The first time it happens, it’s just a tiny thing. Perhaps no-one else in the world would notice such a small act of kindness from a stranger.
Mycroft has been in the hospital for seven hours now. Not in his brother’s room; that distinction belongs to John. His presence would only annoy and disturb Sherlock when – if – he wakes, anyway. Mycroft doesn’t know what to say to John. The man is grey-faced and broken. He hasn’t had time to understand what Sherlock showed him, what Mary Morstan confirmed. Sherlock lapsed into a coma before anything else could be said. John came with him in the ambulance.
Mycroft knows the perfect sentences with which to soothe royalty, diplomats, aides, even politicians. But he cannot think what to say to John, who has been so thoroughly betrayed on every front.
Of course, a private room was found for Sherlock. And a small office has been hastily made available for Mycroft’s use, not far away. Not quite within Sherlock’s hospital ward, but on the same floor at least. Close enough, should anything happen.
Sherlock is medically stable, at least. The doctor even said that the coma – as long as it didn’t go on too long – might not be the worst thing for him. But Sherlock so still, so silent, submitting to the restraints of the tightly-tucked, starched hospital sheets… It reminds Mycroft of other nights, other hospitalisations. Other restraints, not so benign as the stiff white cotton.
It’s 5am. He’s worked all night, alone in the small, silent box of an office, tapping insistently away at his laptop and Blackberry. Nothing else for it. Keep working. The work never stops. Britain is in a constant, slow-motion state of falling, and Mycroft Holmes is the only one who props it up enough to carry on.
His eyes are glazed and puffy with tiredness. He stands and opens the window as far as it will go (not far – a small iron catch stops it before it reaches width enough to allow a human to pass through. Such is the state of the NHS, he thinks wryly. The ghost of something that, on another man, could have been a smile twists the outer corners of his lips). So ends the self-imposed smoking ban. Shame, he’d almost made it to five weeks this time. His fingers twitch a little as he pulls the white packet out of his jacket inside pocket.
“I’m sure you’re not meant to do that in here,” says a cheerful voice behind him, East London accent cutting strongly through the early-morning silence. “And I thought you’d given up, anyway?”
Mycroft turns, fingers still clutching the cigarette packet jealously. He sweeps Detective Inspector Lestrade from head to toe with a haughty, resentful look. “I wasn’t aware that my smoking habits or otherwise were known to you, Inspector.”
“That’s Detective Inspector, to you,” grins Lestrade. “Unless you just want to call me Greg. Might be easier. Less of a mouthful.” He grins again, looking Mycroft right in the eyes.
Mycroft, quite frankly, does not know how to respond. He lets the moment extend. When he speaks, it is more softly than he meant to. “It has been a long night. I found myself turning to – old friends.” He meant it to sound cutting, dismissive. It doesn’t.
“Those friends’ll kill you,” says Lestrade. His grin is gone, sensing Mycroft’s mood. He steps closer, holding out a packet of his own. “Have one of these. I’m back on them again.”
Somewhat to his own surprise, Mycroft drops his cigarettes into his briefcase and takes a nicotine patch. He sits down in the office chair, heavily, and contemplates where to put it on. Embarrassing. He thinks about taking off his jacket, undoing the cufflinks at his shirtsleeve in order to put the patch on his arm. Too much time under Lestrade’s scrutiny. Instead he pulls the knot of his tie down a little, undoes the top button of his shirt and awkwardly fits the patch onto the very bottom of his neck. It won’t show once he does his top button back up.
Lestrade has watched it all, intently. “I can’t believe you’ve still got your collar done up and your tie on,” he says, a little teasingly. “The staff said you’ve been here since – for hours.”
Mycroft does not answer at first. “I had hoped to be able to go home to change before the working day began,” he says quietly, looking out of the window at the grey sunrise, more insistent now across the London skyline. “I have a meeting this morning at which my attendance is unavoidable. No matter. The hospital staff will notify me if there is any change in Sherlock’s condition.”
Lestrade is still watching him, his brown eyes knowing. “The staff seem hopeful he’ll be OK,” he says. He pauses, but doesn’t add anything else. Mycroft is grateful. Lestrade knows, of course, about Sherlock’s past. He was even there for some of it. But they have never spoken, not like this. The grey dawn lends the small, ugly office a kind of hush, an unexpected intimacy.
“Let’s get a coffee, before you go,” says Lestrade. “The Starbucks downstairs is already open.” Mycroft is already opening his mouth to decline before Lestrade has finished his sentence, but the words are stopped in their tracks by the gentle squeeze of the other man’s hand on his shoulder. It is a physical shock. He cannot remember the last time another person touched him with friendship. “You’re going to need the caffeine, after tonight,” says Lestrade, looking directly into Mycroft’s eyes. He doesn’t let go of his shoulder for another moment, and when he does, Mycroft silently gathers his things together, picks up his briefcase and umbrella.
They each order a strong coffee. Lestrade pays. Mycroft doesn’t know why he lets him. Lestrade guides him to the side table of milk, sweeteners, chocolate powder and cinnamon. Mycroft tersely shakes his head at the offer of milk – of anything – but Lestrade looks at him askance. “You take sweetener, don’t you?”
Mycroft’s eyes dart sharply to Lestrade’s face, stopping short of eye contact. They rest on the defined plane of the Inspector’s right cheek. Lestrade clearly understands the snapping glance of how do you know that, but Mycroft doesn’t say it out loud, so he doesn’t answer. Perhaps the twitch of his lips into a smile is a little smug.
“One,” says Mycroft, emptying the little pink packet into the dark Americano (three shots, in honour of his sleepless night). He makes to move away, but Lestrade is already stirring his coffee with one of those ridiculous little wooden sticks. Mycroft blinks, nonplussed. His own long fingers are still folded round his cup, but he has not moved away. He can feel the tiny vibrations of Greg stirring his coffee for him through the paper of the mug.
A glance up: Greg is intent upon his task, a small frown between his eyebrows. His bottom lip is caught under the upper. His eyelashes are surprisingly long and dark.
Maybe no-one else would notice someone taking a moment to stir their drink for them. But to Mycroft Holmes it feels like an electric shock.