It is in the shelter of each other that people live.
The day of Sherlock's return from the dead was odd in more ways than one, not least because it was raining as if the end of the world was nigh, blocking drains and causing flash floods. A woman drowned in her basement flat before she could get out, commuters freaked when rats, flooded out of their nests, invaded Victoria main line railway station in the early evening rush hour.
Just before seven, after a tedious day giving evidence in court, followed by paperwork, Lestrade looked up as Donovan burst into his office, with something like relief on her face, to tell him that Sherlock was back from the dead.
A burden he had almost become used to sliding from his shoulders, Lestrade left almost immediately. When he was certain he had escaped the eyes of the press he took a taxi to his Brixton flat, resisting the temptation to get rat arsed. There'd been too much of that in the eleven weeks since Sherlock's 'suicide'.
By the time Sherlock, with a silent, stony-faced John Watson, turned up at his front door, just before eight, Lestrade had worked through the first wave of outrage and anger and was able to give Sherlock a hug, a clap on the shoulder and confirmation that he'd already received the go-ahead to again work with the man turned from villain to hero. After Sherlock's complete vindication and all the incontrovertible proof of the full extent of Moriarty's activities, no one at the Yard or Home Office would gainsay Sherlock Holmes.
Mycroft must have been busy, thought Lestrade, the grief at that betrayal still razor sharp.
John and Sherlock didn't stay long enough to drink the tea he belatedly remembered to offer them. While Sherlock, looking just as he always had except for the purple bruising on one of those ridiculous cheekbones, talked feverishly to fill the silence, John had remained silent until he got to his feet and announced briskly,
"I'd best be off. I've an early start in the morning. I'm acting as locum in Wimbledon for the next two weeks."
But before he left he had shaken Lestrade's hand, which was an improvement on their last meeting, then gone, with a silenced Sherlock trailing behind him. In anyone else Lestrade would have called Sherlock's expression forlorn.
There again, only Sherlock could have believed he could come back from the dead after putting John through such a brutal ordeal without repercussions.
And his big brother, of course. It would have taken Mycroft, with all his influence, to make it work.
Mycroft who had said tightly, "I can't discuss..." and hugged him hard enough to leave bruises, his face hidden from sight, until he had finally fallen into an exhausted sleep.
His mouth thinning, Lestrade got up to see what food he could turn in to a meal he didn't want but knew he should eat. Too much booze, too many takeaways and sleepless nights. Time to celebrate, he thought, sardonic because Sherlock's return had bought his own world crashing down around his ears.
He was unenthusiastically staring at the bowl of tinned soup when the front door bell rang. Afraid that John might have given Sherlock the elbow after all, Lestrade ignored the intercom and ran down the stairs. He pulled open the door to stare in stupefaction at the rain-sodden figure on his doorstep.
"Good evening, Detective Inspector," said Mycroft, the reddened tip of his nose the only colour on his wet, bleached face, until he looked up to meet Lestrade's gaze. Under the security light his eyes seemed impossibly blue.
"A bit formal, given we've been fucking on and off for over a year," said Lestrade, the thump of the rain on Mycroft's umbrella almost as loud as the thump of his heart.
"Indeed. I wonder if you can spare me a moment or two or your time?"
The diffidence was new and he had no idea what to make of Mycroft's expression. He was pretty sure what his own looked like.
Mycroft, who had probably orchestrated the entire thing.
Mycroft, who had turned up on his doorstep, night after night, mute with misery, making love until exhaustion overtook one or both of them.
"Guilty conscience?" said Lestrade sardonically.
Mycroft flinched but he continued to meet Lestrade's steady gaze. "Of course," he said simply.
Lestrade stepped aside with an ironic flourish to the staircase, pausing to secure the door behind Mycroft, who was making his soggy way up the maisonette flat he knew as well as his own.
The faint sound of the EastEnder's theme tune came from Mrs Benn's ground floor flat; she was hard of hearing so her choice of television programme was never a mystery. But as she went to bed at nine thirty sharp it was hardly a nuisance. Tonight, the sound convinced Lestrade that this was real. That Mycroft was really here.
Umbrella in one hand, briefcase in the other, Mycroft paused on the small landing, then set his furled umbrella, from which water was still dripping, outside the front door to Lestrade's flat.
Lestrade picked it up, the leather handle warm from Mycroft's hand, took the umbrella into the bathroom and left it to drain in the bath.
"In case it gets nicked," he said. He brushed past Mycroft, who was watching from the doorway, as if he didn't know what else to do.
"By eighty five year old Mrs Benn?"
Lestrade's eyes narrowed. "How did you know how old - ? Never mind, I can guess."
"I imagine you can."
"You'd best leave your overcoat over the bath, too," said Lestrade.
When Mycroft obediently draped his coat over the edge of the shower rail and left his briefcase on the tiled floor, Lestrade led the way into the open plan living space.
"You've seen Sherlock?" Mycroft said abruptly, as if he had been steeling himself to get the words out.
"He and John left about twenty minutes ago. John has an early start," Lestrade added colourlessly.
"Ah. Were they...? " The question petered out with an untypically vague gesture of Mycroft's hand.
"John was ignoring Sherlock - except for the fact he never let go of Sherlock's wrist."
"I can understand that. I knew what had occurred and even I..." Again, Mycroft trailed off into silence, finding it difficult to concentrate on anything but the man in front of him. Something about the way Gregory was standing suggested a weariness he didn't remember seeing before, no matter how heavy his workload. He had taken Sherlock's 'suicide' hard and he had let that happen. Now he would know how deep the betrayal had gone.
"Sherlock can't, realistically, have expected anything better," pointed out Lestrade.
Mycroft shrugged. "Our plan was derailed by the fact Moriarty had snipers on John, Mrs Hudson - and yourself. If Sherlock hadn't jumped when he did, you three would have been killed."
Lestrade took a moment to absorb that. "Why not you?"
"Because I was successful in establishing my loathing for my troublesome brother," said Mycroft, as if it should have been obvious. "Moriarty never loved any one or thing in his life."
"Unlike you." Despite himself, the jibe Lestrade had intended became a statement of fact.
The bleak austerity of Mycroft's expression gave way to one of his peculiar grimaces. In an abrupt change of subject he said, "I came to apologise."
"Okay." Lestrade stuck his hands into his pockets, cocked his head, and waited. As he watched, the muscles of Mycroft's face tightened before he looked down.
"While there was no alternative, I am truly sorry for the distress you've suffered. And for the fact I had to lie to you. By the end all our plans... We had so little time in which to improvise and - "
Lestrade cut him short. "I've no interest in how you pulled off the trick. The why is obvious. As per usual you and Sherlock decided John and I couldn't be trusted with the truth. And you might have been right. But we'll never know, will we." He tried not to notice how worn Mycroft looked. But then he would have been busying tracking down the remnants of Moriarty's empire, while continuing to fulfill his usual responsibilities. And lying with every breath he took.
There was no triumph on his face. Nothing but doubt and uncertainty and a fatigue which dragged at his eyelids and the muscles of his face.
"Are you the reason I still have a job?" Lestrade asked abruptly.
His hands cramping over the chair back he had been gripping, Mycroft was a study in stillness with only his whitened knuckles to betray the pressure cooker of emotions so precariously contained. There was no indication that his palms were scored with reddened half-crescents from his closely trimmed finger nails.
"You have a job because you're an excellent police officer, who meticulously prepares each and every case," he said, looking up at last.
"That wouldn't have saved me in the initial witch hunt. For God's sake sit down before you fall down," Lestrade added in exasperation.
Mycroft subsided onto the sofa as if he had been pushed. He tried to find a smile from somewhere but the muscles of his face seemed to have forgotten the knack. Frozen into immobility, he was racked by longing, even while he knew, had accepted some time ago, that this man - Gregory Lestrade - could break him. Gregory possessed the power to crack open his carefully maintained shell so that every closely guarded emotion would spill out to lie naked and defenceless on the ground. And Gregory didn't even know it.
Worse, he didn't know how to tell him. Or even if he should.
But the alternative didn't bear thinking about. If he didn't say something now he would never get the chance again.
"I'm not in the mood for sex tonight, but you're welcome to stay," said Lestrade steadily.
Mycroft flinched and licked his suddenly dry lips. "It was never just about the sex," he said at last, a faint colour high on his cheeks by this time. "I wanted - needed - to be with you. I still do. If you'll have me."
"For how long?" demanded Lestrade, but his expression was undergoing a rapid thaw.
"For as long as you can put up with me. My record isn't that of a man capable of making people happy. But I want to try. If you'll allow me to."
"I'm still really pissed with you," Lestrade said after a moment or two.
"You have every right to be," said Mycroft, not without hope, given that Gregory was perched on the arm of the sofa beside him, looking at him as if...
No one had ever looked at him like that before.
Gregory was projecting a heady sensuality and all by doing nothing more erotic than sitting here in his rumpled work clothes, lines of sleeplessness under his eyes and his hair weeks overdue for a trim.
"If we do this. If, mind, we do it properly," said Lestrade. "I'm not moving to St. John's Wood. The place gives me the creeps."
For a moment Mycroft couldn't think what to reply because Gregory was being impossibly, unfathomably kind. It was a few seconds more before he realised what he was being asked. He abandoned his family home without a qualm. "I'm not wedded to it myself."
"We could use the spare room upstairs for all your clothes." Lestrade leant closer but rather than the kiss his parting mouth had led Mycroft to hope for, he added, "Have you been taking those fucking diet pills again?"
Three grimaces later Mycroft conceded the point.
"No wonder you look like crap. I've been drinking," Lestrade confessed, unnecessarily. "Security's going to hate you living in Brixton, aren't they."
"They'll adapt. As will I." It was only when Mycroft kissed the knuckles of Lestrade's right hand that he realised they must have been holding hands for some time. "I will do better," he promised.
Lestrade gave one of his slow, warm smiles. "You'd be hard-pressed to do worse," he pointed out. "It'll be okay," he added confidently.
"It already is," said Mycroft, just before he kissed him.
Woken by a call just before two a.m., Mycroft fumbled for his phone.
"He's moving back to Baker Street!" said a joyful voice.
"Sherlock, do you know what time it is? I'm glad. I'm moving to Brixton," Mycroft added, just for the pleasure of hearing himself say it out loud. Although with Gregory's warm weight plastered down one side, he already had all the proof he needed.
"Good God. I thought Lestrade had more sense. I owe John five pounds," added Sherlock. "I best go pay him."
Mycroft stared at the receiver, then at his sleepy companion. "I think Sherlock just told me he was going to have sex with John."
"Horrible thought," said Lestrade, shuddering. "Why don't I give you something else to think about?" Given the movement of his hand, the question was fast becoming redundant.