The late afternoon sun glinted gold through three glasses of beer on the café table, making them glow as if lit from within. Greg Lestrade stretched his legs out, picked up his Kronenbourg 1664, and raised it in a toast to John and Sherlock. "Well done, both of you. As usual."
"Cheers, Greg," John lifted his glass in return. "And that's a hell of a right hook you've got! Remind me not to get on your bad side."
Greg chuckled and flexed the memory of knuckles impacting jaw out of his hand. "I wanted to do that since we first laid eyes on the bastard," he confessed with a toothy grin. "Glad he finally gave me a good reason. Made this whole trip worthwhile."
Sherlock smiled in apparent appreciation of Greg's violent sentiments and took a swallow of his lager. Greg noticed him shift in his seat, subtle as the movement was, and re-position his left hand under the table at the same time. Presumed destination: John's thigh. John's expression didn't change, but he shifted his chair in turn, a little less subtly, closer to Sherlock's. The low hum of conversation, primarily in French, of fellow café patrons and passersby on the wide tree-lined Cours Mirabeau was soothing, as if there were a common agreement amongst the residents, students, and tourists to relax en masse into the warm breeze.
"Well, we were glad to have you in on this one, Greg. Right, Sherlock?"
"Mm," Sherlock intoned agreeably.
"I thought Mycroft would have been in touch by now," John said around another swallow of beer. "He hasn't called Sherlock, though." He raised his eyebrows at Greg. "Or you?"
A sharp peal of laughter rang out form a nearby table. Greg glanced away and shrugged. "No." No, he wouldn't be the one Mycroft phoned. His communications with Mycroft had tapered off gradually since that giddy New Year's Eve spent in one another's company and finally dwindled to nothing. He'd been gobsmacked when he received a request from the Mycroft to join Sherlock and John on a case in Provence, off the record, outside his jurisdiction. It had come as a text, late in the evening, and he was grateful he'd been at home where nobody else was around to witness how quickly and how high he'd leapt at the chance, fingers fumbling eagerly at the keypad on his phone in his haste to reply. He cleared his throat and steered his wandering thoughts away from Mycroft and back to his current companions. "Thought of a blog title yet, John?"
"Yeah. An Aix Parrot," John deadpanned, but joined in quickly when Greg started to giggle.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Sherlock demanded, looking back and forth between the two of them suspiciously. "It's not even accurate. The parrot's still alive, safe and sound with her owner."
Greg giggled harder as John leaned sideways to briefly nudge his shoulder against Sherlock's. "Monty Python, Sherlock. I do keep saying you're missing out."
"Again?" Sherlock closed his eyes and sighed his weariness dramatically. "I'm so pleased you've chosen to document my life's work through a series of horrifying puns and obscure references to outdated sketch comedy."
"It's my pleasure," John said affably with another little shoulder bounce.
Greg snickered into his glass, then shook his head. "Seriously, Sherlock, that was some impressive deduction, even by your standards. That bird sounded like it was just rattling off nonsense…the way you found the pattern in all that—well, you'd have made a good code breaker."
Sherlock waved the compliment away with a dismissive gesture, but his face brightened with satisfaction. John looked up at him with undisguised affection and pride.
Greg felt a twinge of envy watching them together, and not for the first time. He envied the connection between them, so obvious to everyone around them long before it became obvious to one another. He'd hoped for it in dating, in his now-failed marriage, and at least for one night—madly enough—with Mycroft Holmes. He supposed what John and Sherlock had found in each other just wasn't in the cards for everyone, though, and that was all right. He loved his work, he was generally a happy bloke, and he had no real cause for complaint, did he now? And no reason whatsoever to dwell on thoughts of Mycroft Holmes.
"Very impressive," John murmured his agreement with what seemed to be some significance of tone. Sherlock's eyes locked onto John's and darkened noticeably.
Greg cleared his throat. There was also no reason whatsoever to be reminded of the way Mycroft's eyes had lingered on his in the back of his car in the London night. "You two headed back to London in the morning, then?"
"Hm?" John dragged his attention away from Sherlock. "Oh, er, yeah. You too?"
"I suppose so. Last night, we should celebrate."
"Greg…" John fidgeted with the rim of his glass, his eyes drifting back to Sherlock's. "I hope you don't mind, mate, but since it is our last night here…."
One corner of Sherlock's mouth curled up and the flex of his upper arm indicated his hand's movement underneath the table.
"Say no more…" Greg waved them away with a smirk, averting his eyes from the implied location of Sherlock's hand, obscured by the table though it was. "…please."
Sherlock was already standing. John grinned at Greg apologetically. "Yeah, we'll see you later, then. Right, Sherlock?" He gave Sherlock a meaningful nudge.
Sherlock glanced away from John long enough to plaster a ludicrously bright, falsely polite smile on his face and said, "Have a lovely evening, Lestrade!"
Greg sighed once, then shook his head and laughed under his breath as the pair hurried away in the direction of their hotel. When the waitress passed by again, he ordered another beer in his poorly-accented French. Try as his grand-père had to Gallicize him, he had never found an affinity for the language.
While he was waiting, pondering what to do with himself for the rest of the evening, his mobile chimed. His mouth hung open for a moment when he saw the sender's name. Well…think of the devil. Greg licked his lips and pressed the button to read the message, apparently sent simultaneously to himself, John, and Sherlock.
While I would congratulate you on a successful resolution to the case, there has been a minor development requiring further attention. I've made arrangements for the three of you to remain in Provence a little longer to offer your assistance. I will arrive in the morning to provide details. -MH
Greg's stomach fluttered as he read and re-read the words arrive in the morning. He drew in a long breath and picked up the fresh glass of beer he hadn't notice arrive.
Memories welled in his mind of a soft, throaty laugh, crinkling blue-grey eyes, fine auburn hair, and a row of small, neat waistcoat buttons. He took a long, deep breath. There was no point in trying to convince himself otherwise. Whatever the circumstances, he was very much looking forward to seeing Mycroft Holmes again.
"Say it, John," Sherlock demanded as John walked him backwards until his back was against the wall of their hotel room. John held him there firmly with one hand in the center of his chest, leaving his other hand free to roam the front of Sherlock's trousers.
Sherlock made a low, rumbling sound and pressed his hips sharply toward John's hand. It had been almost three weeks since the case started. For Sherlock, and subsequently for John, that meant almost three weeks of abstinence. John had initially resigned himself to Sherlock's ascetic-minded classification of sex, along with food and sleep, as a distraction from The Work. By the fourth case, however, John had discovered a few ways to turn the situation to his advantage. He allowed himself a wicked little smile.
With the case concluded, John had only to hold out his palm for Sherlock to grind wantonly against, so eager was his own private genius to get off. That might do for a start, but John had plans for the evening.
"Sherlock." John pulled his hand back from the heat of Sherlock's erection, and Sherlock made a frustrated noise of protest. John gave him one firm, swift kiss on the mouth. "Get the lube. And a flannel." When Sherlock tried to pull John back into a deeper kiss, John pushed him away and gave him a look of reproof. "Now."
Sherlock shuddered against him and then launched himself into their bathroom, returning quickly with an already-opened bottle in one hand and a damp flannel in the other. John shoved him back into place against the wall and unzipped his flies roughly. When John reached in and curved his fingers around Sherlock, Sherlock gasped and flung his head backward into the wall with a loud thump. John smiled a trail of kisses down the tender skin of his exposed throat, felt the vibrations of Sherlock's sounds of pleasure against his lips. He nipped gently, teasing out more little rumbling groans and puffs of breath until Sherlock's hips were twitching almost in time with his pulse.
"Lube," John instructed, tugging Sherlock's trousers and pants down to his upper thighs and pushing his shirt up. "On yourself. Hurry up." Sherlock complied hastily, lower lip caught between his teeth in concentration at the simple task. John took him in hand again immediately and without delicacy, just fast, rough strokes.
"John," Sherlock demanded, his mouth wet and open and his thighs straining urgently.
John nudged his face up to Sherlock's neck again to whisper into his ear, certain and sincere. "You're amazing. Sherlock. You're amazing."
With an agonized groan, Sherlock spilled warm, wet heat over John's hand. He clutched blindly at John's hair with one hand and bunched his flannel up in the other as John pulled him through the pulses of his orgasm. John kissed his neck, his jaw, everywhere he could reach while Sherlock's breathing calmed, then drew the flannel from Sherlock's fingers to mop up.
Blinking hazily, Sherlock pawed at the button of John's jeans, but John batted his hand away. Sherlock groped at him again, clumsily. "Wha 'bout you?"
John kissed him, slowly this time, tasting his tongue, because he loved this part so much—when Sherlock was fuzzy and dazed and barely verbal after he came, and all because of John. "Plenty of time for me," John assured him, rubbing a hand over the enticing angle of Sherlock's exposed hip. "We have all night, and that was just your first orgasm."
"First. You know how this works," John chided him playfully, tugging gently at a springy curl. "We agreed. If you can impress me on a case, then you earn a reward. So tonight…as your reward, well done you…we're going to try a little experiment. We're going to see how many orgasms you can have."
Sherlock cocked his head to the side in confusion. "When did we agree that?"
"While I was having a damn good wank planning it."
"But I always impress you on cases."
"Yes, you do."
"Oh. Oh." Sherlock's eyes sparked. "I see. So…it's an experiment?"
"It is." John put his best scientific expression on. "I've brought a lab notebook. And gloves."
"John," Sherlock gripped his shoulders and looked at him gravely. "You're perfect."
"I know. Now go drink some water. You'll need to stay hydrated."
"Yes, Doctor," Sherlock answered dutifully, running a fingernail lightly down the side of John's throat. John shivered in anticipation.
When the knock sounded on his hotel room door, Greg waited three long breaths to collect himself before he opened it. Mycroft Holmes stood in the yellow light of the hotel hallway, looking calm, composed, impeccably-groomed and untouchable in a lightweight, pale grey bespoke suit. A sizzle ran down Greg's spine when his eyes met Mycroft's and a fresh cascade of images from their evening together tumbled into his mind. Mycroft leaning over Greg's tiny kitchen table, shirt sleeves rolled up and smiling boyishly. Mycroft gesturing animatedly, cheeks flushed, with a smear of strawberry pie filling stuck to his index finger, as he rhapsodized about a performance of Tosca at the Royal Opera House.
This Mycroft nodded politely, his face cool and carefully unreadable. "Inspector Lestrade. How nice to see you again."
Greg's, no, make that Inspector Lestrade's, teeth clenched. That was it, then? He wanted to step forward, grab him, shake him, shake that other Mycroft out of him, the one with the shy, laughing eyes. But clearly he was being ridiculous and…and pathetic, hanging onto a single night five months ago. All they'd done, really, was talk and share a dessert, for God's sake. It wasn't as if anything had happened—anything to hang a hope on. Flirtatious glances, lingering smiles, a quick, electrifying brush of long fingers over the back of his hand—those things were not promises. Yeah, well, he knew a brush-off when he got one, whether it was from a friend or…something else. So sod this…pining. Sod it.
He deliberately relaxed into his most nonchalant smile and extended his hand to shake. "Mycroft. It's good to see you, too."
Mycroft's eyelids flickered to his proffered hand, but before he could take it, John Watson emerged from the room he shared with Sherlock next door with a boisterous call over his shoulder. "Come on, Sherlock!" His hair was still wet from his morning shower, and he looked sleepy but cheerful. "Morning, Greg. Mycroft." There was an indistinct and resentful mutter and the sound of a drawer being slammed shut from within the room behind him.
"Morning, John," Greg greeted him in return. "Restful evening, was it?"
John gave him a remarkably innocent smile as Sherlock shambled out of the hotel room looking similarly sleepy and shower-damp. He didn't look quite as cheerful as his partner, though, and he turned a frosty glare toward his brother. "I'm so looking forward to hearing what you're doing here, Mycroft."
"Good morning, John." Mycroft did not acknowledge Sherlock, but turned back to Greg. "May we use your room for a brief conversation, Inspector?"
Greg shrugged and stepped back to hold his hotel room door open in invitation, and the three other men brushed past him. Sherlock immediately assumed a disinterested pose gazing out the balcony doors while John took an attentive seat at the room's writing desk and retrieved a small notepad from the back pocket of his jeans. Greg sat down on the edge of his bed and Mycroft arranged himself stiffly in front of the mirror-paneled white wardrobe.
"Well?" Sherlock insisted without turning away from the window.
"Sherlock, I appreciate your efforts toward the successful resolution of this rather bizarre incident. I did suspect you would communicate well with our key witness."
Sherlock smirked over his shoulder.
"I've relayed the data you provided to my friend at the Ministry of the Interior, who has also expressed her particular gratitude. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my earlier message, there are some open questions that have arisen as a result of her analysis." Greg noticed that although Mycroft's gaze drifted between Sherlock and John as he spoke, he seemed to be avoiding or just disinterested in looking at Greg. "Due to the sensitive nature of these questions and my personal relationship with the Ministry, I felt it wise to attend this final phase of the investigation in person. However, as you were responsible for the leg work, you would have my sincere gratitude if you were to remain available whilst I conduct closing conversations with the Directorate and the local constabulary."
"But not the parrot?" John asked.
Greg grinned at John while Sherlock chimed back in, turning toward Mycroft with narrowed eyes. "Why? Our work here is over. I'm not feeling motivated to continue my stay here for your," he waved his hand airily, "extremely and suspiciously vague reasons."
"Ah," Mycroft smiled at having been given his cue. "As incentive, I would be delighted to invite you to be my guests at a small villa outside of town I have at my disposal. The expenses would be mine, of course, and you would have use of the chef's services and your own cars. I've taken the liberty of having some additional attire and personal effects sent down for your use."
Sherlock finally turned around. "Your guests?" he asked incredulously.
Mycroft shrugged. He still hadn't looked at Greg. "Think of it as a well-earned holiday. Or a working holiday, if you prefer."
"What do you think we've been doing here?" Sherlock huffed, not bothering to hide his annoyance.
"Not exactly a holiday," John murmured, earning a disapproving glance from Sherlock.
"Personal effects?" Greg asked dubiously.
Mycroft finally glanced at him, completely expressionlessly. "Yes. For all of you."
"For how long?" John asked with a thoughtful glint in his eyes.
"I expect my business will be concluded within one week," Mycroft answered John in a mild tone. "Certainly no more than two."
Sherlock was now watching Mycroft closely, his head tilted to one side. "Interesting."
Mycroft turned away from Sherlock. "I think you'll find the villa quite comfortable."
"I think we should stay," John announced decisively.
"What?" Sherlock threw an incredulous look at him. "You want a holiday with Mycroft and Lestrade?"
"No," John said evenly, picking at a thread on his shirt sleeve. "I want a holiday with you. And I'm not likely to get you to bother with one any other way, am I?"
Sherlock drew back, subdued and frowning.
"And I understand," Mycroft interjected primly, "that you have been asked to leave this hotel due to…noise complaints?"
John blinked. "There were noise complaints?"
"Yeah, one of them was from me," Greg nodded. He thought for a moment that Mycroft's eyes twinkled at him appreciatively.
"You're loud. Certain people with rooms next to yours were trying to sleep," Greg reproached him sternly.
"I'm not loud," Sherlock scowled.
"Yes, you are," Greg assured him.
"Yes, you are," John nodded. His cheeks were slightly pink.
"I really didn't need to hear some of those…sounds," Greg said mournfully.
Mycroft adjusted his shirt collar and cleared his throat. "As evocative as this conversation is becoming, perhaps we could at this point adjourn and move on to the villa? I have a car waiting."
Greg frowned at Mycroft. "I have to get back to work."
"No. Your schedule has been cleared," Mycroft said smoothly.
Greg's eyebrows raised. "Well…I suppose…if you really need me here…."
"We do need you." This time Mycroft's eyes lingered on Greg.
Mycroft's villa was approximately thirty minutes north of Aix, nestled on a hillside at the base of the verdant Chaîne des Côtes mountains. As their car passed through a foreboding wrought iron gate in a tall stone fence surrounding the property, John had a moment of concern about whether the villa would be as comfortable as Mycroft had led them to believe. He hoped it wasn't full of enormous, formal marble columns and rooms where you weren't allowed to speak. He distractedly fingered the seam of Sherlock's trouser leg as he tried to peer around him out of the car window.
"Oh!" Greg said, obviously delighted, as they pulled up the white-pebbled drive and got a view of the main house. Mycroft, typing busily on his mobile phone, lowered his head a little further, but John thought he was smiling.
As they piled out of the back of Mycroft's hired car, John felt obliged to agree with Greg's assessment. The villa was a weathered and multi-roofed stone farmhouse with bright sky blue shutters, large and rambling yet welcoming. The front garden was shaded by enormous plane trees that John guessed must be a century old, and the air smelt faintly of herbs.
Greg turned in a slow circle on the lawn, frankly goggling. "It's…wow. It's like my grandfather's house!"
"This is like your grandfather's house?" John repeated quizzically. "Have you been holding out on us?"
"Well, except, you know…his was smaller," Greg conceded with a wry grin. "He had a place in the country, my sister and I went every summer and Christmases when we were kids. Stone farmhouse, big trees. It probably wasn't much, but I remember it more like this. Grand and sort of…magical."
"Lucky you, then!" John grinned back at the boyishness coming out in Greg's face. Sherlock stood to the side of the car, scanning the house and front garden, as a member of the house staff began carrying in their bags. "Well, Mycroft, I have to say this is lovely," John acknowledged.
"I'm glad you like it, John," Mycroft said pleasantly, nodding his acceptance of the compliment. John thought he looked rather self-satisfied at their approval, but then, when didn't he look self-satisfied? "Do come inside."
Mycroft offered them a brief description of the villa's layout, security, staff, and twelve acres of grounds, and then left them free to visit their rooms and explore, saying he needed to attend to a conversation with the chef about dinner.
Sherlock wandered up the curving wooden staircase while John and Greg rambled around the lower floors, calling to each other whenever they made an interesting new discovery.
"Greg, look at the fireplace."
"It's almost summer."
"But still, look at it. What's that mantel made from?"
"Look out that window. Did you see the pool?"
"Did you see the bar?"
"Hey, John, in here…there's a billiards room!"
"Look at those beams."
"Is that an original?"
"How the hell would I know? Ask Mycroft."
They peered together into a dark-walled media room with three rows of tiered seating facing an enormous cinema-style projection screen.
"Blimey," said Greg, looking up open-mouthed at the arched black ceiling, where tiny inset lights twinkled like a field of stars. A few of them looked suspiciously like the designer had arranged them to look like constellations.
John settled back into one of the deep leather reclining seats. "I'm never leaving this room."
There was a huff of laughter from the doorway as Sherlock joined them. He sauntered over to John's chair and leaned over to murmur in his ear, "Our en suite has a whirlpool bath."
John chuckled and reached up to run his fingers through Sherlock's hair. "All right, you convinced me. I'll leave, but just for baths. Long baths. I'm assuming it's large enough for two…?"
"Oi, settle down," Greg said, snapping his fingers at them. "We just got here. Let's see the rest."
"You like this place, too, don't you?" John nudged Sherlock as they wandered back down the wooden-floored hallway behind Greg. "You do!"
Sherlock sniffed haughtily. "It's fine. But my approval is hardly the point."
"What do you mean?"
"Look in here!" Greg exclaimed, swerving through a wide doorway into a spacious salon, bright with sunlight filtering in through two ceiling-high Palladian windows. "Look at this pi—Oh." Greg stopped short and John almost walked into his back. "There you are."
Greg had spotted Mycroft, evidently returned from the kitchen and now seated cross-legged in a high-backed white chair with his leather briefcase open on a table beside him. He had shed his suit jacket and even his tie, rolled up his shirt sleeves and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. John hadn't even been certain the man and the suit were made of separate parts, but apparently he could in fact be disassembled. The waistcoat, at least, remained. "Yes," Mycroft confirmed smoothly with a delicate arch of one brow. "Here I am."
Greg cleared his throat. "I was going to say…look at the piano." An ebony-finish parlor grand Steinway piano was set under a high arch at one end of the room.
"You play the piano?" John asked.
Greg grinned self-consciously at John. "Nah, but me granddad used to. We'd all sing carols at Christmas."
"Mycroft plays," Sherlock said loftily. "No doubt he wanted to show off—" Sherlock dropped the affected expression, pointing in what John recognized as honest surprise. "That’s my violin!"
"Obviously," Mycroft's lips twitched as he stood and crossed the room to the side table where Sherlock's violin case rested. He placed a long, pale hand on it delicately. "I had it sent down along with the rest of your things."
"Are we going to have a family sing-along?" Sherlock asked mockingly. "How sweet."
John squeezed his eyes shut at his partner's ever-rude tone, exasperated. "Sherlock!"
"Oh, please, are we all still pretending we don't know why we're really here?"
Mycroft's face froze, suddenly drained of color. John looked up at Sherlock warily.
"What's that?" Greg asked blithely.
"Have neither of you figured it out? We're not here for the case. This entire production is for your benefit, Lestrade."
"Me?" Greg blinked his incomprehension.
"Sherlock!" Mycroft snapped.
Sherlock grinned, puffing out his chest in the spotlight of their attention. "Not the original case, of course, that was legitimate. But did it need Mycroft's personal follow-up? Hardly. And what are you doing here at all, Lestrade? I clearly don't require your 'handling' any longer, yet you are once again dispatched to my side as a personal favor to Mycroft. So you feel valuable, needed. And then your reward, a holiday at a romantic villa? One that reminds you of a favorite boyhood home? With a lovely piano, and my violin provided to me so accommodatingly? How thoughtful Mycroft must be! Tsk, John and I know better, and so should you by now, Lestrade. Mycroft isn't thoughtful unless he has an agenda, and at the top of my dear brother's current agenda is obviously an attempt to impress you. Not that he need go to such lengths, judging by the way you can't seem to take your eyes off him when he's in the room. And, yes, of course I noticed your little encounter at New Year's. Enjoy that strawberry tart, the two of you?" Sherlock paused for breath, beaming, and finally noticed the unholy silence that had descended on the room during his speech. His zealous expression faded away as he took in three similarly stricken expressions, wide-eyed. "What?"
Mycroft tapped the violin case gently. "I thought that without the demands of case work to occupy your attention, Sherlock, you might enjoy having your violin here." He lifted his chin and said very softly, "If you will excuse me." He walked slowly from the room.
Greg watched him go, mouth slightly agape. "Yeah. Um. Me too. I'll just…goodnight then." He slouched into the morning sun in the hallway, chewing on his lower lip.
"Sherlock," John growled in the Absolutely-Not-Good voice.