Suzie comments, winking, and lays the coat across George’s lap.

George runs numb hands across it. She has no idea what the material is, other than heavy and terrifyingly expensive. There’s no manufacturer’s tag, which makes sense, since she guesses Mycroft is the kind of minor government officials who has his clothing and winterwear made bespoke on Saville Row — and gives them to concussed DIs.

The hospital needs the bed for a poor girl who’s somehow managed to break both her legs walking down the hall at work, so George hustles to change, the camisole whispering down her back, trying not to shiver as she pulls the panties up her thighs. Men have bought her clothing before, lingerie, even, but it’s another experience and new to be entirely kitted out, to have the front desk ladies bully her into Mycroft’s coat before they’ll let her leave.

Mycroft’s just as long-limbed as Sherlock, tall and minus the eating disorder, so the coat is vast on her, swallowing up her hands until only her fingertips show. She turns up the collar to keep out the cold as she flags down a taxi. It’s an expense she’d usually scoff at so close to the Tube, but this way, there’s only the one witness to the way she curls up in the back and presses her face into the fabric, breathing in.

When she gets back home, her mother’s in a state. George’s mail is opened and strewn across the kitchen table: divorce papers, freshly couriered.


There are a number of boring stroke terrible fights in the next two days, which George carries on at her own house out of respect for her mother’s delicate nerves. Sometimes she thinks her father stuck her with this monstrosity of a name so as to foreshadow her mother’s inclination for emulating Mrs. Bennett in all things.

It comes out in the first skirmish, Tom thought George was shagging Sherlock, which is so utterly fucking unbelievable George has to sit down to get her bearings during this portion of their row. How would that work, even? One time, during one of her more successful drugs busts, Sherlock had described to her — floating several miles above Earth atmosphere — how he’d had a vision of a beautiful naked woman with a crossbow. George had thought he might have a libido after all, and then he’d gone off on the crossbow and what a fascinating weapon it was and why was nobody in London being murdered with a crossbow? Why were all her criminals so dull? 

George accuses Tom of being petty, of resenting her for her success when she’d always been nothing but honestly joyful for his career — gone to his fucking mixers and faculty dinners and luncheons and hung ornamentally on his arm as best as she could. She’d endured a half-decade of her father-in-law’s aggressive misogyny and racism over holiday meals before he’d finally done everybody a favor and died. She’s never strayed, and she feels stupid saying it but she’s never been tempted. Why would anyone else appeal? Strangers could be handsome and it could be flattering to be the object of their temporary attention, but they didn’t know her, they didn’t know the geography of her.

“But see the difference is that my career advances never put off anything!” Tom roars at her. “I can go from being nobody at the university to dean and that would never mean we couldn’t have children because I could be shot in the fucking face any minute!”

I was a police officer when you met me,” George yells back.

And so on and so forth. At least the neighbors don’t call the police this time.

George had been prepared to fight this out, to go to fucking counseling, for him to grovel and apologize. They’ve been through the wars before; she thought they’d be in the foxhole together again, except Tom just says fine, yes, he been sleeping with someone else, but that as far as he’s concerned, he and George have been separated for months already. Even when she’s home, she’s gone, darting glances at her mobile and sending profanity-laced texts to Sherlock when he’s in one of his manic upswings, messaging her at two minute intervals, and he’s done with it — her — them.

By the end of it, Tom’s hoarse and red-eyed, as shattered as George, and it’s horrible to think that after almost a decade together, this is what it’s come down to: Coronation Street shouting at each other midmorning, and still keeping secrets, she can see it in Tom’s expression, and she knows there’s one hidden under her tongue: I don’t even want kids. That was always you.

He’s packing to leave the house — staying with a friend, Derrick, that apparently George isn’t going to be getting in the split — and every time he stuffs a shirt in his bag it feels like he’s peeling it out of her chest, from the bruise that’s already on her skin, pulping the muscle underneath.

Two weeks later, sitting in the neutral territory of a Caffe Nero off of Oxford Street to exchange some paperwork, to start untangling the arteries of their lives together, Tom sighs, “Look, Georgie — it’s not like we didn’t both see this coming anyway.”

I didn’t, I didn’t see anything coming, George doesn’t say. She just stares down at the bank forms and writes in neat, block letters.


Tom gives her the house since he has alternate accommodations. George is sort of touched by that until she realizes that “alternate accommodations” means Tom’s moved in with the twenty-four year-old grad student he was fucking.

She sees them once, when she comes home too early on the day Tom said he’d be moving out the last of his things. She’s 5’5, with wavy brown hair and doe-soft eyes, a mediocre smile. George can’t decide what stings worse, that this is how Sherlock assures her she used to look (really? no, she never looked that young, did she?) or that George has no idea what this girl’s name is — this person who’s walked into her crumbling house and tossed it to rubble.

I did not look like that, she writes to Sherlock, debating and debating sending it, since it would be an invitation to disaster if she were to engage his attention while he’s otherwise occupied. Still, it might dampen the sting of hiding in her garden while her soon-to-be ex-husband and his new girlfriend clear his DVDs out of the sitting room.

She’s saved from herself when her phone makes a twittering noise at her.

Information exchange on Sherlock?

George feels herself cocking one brow. Haven’t seen him in weeks. GL, she types back.

There’s only a tiny break before the reply comes: 

All the more reason to be worried. 

Car out front. 

What you’re wearing is fine.

She’s wearing a gray jersey dress from Hobbs she bought on half off, tan heels, and a black trenchcoat — makeup running and fading and melting from a day of unending fucking meetings with the higher-ups. George wastes maybe a minute being deeply unsettled that Mycroft probably knows her earrings are in her pocket, too, before slipping into abject panic because she’ll have to walk through the house while Tom and Nameless Graduate Student are still in there sorting their belongings and —

My research indicates the girl is named Laura Hilton, and she was infected with herpes sometime in the last four weeks, Mycroft interrupts her by texting, adding: Whether or not you choose to disclose this to Mr. Garrow is at your discretion.

George laughs, sharp and loud and utterly surprised.

It’s not so bad to walk through the house after that. Laura Hilton, herpes, looks like someone’s treading her grave when George pokes her head in to say hello.

“Er, Georgie — Georgiana,” Tom says, and both sound wrong coming from him.

“Just popping in and out,” she assures him. Her smile’s completely unforced, pooling out of her like water overflowing the bath. “Tom, you’ve still got the keys?”

He nods at her dumbly.

“Lock up when you lot are done, then,” George tells them, already turning for the coat closet.

She hasn’t worn the coat since that first day, after Mycroft left it with her, but then the thought of texting Sherlock’s brother to say, “Hi. You were very sweet and left me your horrifically posh coat. Where shall I drop this off?” always seemed an impossible task — especially since his assistant was just as liable as he was to receive it. Her two attempts to give it to Sherlock to pass it on to his brother resulted in two remarkably similar instances of Sherlock looking like someone had disproved the scientific method in front of him, shouting, “Deleted!” at her, and bolting down the hall.

George’s hands are careful on the shoulders of the coat when she pulls it off the hanger, suddenly and painfully aware she probably should have had it dry cleaned while it had been in her possession. Too late now, George thinks, and folds it over her arm, shutting the closet door to Tom’s face: drawn and a bit sweaty and nervy.

“Er, hi,” she says.

“You’re going out?” he asks.

Frowning, George edges out around him in their narrow hall. The wall’s half-filled with photographs of them, still. There’s them at Brighton, stubbornly clutched together on the rock beach while England is England and the rain pisses down on them. Her cheeks are red from the cold and Tom looks half-drowned, and they’re so happy it aches. There’s Tom’s office at Kings College, George perched behind the desk Bogarting his phone to check in with work before she’d gotten a mobile. There’s George asleep, tumbled and half-buried in the white sheets of their hotel, the second morning they were married, dozing on their honeymoon in New York. Tom’s halfway into the photograph, stretching out his arm above them to take the picture, and his eyes are closed, pressing half a kiss to her cheek, the pillow-lines on his face as dear and familiar to her as Jesus fucking Christ George has to get out of this God damn house.

“Yes,” she says, and her voice sounds stricken, hurt. “Yes,” she tries again, better. Improved. “I’m — I’ve a meeting.”

Tom nods, jerky. “Work,” he asks, but not really.

It’s strange for George to say, “No, not work,” and she scrambles for the doorknob, jerks the door open and skitters down the front steps with such concentration she nearly walks into Mycroft, leaning idly on his ever-present umbrella, lounging by the black car tucked neatly along the street.

She says, “Oh,” and holds out the coat, stupidly, in the scant inches between them.

Mycroft says, “If you wouldn’t mind holding onto that for a bit longer,” and moves aside two inches, pulls open the back door of the car, murmuring, “Please.”

George doesn’t get into cars the way beautiful women do: a duck and a shimmy, and settled gorgeously on a leather seat, flawless. So she hesitates a beat, worrying at her lower lip and sliding her gaze up to catch Mycroft’s eyes: as precise and all-seeing as Sherlock’s — and soft as anything as he looks at her.

“Go on,” he says, just to her, so quiet no one else could possibly hear.

He puts a hand between her shoulders, slides three fingers — just the fingertips, just the lightest trace of a touch — down the curve of her spine, barely a touch through her coat and her dress. It’s only a second before George folds herself into the backseat of the car, but it’s enough to make her boil over, to make her heart go seismic in her chest.

Mycroft waits for her to snatch up his coat, pull it across her knees and out the way of the door before he closes it with a quiet, authoritative snap, sweeping around to his own side, sliding in wordlessly as he glances at his watch.

George feels asthmatic. She feels like she the air’s deoxygenated.

“Are we late?” she asks, and she sounds as young as Laura Hilton, herpes, collecting DVDs in the wreckage of George’s heart.

Mycroft smiles at her, shaking his wrist out as he sets it down in his lap, unhurried.

“Nothing of the sort, Georgiana,” he assures her, and nods at the driver.

Tom’s standing at the front door, George sees, when the car pulls away, rolls down their quiet street, away from where their quiet life is being dismantled. George knows Tom better than she’s ever known another person, but she doesn’t know what the look on his face means, why he’s frozen on the step the entire time it takes for him to disappear from her view.


They don’t end up somewhere painful and buttoned-up in the City, out in Knightsbridge, or anywhere trendy in Hoxton, which always makes George feel about twenty years older than she actually is. The car weaves through London, the late-evening traffic melting away in the sodium-orange light, and when George turns away from the window to ask, “Where are we going?” Mycroft clears his throat — startled? — and says, “I thought somewhere beyond the reach of even Sherlock’s spies.”

George’s expression must make clear that she believes this to be a factual impossibility.

“Well, increases the difficulty of his spies accessing us, at least,” Mycroft allows, that vine of fondness creeping into his voice, the one George knows from every time Mycroft has ever mentioned Sherlock. He’s not heavy, he’s Mycroft’s poorly socialized, brilliant crank of a brother, and George grins.

“Leaving the country then, are we?”

Islington is melting away from the streetsides, into Elephant and Castle.

“No — just London,” Mycroft tells her, and George glances out the window in time to see them drifting onto the A23.

There’s a slight chill in the car, just underneath the heating billowing over her feet, and George keeps Mycroft’s coat over her knees, hands knotted into it: possessive. They’re quiet for a long time, while London’s still loud around them as the car streams through Brixton and through Croydon, pedestrians thronging around them at crosswalks. Mycroft doesn’t seem to notice any of it, alternating his attention between his BlackBerry and looking straight ahead, and George wonders if that says anything, if that gives anything away. Maybe it’s designed specifically not to.

The A23 drops away to the A22 and the chaos of London is folded into the frosted-over green hills of Surrey, light pollution sapping all the stars out of the sky overhead. George murmurs:

“You weren’t joking, then.”

“The Devil’s Jumps,” Mycroft tells her, his voice pitched soft. He’s leaned toward her, just close enough that she knows he’s moved, the BlackBerry abandoned in the foot of space between them in the backseat. His gaze skims her cheek before going to the trees crowding around the roadside, as teeming as the city had been — their bows hanging low over the double carriageway, leaves rattling silently as the towncar flies past.

It’s dark enough in the car that George doesn’t mind how she’s flushed. She glances over her shoulder, asking, “Devil’s Jumps?”

“The stories say,” Mycroft starts, and it’s too dark for George to see much more than the shadows of a grin on his face, the shine of something in his eyes, “that the devil used to hop from the three hills as entertainment — until it so annoyed Thor that he threw a boulder at him.”

George huffs. “Terrible story. Extremely poor.”

“Then I see no reason to tell you about the Devil’s Punchbowl, either,” Mycroft tells her, too amused to be tetchy, really, and George isn’t in primary school anymore, but she can’t help it, spends the next ten minutes through the forest needling him for the truth.

George grew up in Walthamstow, in a brick and green-shuttered terrace house at the end of a row. She had no brothers and sisters and only ever did all right school. Her father drove a cab and Rachel, her best friend, had a mother and father who ran the local. George is uncomplicated and relentlessly working class, and the stories Mycroft tells — about his and Sherlock’s exquisitely well-bred childhood of riding lessons and lawn bowling during summers — sound otherworldly, like BBC period drama.

“Sherlock played cricket?” George asks, gaping.

“Under extreme protest,” Mycroft replies, smiling and unwound, unraveling. “He’s always been difficult. When he was six, he engaged in a two day hunger strike when Mummy put him in short trousers — said they were beneath his dignity.”

George is still laughing when the car pulls off the main road, onto a far more disreputable one into the dimly lit forest. Every policeman’s instinct is wary and all of her own, privately, are drowned out by her curiosity. They rumble down a wood path, over a bridge, the trees opening up to a clearing, and a mill with white walls and a sloping roof, perched over a small pond, water churning. It’s lit-up orange-warm from the inside out, umbrellas on a deck already closed up for the night, ducks huddled together at one end of the pond, tucked in for sleep.

“Oh,” George says. It’s the second time she’s said it today, and before she can be annoyed at her verbal incontinence, Mycroft cuts in:

“It’s one of my favorite places — Sherlock would never be caught dead here.”

George laughs as the towncar draws to a stop in front of the pub door. “Too provincial?”

“Too low a likelihood for interesting crime,” Mycroft corrects.

George rolls her eyes. “How could I have been so foolish.”

He smiles at her, says, “One moment,” and lets himself out of the car, catches George’s door as she’s opening it and easing it the rest of the way for her.

A third “oh” would be too much humiliation to bear in one twenty-four-hour period, so George opts to say, “Thank you,” leaving the coat folded-up on the car seat. The blast of sound — voices, music from the pub — and the arctic air are a shock, which is going to be George’s excuse for later, when she’s lying in her bed and reexamining this moment. This moment where Mycroft handed her out of his car, saying, “Georgiana,” and she’d let him, how she’d been reluctant to let go, slid a thumb down the line of his index finger in absent longing.

They actually do talk about Sherlock. Mycroft drinks beer, which surprises George, and refuses to order dessert, which appalls her. The food is good and conversation is easy, one story fading out into another. Mycroft tells her about meeting Sherlock for the first time, and his expression as he says, “And then he proceeded to vomit on my school blazer,” is a marvel, both because of the depth of his disgusted affection and the mental image of a seven-year-old Mycroft in a blazer. George tells Mycroft how she met Sherlock when some lunatic started sending her uncomfortably detailed e-mails about her crime scenes, and she’d had tech backtrace his IP.

“I’ve no doubt you knew all this before I started telling the story,” George says, giggling into her pint glass, because back then, Sherlock had been even thinner and gawkier and his whole, wretched flat had been filled top to bottom with dented tins of Heinz beans for an experiment. “But when I went there the first time, I thought I was going to be arresting a serial killer.”

Mycroft leans back, cheek cupped in one hand, trying to hide his smile with his fingers and failing. “And yet you sound so fond.”

“Oh, he’s Sherlock, you know?” George says. They’re sitting by the French doors, overlooking the orange light from the pub flickering across the water. Her earrings are on the table; they’d fallen out of her pocket earlier, and she’d scooped them up and set them there, catching the candle glow. “He’s an arrogant twat and I suspect he’s made everybody at Scotland Yard cry — but he’s very often right.”

“Yes,” Mycroft says quietly. “Very often.”

“Sherlock is…” George gets a bit lost here, not sure how to say what she’s thinking, to articulate all the complicated ways she feels about Sherlock.

Sherlock is so staggeringly brilliant and completely insane, all at once. He’s the endless presence of water with TNT, unstable, explosive. George has loathed him for his cruelty and loved him for his insight, when she gets to return children to their parents and help families put a grievance to rest, and all through it she’s been quietly angry with him — for having the capacity to be amazing, to be a truly great man, and wasting it, numbing it out with heroin and a fucking coke habit George is determined to trace back to that shithead banker she just knows was the root of the whole debacle.

Mycroft knows, of course. He must, and George can see it on his face, something held back and so warm it must be love. Sherlock may be the most terrible brother in the world, but that doesn’t mean Mycroft can love him any less, not after Sherlock threw up on his school blazer and held hunger strikes and started solving crimes for the Met.

“Yes, he is, isn’t he?” Mycroft says after a very long time, somewhere deep inside his own head.

“Right,” George decides, flagging down a passing waitress. “Get this man another pint.”

They shut down the pub, or George guesses they would, if people ever shut down anything on Mycroft Holmes. They don’t, so they linger over the detritus of George’s dessert and their drinks for long hours, until it’s pitch black outside and even colder when they stagger out past the mill wheel — still turning in the doorway.

She falls asleep in the car on the way home, cheek pressed against the buttery leather of the seats, and when she wakes up, it’s half-one and Mycroft is touching her shoulder, saying, “Georgiana,” and his coat is tucked around her like a blanket.