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Monday 15th January 2018

 

'Blue Monday,' as common parlance now had it: the most depressing day of the year, as determined by what the newspapers had the gall to term science. Their reasoning was a baseless manipulation of various skewed social surveys, whipped up with a pinch of crime statistics and a misunderstanding of the suicide rate. They cited the fortnight now spent back at work after the festive period, with the weather at its worst and no hope of a bank holiday for months. Payday remained a stretch away. Christmas credit card bills arrived daily on the doormat.

It was nonsense, of course.

For one, Mycroft liked his work - as unthinkable as that might be to the general populace. He preferred an indoor environment, and so for him the British weather was welcome to act according to its whims. Bank holidays gave him a migraine with the disruption to work; 'payday' was hardly a critical feature of his life. None of it mattered in the slightest.

And yet it was January the fifteenth, and Mycroft couldn't function.

He was distracted and unsettled, worn thin, grey in his face and black in his mood. It bothered him. It made no sense. He was neither ill nor overly taxed with work. Sherlock was in excellent health. The Christmas period had been... restful. There was no good reason he should be despairing over a perfectly ordinary Monday.

Reports to read were suddenly unbearable; decisions to make - inconsequential; meetings to attend - unendurable. His thoughts strayed at the slightest chance, and he resented the smallest interruption. His appetite had vanished. He didn't know if he wanted stimulation or quiet, tea or coffee, warmth or fresh air. He feared it was becoming apparent to all who passed him in the corridor that something was keenly, critically wrong with him. He felt imbalanced; he felt restless. He saw it reflected back at him in every face he passed.

The afternoon's session with the security council devolved into its customary farce. It was nothing new. Usually, Mycroft would sweep into the ego-riddled mess after a few minutes and put an end to it - haul discussion back onto some semblance of a schedule, so they might all leave here with their sanity intact.

Today, he couldn't bring himself to care.

He hadn't the strength. He let the fools argue, drifting free from it all. He gazed down at the briefing document, seeing none of it, hearing not a word, as his thoughts wandered where they would. He stroked his fountain pen with his thumb.

Why was he so absent from his own head?

Why in heaven's name could he not fight this?

After fifteen minutes of silent reflection - chasing emotional responses to their origins, considering all possibilities, and allowing himself at last to see the pattern he was so reluctant to see - Mycroft came to a single conclusion.

It was not a wanted conclusion - but it was the only one that fit with all the facts.

And now that he'd acknowledged it, he would have to act on it.

Disruption to his work was a line he'd never thought he'd cross. It could not be allowed to continue, however difficult dealing with this might be. He had no other choice in the matter.

He was going to have to fuck Greg Lestrade.

 


 

The problem could be traced to its source at Baker Street - drinks, on New Year's Eve.

Attendance had been a howling error.

Not that it had felt like it at the time.

Mycroft had been rather pleased to receive an invitation, and taken it as a sign of a fraternal bridge being built - Watson's stabilising influence, perhaps. The man continued to impress Mycroft. Monitoring Sherlock through a network of associates was expensive and unreliable. Being invited there to do it in person was far preferable. Sherlock had barely spoken a word to anyone all evening, of course - occupied himself with the violin in the window, watching the snow - but it was a genial gathering nonetheless.

Mycroft had made a discreet examination of the flat not long after arriving, and uncovered no signs of recent drug use whatsoever. Sherlock also seemed to be eating regularly, sleeping most nights, and bathing at least once a day.

It had put his older brother in an excellent mood.

He found himself contentedly alone by the fire, feeling oddly fond of the fairylights and the clutter, sipping a plastic cup of Mrs Hudson's punch as he considered the curious collection of souls that his Sherlock had now gathered around himself. They were all of no threat, and seemed without exception to be dedicated to Sherlock's well-being. Glancing around them, Mycroft had - for the first time in many years - the conviction that his brother was in safe hands.

It was immensely settling, and a good sign for the year ahead.

As he finished the last of his punch, Mycroft became aware that he was being approached. He looked up to find a pair of dark brown eyes, sparking with a smile, and a hand being offered out to him.

"Mycroft - "

"Inspector Lestrade." He took the man's hand; they shook, functional and bracing. "Good evening."

"Please - 'Greg'. It's good to see you. Didn't know you were coming."

Lestrade had proposed the informality of first names before.

Mycroft chose once more not to honour it. A certain professionalism with his brother's associates would always be preferable, to allow Sherlock to feel at ease in their company.

Not that maintaining such a distance was easy in the case of Lestrade.

The man had a certain affability and honesty that were hard to resist. It was the eyes, Mycroft thought - those large, dark eyes - a certain seriousness in his face, which in social company seemed to soften - a quick and careful mind beneath. Lestrade had a grounded sort of resilience about him, and he'd been an invaluable influence upon Sherlock this year. He seemed that rarest of rare things: neither intimidated nor alarmed by Sherlock's gifts, and more than willing to be patient with the personality that accompanied them.

When he'd first heard of Sherlock's connection to a Scotland Yard inspector named Lestrade, Mycroft had worried that his brother was being exploited in some way.

A few minutes' conversation, and all his fears were laid to rest.

Lestrade was not a calculating man.

He seemed sincerely fond of Sherlock - protective, even at an early stage - and he had the patience to provide Sherlock with reliable, long-term support. It was a support that Sherlock sorely needed. A respect for the authority of the law would not go amiss, either.

As far as desirable role models for his brother went, Mycroft could not have asked for better.

Though, if Lestrade could have been slightly less aesthetic, it might have made him easier to encounter socially.

The heterosexuality helped - a reassuring restriction of the possible - but God alive, the man was exquisitely crafted. The chaos of human genetics could sometimes stray far too close to art. Somewhere in the depths of time, when Mycroft had been young and mindless and free to dwell on such things, he'd liked characterful eyes. He'd liked broad shoulders and boyish chins. Even the voice - that pretty edge of smoke, and a laugh that was East End London to its heart - had the ability to tug his thoughts in impermissible directions.

But it was New Year's Eve, and Mycroft owed the man a great deal - and thanks were due.

Lestrade was utterly gracious as Mycroft thanked him - grinning, sliding his hands into his pockets, and assuring Mycroft that his efforts towards Sherlock's welfare posed no inconvenience. He said he was glad that he could help. He cared about Sherlock, he said; he understood it was easy to worry. Mycroft thanked him nonetheless, and apologised for any trouble he might have been caused.

In the time that they'd been talking, Mrs Hudson had refilled Mycroft's cup without his notice.

He'd been planning to make a discreet exit soon - but short of pouring the woman's punch into an unsuspecting pot plant, it seemed he was now staying a little longer.

Lestrade asked him how work was - then answered his own question with a grin, supposing that Mycroft couldn't say.

Wishing to facilitate conversation, he asked Lestrade the same question in kind. Tiring, Lestrade admitted - a 'ball-ache', sometimes - paperwork and procedures. A long case with no conclusive end had made him weary.

They began to chat.

After his third glass of punch, Mycroft started wondering precisely what Mrs Hudson had put in it - and if it were entirely legal. The stuff was nearly a fire hazard. They were still standing by the fireplace talking, and Lestrade was asking about the new Audi in which Mycroft had arrived; about his trip to New York, back in November; about what Sherlock had been like as a child.

Mycroft couldn't stop staring at his bloody jaw.

The slight shade of stubble there was… distracting. Tactile. Lestrade's eyes were so dark that his pupils seemed permanently dilated, and he'd scruffed his hair a little by running his hands through it as they talked. He laughed his East End laugh at Mycroft's every punch-fuelled flash of wit, and kept refilling Mycroft's glass to the brim.

Mycroft recalled with surprise that he'd meant to stay for one drink, wish everyone a prosperous new year, then make his exit.

Then it was suddenly long past eleven, and he and Lestrade were sitting on the couch together, ties loosened, plastic cups still in hand. Lestrade was explaining to him in detail how to get puff pastry to co-operate. The trick was apparently to freeze one's utensils beforehand and cut straight down - never at an angle.

Mycroft didn't usually care to receive advice from other people, even on matters as trivial as culinary techniques. They rarely had anything substantial to add to his knowledge.

Now all he wanted in the world was to hear more about puff pastry.

The rest of the room suddenly started counting down.

It was testament to Mycroft's distracted state - and to Mrs Hudson's bloody punch - that it took him until six to realise what in God's name was going on. John Watson was hurrying to hand round champagne. Lestrade began to count down too, excited. Conversation stopped.

Three. Two - one - and the brand new year ticked over.

It was 2018; it was met with rowdy cheers.

Mycroft winced at the noise, smiling all the same, and took the champagne that Dr Watson passed to him. "Thank you," he mouthed, inaudible over the racket. Watson toasted him, and drank.

Mycroft had the glass halfway to his mouth when arms suddenly wrapped themselves around him.

"Happy New Year!" Lestrade laughed, gripping him - thumping him on the back.

Squeezing him.

Not letting him go.

Two seconds into the year, and time screeched to an irretrievable stop. It was over. The universe had ended. It was done. Mycroft's soul heaved as it found itself suddenly in Gregory Lestrade's arms. It let out a silent groan of longing that took the breath from his lungs. He felt his every primitive instinct take flame at once - one flash of fire, two seconds and he was gone, ignited into nothing. The man was grinning into his neck, hugging him - hugging him, for God's sake - and he smelled so male that Mycroft wanted to expire on the spot. He'd come straight from work; he hadn't changed his shirt.

Mycroft wanted to rip the thing from him at once.

Lestrade's arms were tight, and his shoulders were solid and warm - all muscle. He was now rubbing Mycroft's back - those large, masculine hands, moving fondly between his shoulder blades. Mycroft couldn't breathe.

He couldn't cope.

He clung onto his glass of champagne, and succeeded. He clung onto his senses, and failed.

After what felt like an age, there came a last thump on his back - a final squeeze - and Lestrade let him go.

Mrs Hudson had come hurrying over for her first hug of the year.

As Lestrade bundled her up, laughing, Mycroft drained his glass of champagne in one wide-eyed swig.

The year wasn't even ten seconds old - and he'd just been emotionally compromised, to such an extent it had probably registered on the Richter scale. He found himself overwhelmed by the force of his response.

It crossed his mind immediately that the thing to do was leave - feign a cigarette break, and call his driver - remove himself from this place at once.

In weeks to come, when Mycroft looked back, he would realise this was the moment that he'd doomed himself. He could have walked away - and if he had, the situation would not have reached the stage that it did. A long night could have been spent, regretting his rash decision to socialise, mortifying himself against such future idiocy, and learning a valuable lesson.

As it was, he found himself taking a second glass of champagne from Dr Watson - with the deepest of gratitude, shaking slightly as he drank it, pale as old paper and quite sure he'd just been altered on a cellular level.

Lestrade asked him, grinning, where he'd been this time last year.

Mycroft couldn't remember.

He couldn't really be certain he'd even existed last year.

Molly Hooper came bouncing over for a hug of Lestrade. She topped up both their glasses, and the night wore on.

 


 

By two AM, the rest of the gathering was on the decline around them. The other guests were descending the alcoholic spectrum from jubilance into slumber.

Mycroft Holmes was still very much awake.

And he couldn't stop staring at the wretched man.

They were sitting far too close on the couch now - sprawled upon it, having the kind of inebriated conversation that Mycroft hadn't taken part in since his early twenties. Lestrade's laugh had become so dirty that it raised a coiling, palpable heat in Mycroft's abdomen each time he made it - which was often. He was watching Mycroft with a lazy, easy glitter in his gaze - as if the very sight of him felt good; as if he was enjoyable just to look at. They'd possibly consumed more alcohol together than Mycroft had all year.

And Lestrade's eyes were so dark - almost black.

"Are you gay?" Lestrade asked, apropos of nothing.

His voice came soft; it was for Mycroft alone to hear.

Mycroft gazed into his eyes, now so drunk that every breath felt like a sigh.

"Yes," he mumbled. I haven't voiced that in years, he thought.

"D'you have a boyfriend?" Lestrade asked, pressing the edge of the cup into his lower lip.

Mycroft looked down into his last inch of punch.

"No," he said, quietly.

Years beyond count, since a regular partner.

Over a year since... company.

The last time had been much like the rest.

A night's distraction - a night's relief. The middle of the Korea incident. Anthea had contracted glandular fever just before, and looking back, he patently hadn't been able to cope - exhausted already with the added burden of translation, then suffering the loss of his assistant.

He'd ended up longing to be reminded he was human.

A Tuesday. A hotel. A man, whose discretion had been secured with a material gesture of goodwill - a man whose obvious addiction to prescription painkillers, alcoholic father, and history of teenage self-harm, had been impossible to put out of Mycroft's mind. He'd paid the gentleman well, and he'd asked no unkindness of him - no indignity - no cruelty.

Just his skin, for a short while. Just his warmth.

Minutes after the man left, as he showered numbly in the dark, Mycroft had realised he'd wanted eye contact too.

But it seemed a strange and invasive demand to make - even of someone who'd probably been paid to provide every intimacy that two men could share. "And please let me look at you," felt like a plea far too far.

Mycroft had realised he'd be longing for that, the next time - and it was most unlikely he would get it. Since then, even when he'd grown lonely, the thought had kept him from making that unbearable phone call.

He hated it. He hated himself for it.

It was his only option - but all the same, he hated it.

"You should," Lestrade murmured, dragging Mycroft from the lonely, guilty grey swamp of his thoughts.

"Should...?"

That smile, Mycroft thought. Those eyes.

"Should have a boyfriend," Lestrade said. His gaze lingered on Mycroft's mouth. "Miss my boyfriends. Not since before Angela. Christ... I miss that. Just keeping it quiet... just the two of you."

Mycroft's stomach turned at once into rock.

He didn't dare speak.

Lestrade closed his eyes a moment, stirring against the sofa.

"Something easy," he mumbled. "Stay in bed all weekend. Fuck until it hurts. Switch, and keep going..."

He lifted his glass to his lips with a sigh, and emptied it - then met Mycroft's gaze over the rim.

"D'you know what I mean?" he asked, his voice low.

His eyes lingered.

Mycroft's heart ached.

He'd never wanted to slide on top of someone so much in his life. Lestrade would taste like punch and smoke and poor decisions. His hands would be restless and demanding, and Mycroft would give them whatever the hell they wanted. He would gaze at Mycroft like that, while they...

Gaze at him... breathe his breath with him - let Mycroft kiss him, and touch him where he liked... gently say Mycroft's name.

A man to make love with who knew his name.

It was unthinkable.

"Security risk," Mycroft managed, closing his eyes. He couldn't bear it. He was so drunk that he felt like he could breathe purple flames, and he couldn't bear to see Lestrade looking at him like that. How good it would feel, he thought. How real. "I - I am not permitted a - ..."

"A boyfriend?"

How easily he uses that word. "N-No. My - position makes it - ..."

Lestrade's voice softened with sadness. "Don't you ever get to...?"

Mycroft threw back the last inch of his punch. No more alcohol, he thought. Had entirely enough. "S-Sometimes."

He opened his eyes in time to see Lestrade's mouth curve. "Yeah?"

His stomach twitched. "Yes."

"That's good." Lestrade stretched against the sofa again, sleepy. He reached for a nearby bottle of soft drink. "M'glad for you... glad you get to have some fun, at least." He gazed at Mycroft as he unscrewed the cap, smiling through his lashes. "You should relax more, you know? Like this. You're interesting."

Mycroft raised an eyebrow, barely in control of his face anymore. "Interesting?"

"Mmh. Really interesting." Lestrade smiled at a sudden thought, snorting. He lifted the entire bottle to his mouth and drank. "You'll forget about this in the morning," he sighed, shaking his head as he put it down. "You're wasted. You'll put your politics back on, and forget about me... won't be like this next time I see you."

Mycroft's stomach squeezed.

I hope I don't forget, he thought.

 


 

At three AM, they shared a cigarette outside under Speedy's awning.

Mycroft's car arrived just as they lit a second.

He made it wait until they had finished.

"You have a good year," Lestrade mumbled at last, flicked the stub into the gutter, and slid his arms around Mycroft - hugged him slowly, sleepily, hands coaxing beneath his jacket and over the silk back of his waistcoat. Mycroft's entire being rippled with desire - heart, mind and soul, curling and reeling, craving. He breathed it in, overwhelmed, and felt Lestrade's jaw rub against his his own. "Mmhm. Don't hate me in the morning."

Mycroft's head spun. "Why - w-why would I...?"

"S'fine." Lestrade exhaled, slowly. "You won't remember, anyway."

Mycroft could hear his own pulse. "I shall."

"Nah," Lestrade murmured. He nuzzled into Mycroft's neck - warm breath, rough stubble, male. Mycroft's heart was pounding. "If you do, you'll be mad. You don't like people seeing that you're human, do you? Human needs... m'I gonna wake up on a boat somewhere?"

Mycroft couldn't imagine anywhere he wanted Greg Lestrade to be in this moment, other than right here.

He eased his arms around Lestrade's shoulders, his heart thumping quick and hard. He could barely string his thoughts together anymore - but he didn't need to. This wasn't about thoughts. It was about the breath at his neck, and the hands enjoying the silky curve of his back, and the hardness he could feel nuzzling his own through a layer of polyester and a layer of navy wool.

"Do you want me?" Lestrade murmured in his ear.

Mycroft's breath evaporated.

"Yes," he whispered. Unwise, his brain gasped at him. Stop. Associate of brother. Security checks incomplete. Risk of indiscretion. God help me. Feels wonderful.

Lestrade smiled slowly against his jaw. His arms tightened.

"Good," he whispered.

And he licked Mycroft's neck - just once - one slow, lingering, delicious stripe of tongue.

Mycroft's entire body shivered and burned as he felt it slide across his skin. Fuck me, he wanted to whimper. Take me somewhere quiet and fuck me. Fuck me until I forget my name. Fuck me here. Press me to the window, pull my legs around your waist and fuck me.

Lestrade's breath tickled the hot, damp stripe as he spoke.

"Call me if you remember, gorgeous... Happy New Year."

And then he let Mycroft go.

He detached himself, and stepped away.

He let himself back into Baker Street, brushed a shaking hand back through his hair, and shut the door with a clunk.

Mycroft watched him go, lost in a hurricane of sentiment.

He got into the car, smoked the entire journey home with the window down, and woke up the next day with a skull that felt three sizes too small.

He remembered Greg Lestrade.

He remembered every word; he remembered every moment.

He did not call.

But as the days went by, Mycroft was remembering the man more and more - and the longing would not ease, no matter how he tried.

 


 

This problem could not just be batted aside like a fly.

A number of very real dangers were involved, and Mycroft was not willing to underestimate them.

He spent several additional days considering the matter - stone-cold sober, full of the cold grey clarity of January, and with some part of his soul still dying in rapture beneath the awning of Speedy's as bloody Lestrade licked his neck.

He hadn't known that Lestrade inclined to men as well as women.

Clearly, he concealed that part of himself with care - dispensing the information on a need-to-know basis. It was a hopeful sign. A man who cared for his own privacy was more likely to care for the privacy of a lover.

I miss that, he'd said. Just keeping it quiet, just the two of you.

Stay in bed all weekend.

Fuck until it hurts.

Mycroft took a number of long showers over the next few days.

He'd felt this feeling before - this irrational, physical longing. Sometimes it was borne of tiredness, or sometimes distress. Sometimes it seemed to invoke itself out of nowhere, or blow in on some wind like a miasma. The only miserable option each time was to book a hotel, and trade his dignity for a few hours of a professional's time.

The feeling had never been fixed on a person, though - one mesmerizing person.

This wasn't loneliness.

This was connection, and it was different - and it was much more dangerous by far.

On paper, there were systems in place for high-level officials to have partners - relationships, spouses, families.

In actuality, the truth of the matter was very different.

The protection costs involved at Mycroft's level of clearance were astronomical. Extending security outwards from an official, and around someone they loved, effectively doubled an already significant drain upon the country's finances. Intimate relationships caused difficulties, too - lapses in focus, shifts in priorities. It turned an official from a machine into a person, a person who would think twice about working themselves into an early grave for good of the nation. Purely by fact of statistics, few people were ever born with a capacity for work and mental focus like Mycroft. The country needed each one that it could find.

And it needed them to work until midnight, then be up again at five, and not to start wondering if there were perhaps more to life than this.

The process to register a regular partner was not registration at all.

It was deterrence.

Any official who tried to have an intimate relationship authorised would find their prospective partner subjected to a gauntlet of security checks - invasive, exhaustive checks. Restrictions would be placed upon their lives. Previous indiscretions would be uncovered and laid bare. Pressures would be applied. The process's main aim was to see itself cancelled before completion.

On paper, officials of Mycroft's rank were more than permitted to form relationships.

But in practice, the formality of such a process would crush any fledgling bond into dust.

It was rather the point. A partner had to be authorised before the relationship would be permitted to begin. But without completing the process, attachments could not reach the level of commitment required to complete the process.

It was a viciously preventative circle, and it worked.

It had kept Mycroft alone for many years now. It would keep him that way for many more.

There was no possibility for him to have a partner.

But in the earliest hours of this year, Greg Lestrade's hands had not just eased beneath his jacket.

They'd slipped without a care beneath his skin.

They'd stroked something in him that now refused to lie down and go back to its lonely slumber. It needed to know; it wanted more. It wanted those decadent brown eyes resting back in his own, drinking him in - watching him. It wanted to hear the voice husking against his neck again, asking him, do you want me?

He wanted to tell the voice, yes.

He wanted to tell Lestrade yes somewhere they could follow that question to its very fullest answer.

A relationship in its proper form - an intimacy of any length - was forbidden.

But a moment of weakness would be overlooked.

It was an open secret throughout MI5. High-level officials, and their human needs, were single-handedly keeping the sex industry afloat in this city. A night of anonymous company in a hotel, every few months, was tolerated.

And Mycroft longed, for once, to be weak.

Something easy, Lestrade had said.

Glad you get to have some fun, at least.

Dear God, how Mycroft wanted it. Some fun. Some relief. A man who laughed with him, drank with him, shared a cigarette under an awning at three AM with him.

And Lestrade was a professional, for God's sake - a busy man with a busy life. He had endured a very grisly and public divorce, and endured it in dignified silence. He didn't show the least fascination in the power. If anything, his major interest seemed to be in pushing it aside.

Surely two professional men could take a little comfort in each other's company.

But there, Mycroft thought, arose another problem.

One night in a hotel suite with Greg Lestrade... would it be enough? He wished with all his heart that he could fool himself into thinking it would be. But he knew what he'd felt as the man hugged him. He'd felt the strength of the response that arose in him - primal - desperate - restless, wrenching him apart to the soul and deeper. It was keeping him awake at night two weeks later.

And it was laying waste to his interest in his work.

That potent a reaction couldn't be soothed in one night. It risked the indulgence of a second night - then a third, and a fourth - and before Mycroft knew it, he would have acquired a clandestine lover. Only ruin laid that way. As harrowing as the process to register a partner might be, maintaining an unauthorised intimate relationship was the most reckless form of insanity on the planet. Mycroft had enemies - powerful enemies - who would love nothing more than to get hold of an unprotected MI5 official's lover.

He also had superiors, who were no less dangerous when defied.

A short time in a stranger's arms was overlooked, if it was conducted with discretion - ended at once - and not a habit he indulged in too often. A return to that person would not be tolerated.

The facts of the matter, stripped to their core, were these.

Mycroft could not forget Greg Lestrade. He could not formally register Lestrade as a partner. He could not risk keeping him unregistered. But he couldn't bear a single night with the man, either.

There was only one potential solution.

Mycroft checked his diary for the rest of the month. A number of face-to-face appointments; they could move. His assistant was now competent enough to act in his stead for most eventualities. He could work remotely, if needed. It was all alarmingly possible.

He hadn't taken leave in three years.

If he was going to do this, the quietest month of the year was by far the best time.

The universe seemed to be drawing itself into alignment for something. Mycroft didn't believe in fate; he didn't believe in a higher power. He did believe that he would soon lose his mind if Greg Lestrade didn't throw him against a door and tear the clothing from his body like wrapping paper.

And so he began to make the arrangements.

As he did, struggling with his waning attention to work, he promised his restless mind that this fever would shortly pass - it would be soothed. Soon, he'd be able to fall asleep again without having to tend to his aching cock, without seizing lubricant from a drawer and envisioning for himself Lestrade's eyes, his hands, his coaxing voice, his thick fingers easing Mycroft open, his breathing and his groans and fucking until it hurt, switching over, keeping going.

At the final point that it could still all be cancelled, and sanity might yet prevail, it was a dreary Thursday evening. Rain was lashing every window.

Mycroft summoned his car.

The Diogenes.

Somewhere private, he'd thought - somewhere discreet - the persuasive warmth of the fire, quiet surroundings, a space for the two of them to negotiate. He had but a single chance to make this offer. He'd received every possible indication that it would be accepted - but he still found himself uncommonly nervous.

It was many years since he'd wanted something so keenly. It made him vulnerable. If he had any sense, he knew he would stop this now - analyse that feeling, 'vulnerable', in greater detail, and let it horrify him back inside the boundaries of rational behaviour.

But this had already gone too far. It was damaging his work - and that was a depth to which he'd never dreamed he could sink. He had to intervene.

The pitiful truth was that he was human. Lestrade had agitated something in him that now burned with a frenzy, and there was only one way to calm it. Only one thing would slake it. Mycroft just had to manage it as efficiently as he could, and pray that Lestrade wanted the same.

He got to the club at eight, dispatched the car to an address in Marylebone with an instruction not to return empty-handed, and poured himself a very large scotch.

He settled in a private room, in one of two armchairs by the fire. There he waited.

At twenty minutes to nine, an attendant appeared to inform him that he had a visitor.

Mycroft asked them to show the gentleman in.