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Overture.

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It started in spring of 2005. Lestrade’s first indication of what would prove to be a turning point in his life came out of the blue, heralded by an email from his MI5 superior twice-removed up the hierarchy—his boss’ boss:

On request of Mycroft Holmes you are being considered for seconding to MI6, to liaise with a consulting agent in the field of anti-terrorist surveillance. Please make yourself available for interview on April 20th, at Vauxhall Cross, Suite 7, at 3:00. Arrangements will be made with your Met supervisor to justify your absence from your DI duties.

Lestrade swore under his breath and immediately started typing his response. He’d spent years building his careers to reach their current standing. Right now he held both positions in elegant balance, along with his limited social life and his marriage. He could rightly claim that there was no moment when he wasn’t in some sense performing both jobs. As an investigator he was brought in contact with all of London—no element of the city was not subject to crime or murder. As an investigator he could be contacted by anyone, for any reason, without question from anyone. No one asked why he maintained a tidy little collection of civilian informants and allies. No one wondered why he kept a perpetual eye on the street. No one even wondered why he tracked the sprightly currents of the Met gossip grapevine. And, thanks to only small help from his Met supervisor, who knew very little, and his MI5 supervisor, who knew quite a lot, he could usually count on his ability to arrange time, choose cases, develop detours.

Come on, Lady S., you can’t say I haven’t been useful. No telling if I can manage this and hold on to what I’ve built. Please? Pretty please with sugar on?

Which even Lestrade would admit wasn’t perhaps a formal enough address for his superior’s superior, much less an elegant woman like Lady Smallwood—but he’d worked with the woman before, and knew she could unbend for a smile or a wink. Never come down from her throne on high—but he’d seen a dimple flash, and once he'd even made her cover her mouth to hide a laugh. He didn’t think she’d be offended, and the reminder that he was a nice bloke she found both useful and amusing might not hurt.

It didn’t help, either, though.

Now, now, Agent, don’t pout. I’m afraid even if I didn’t think you could do this, I owe an associate a favor or two. As it happens, I think it is possible this could prove a very good thing for both MI5 and MI6—if you are half the man I think you are. Buck up and show willing. I think in the end you’ll thank us for this.

So Lestrade made the best of it. First, he sent his own superior a note asking about this “Mycroft Holmes.”

“Fast-track analyst,” his boss said. “Don’t know much about him—even inside MI6 there are plenty of agents who have never heard of him. In certain circles he’s a name to work magic with. Better than ‘Open, Sesame,’ or ‘Hey-presto.’ He’s young, he’s supposed to be insanely good at predictive work, and he’s got a kid brother they want to shoot at sunrise for something or other. No idea what, but it’s apparently pretty ugly.”

“Know anything about the brother beyond that?”

“Rumors are he’s psycho. Good field agent, if you’re Ghengis Khan and don’t mind your prime agent summoning chaos. Some people say he’s into drugs—including some weird ones that aren’t even safe enough for street dealers in back alleys to screw around with. Some people say he’s some kind of necro creep. I’ll tell you what—I’ll see if I can learn anything. But don’t count on much: the older one’s a different kind of dangerous entirely, and people don’t cross him. That includes me.”

Two days later he arrived at Lestrade’s home in the middle of dinner. Lestrade ushered him in with an apologetic glance at his wife, Lis.

“C’mon in. Here—we can go talk in the spare, yeah? Lis, sorry hon, important. Yeah, work. Sorry.” As they went into the little spare bedroom, hardly more than a nook crammed with a hard daybed stacked with cardboard boxes, a cheap bookshelf holding the overflow of Lestrade’s CD collection, and the bike he no longer rode on weekends, he said, quietly, “She’s a good sport, considering.”

Considering… There was no real need for translation: considering she knew next to nothing about what her husband really did. She knew he worked for the Met. She didn’t know he’d worked for MI5 for even longer. She didn’t know his beat was anti-terrorism, and she’d have had fits if she had. She’d lost family in Ireland to the Troubles. She’d come to London to get away from that.

Lestrade shoved a couple of boxes down the daybed, clearing space on the cheap cotton seersucker spread for his boss to sit. The older man sighed.

“I considered burning you a disc, Sonny Jim, but I didn’t want to leave any silent witnesses. Here’s what I can tell you: Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. Mycroft recruited from Cambridge at the age of seventeen—did analytical stuff for the most part until he graduated at twenty-two, with advanced degrees in Game Theory and Linguistics. Worked inside the Foreign Office for awhile, first domestic, then someone up-line decided to fast-track him. For a few years after that he did a bit of everything, did the equivalent of working every department from the mailroom up to the top. He’s done field work and is supposed to be damned good—but his real specialty is analysis, planning and coordination. Not just Big Picture—word is that he’s the real power at the top, these days. Unofficial, but… He’s capable, he’s talented, he’s supposed to be a stone-cold bastard. Mixed opinions on whether he’s a back-stabber or not. Jamal in Anglo-Arab swears he’s heard Mycroft’s a back-stabber. Lady S, though, says he’s not—but that if you dare take your dagger out first, it won’t matter if you’re facing him or back turned to him, you’re dead once you make that first move. You’ll have to start it—but Holmes will finish it.”

“Ok. Did she drop any hints why he wants me?”

“No. All she said is that she’s seen you with second-chancers, and she thinks you’ve got a hope where no one else does.”

Lestrade swore, then, and leaned against the door.

“Hell. Another loose cannon?”

“No idea, mate. Looks like, maybe? Maybe not. Lady S. is rooting for you, though.”

So Lestrade showed his superior back out the door of the little flat, and returned to the Ikea table in the kitchen, where Lis sat, forcing herself to smile over yet another dinner growing cold and dry.

“Sorry,” he said, and proceeded to pick at his food for the next half-hour, eating little and talking less as he frowned and worked through the situation in his head.

“Problems, love?” Lis asked, with careful sympathy.

“Uh,” he grunted, brow furrowed. “Meeting coming up. May be a new assignment.”

“Promotion?”

He shrugged. “No idea. New duties. Sounds like I may have to work with another bad-luck wanker in need of a Big Brother to teach him the ropes—or knock some sense into him. Not sure. Meeting later this week.”’

“What do you know about it? Nice man? Interesting work? Maybe a raise or a higher rank to go with the job?”

He looked at her, exasperated. “If I knew, I’d say, hon.”

She bit her lip and looked away. The truth was that he seldom knew—but he never, ever said. She was getting so frustrated with being asked to adapt to obstacles that were never explained, and pressures she wasn’t allowed to understand.

Lestrade didn’t notice her unhappiness, though; he was already fretting in his mind, trying to determine how he should go into the meeting, what terms he should hold out for, what conditions he might manage to impose to protect himself and his career. He’d worked hard to built the system he now managed, to integrate it with his cover work. He didn’t care how high up the ladder Mycroft Holmes was over in MI6, he wasn’t going to simply do what the other man told him like a well-trained police dog.

On the twentieth of April he went in for the meeting dressed in his testify-in-court best—which he conceded was a modest best. He didn’t dress badly, but he dressed like what he was, and like what he wanted to be seen as. Working class background, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, educated in large part thanks to the blessing of pre-Thatcher policies that saw him through to a BA in Police Science. Respectable career as a gold-standard professional policeman with no pretensions to ever be anything else.

Salt of the Earth, Lestrade thought, that’s what I want them to see. What I want everyone to see.

It was never to a man’s advantage to be recognized as too clever by half…and in his own way, Lestrade was clever. He just worked hard to make sure only a very few people ever knew.

He flashed ID several times on the way up to the given suite, moving through the gates of hell, from one circle to the next, heading for the innermost circle. At last he was ushered into a meeting room at the end of a hall.

The room was big and clean, with a Swedish-style teak table ringed by comfortable, generously proportioned chairs, also in teak. There was a wide plate-glass window at the head of the table that looked out over a blue sky streaked with high, drifting cirrus clouds—beautiful spring skies over the brooding city of London. At the head of the table was a massive, throne-like armchair. Behind the armchair, poised in exquisite patience, was a tall man in an old-fashioned, elegant three-piece suit. To his right, leaning sullenly against the wall of the meeting room, was another tall man—substantially younger, substantially less patient, his arms crossed over his chest, his ankles crossed over each other as his shoulders pressed hard against the plaster. To his left, already seated, was Lady Smallwood, radiating perfect, collected sang-froid in spite of being in the same room as these two intense men.

The man behind the throne smiled a tight little smile. “DI Lestrade?”

“At the Met, yeah. DI Lestrade. Here? Investigative Coordinator* Lestrade, thanks. MI5, G branch.”

The man nodded, accepting the correction. “My apologies, IC Lestrade. I’m Mycroft Holmes. This is my brother, Sherlock—Sherlock, do please do the pretty and behave well toward our guest? And of course you know Lady Smallwood. Please, be seated…I’d like to get the current situation dealt with as soon as possible.”

Lestrade eased himself into a chair two down from Lady Smallwood—just far enough back to give him a good, clear view of all the players in this game. He watched as the two men seated themselves.

The man in the throne, now—he was, by Lestrade’s estimate, dead in the heart of thirty-something territory. He had gingery auburn-brown hair just beginning to thin, and the face of a clever gnome or brownie—not outright ugly, but by no means beautiful by ordinary standards. What he lacked in classic beauty, though, he made up for with perhaps the most powerful presence Lestrade had ever encountered. Mycroft Holmes owned the room…and the department in which it was situated…and perhaps all of MI6…and London…and Great Britain itself. Where he stood, there stood England. He could have given the Royals lessons in regality.

The younger man was no less English, but he was not England. If Mycroft verged on Imperial splendor, the other man was a privateer flying England’s flag. He was dashing, brooding, dramatic. Up against any other man he’d have ruled the room; against his brother he was a theater floodlight competing with the sun itself, and losing with ill grace. He sprawled in his own lesser chair, arms crossed over his chest, slumped low in a way that assured Lestrade the young man’s heron-slim legs were stretched out full length beneath the table. He was pouting. There was really no other word for it—he was pouting like a toddler denied a sweetie, or a teenage Queen Bee whose beau ignored her in favor of the class meganekko.**

He glanced over at Lady Smallwood, and was surprised by the amusement shimmering in her eyes. She rolled them slightly, seeming to telegraph, “Yes, they really are that weird.” He smiled back, feeling a bit less alone and overwhelmed. He straightened in his chair, and looked up the table to Mycroft Holmes.

“I take it you’ve got some sort of assignment for me?” he said, choosing to take the initiative and run with it.

Mycroft Holmes raised one well-tended brow and quirked a one-sided little grin, obviously quite aware of the power-play Lestrade had attempted. “Of some sort, yes,” he drawled. “Your record indicates you’ve worked with a variety of…shall we say ‘difficult’ informants, consultants, and trainees?”

“’Eccentric’ might be closer,” Lestrade said, not sure he wanted to be thought of as the final resting place for the incorrigible and criminally insane. “Informants and consultants often find it difficult working within the framework and parameters we assume normal within intelligence circles. And trainees can find it just as hard to adapt.”

“And your success rate is quite good. Elwyn Brenner—quite a hot-headed, difficult old man, if his reputation among academicians is accurate, and yet he’s proven one of your best informants within the university set. And Bryony Waxman…however did you even find that one? Eyes and ears hidden in plain sight in the very midst of, shall we say, ‘journalism’ in the interests of diplomacy? And the work you did with Carmichael after she was captured—amazing. No one thought she’d be active in the field again after what happened.”

Lestrade shrugged and kept a poker face. “People will surprise you.”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Mycroft said, again in that dry posh drawl that suggested his own experience of “surprises” had been less than enjoyable. Right up there with finding live larvae in your egg-and-mayo sandwich, or discovered that your wife had found lipstick on your collar and you have no idea why…only that you’re dead meat. “I approve of men with initiative and the ability to cope with…surprises.”

“Beg pardon, but I’m not that thrilled to see the love-light in your eyes,” Lestrade said, irony and amusement mingling. “Makes me feel like a rare beefsteak in a chophouse…doomed to a short life expectancy.”

Sherlock gave a sudden explosive snort of amusement, and murmured, “He’s not impossibly stupid, brother-mine. Knows a carnivore when he sees one.”

“Excuse me, Sherlock, but I’m trying to arrange support for your future career. Unless, of course, you’re not interested.

Sherlock smirked, and glanced at Lestrade. “You want to be very careful, or he’ll eat you right up.” The tone of his voice was….

Suggestive. So very, very suggestive. Sherlock wasn’t just implying predator-prey between Mycroft and Lestrade, but so very much more. Mycroft’s face was blotchy—cheeks dead white, nose pink, lips pressed together so tight they were colorless. Sherlock watched them both, anger and reckless glee mingled, waiting to see what happened.

Lestrade sighed, and snorted. “You’ll have to try again, sunshine. I’m not clever enough for a witty comeback line. I’m not bashful or naïve enough to freak out. If you want to screw over this meeting, eh—you’re going to have to put a bit more thought into it.”

“Why would I want to sabotage this meeting?” Sherlock sniffed.

“You tell me. Looks to me like it’s supposed to be to your benefit, yeah?”

Sherlock met his eyes for the first time.

He had pale eyes—primarily blue, but with traces of green and hazel brown. Eyes like pale opals, and a penetrating gaze that seemed to arrow out from an elven face—as alien as his brother’s brownie, but where Mycroft seemed one of the quixotic, homely Fair Folk, Sherlock was High Elven: something right out of Lord of the Ring or Celtic myth, the high romance fantasies of Lestrade’s youth. Sherlock was a beautiful monster hovering at the very edge of the Uncanny Valley.

Lestrade refused to look away, and as the staring match continued his sense of the absurd cut in. He snorted.

Sherlock scowled, then, and looked away, seeming to fold in on himself, as though he’d withdrawn from the meeting.

Mycroft grimaced in annoyance, and sighed. “My apologies. ‘He only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases.’ You do seem to have detected that my brother is the cause and subject of this meeting.”

“I did my homework,” Lestrade said. “And he kind of shouts it, doesn’t he?”

“Quite.” Mycroft studied the older man, considering. “Most people find it difficult to stand up to Sherlock, you know.”

Lestrade considered. “Well, yeah. Kind of like introducing a match to kindling: most people are going to go up in flames.”

“Yet you don’t?”

“I…” Lestrade considered, then shrugged. “Probably more accurate to say I’m used to working through the burn.”

“IC Lestrade, you’re going to make it difficult for me to get you out of this,” Lady Smallwood said. Her lips were grinning, slightly, but her eyes were sincerely worried. “While I owe Mr. Holmes here certain courtesies, I’m not going to let him coopt one of my most promising and reliable officers just to keep his hellspawn brother in line. We’ve got better work for you to do than babysitting The Brat.”

Her voice was sour, and Sherlock’s head jerked up. “Oh, do stop,” he snarled. “It wasn’t clever the first time Pendrick used it, and it’s not clever now.”

“Do give over, Sherlock,” Mycroft snapped, turning his head and giving his brother the evil eye. “It’s not as though you didn’t earn the title. Now shut up while I try to convince this gentleman to take you on.”

“And if I don’t want to be ‘taken on’?” Sherlock was obviously both angry and on the defensive. “If I don’t choose to be handed into his keeping like a child handed over to his nanny?”

“Then your career with MI5 and MI6 is finished,” Mycroft snapped.

“You keep saying that, but you know you don’t mean it,” Sherlock scoffed. “Come on—a bit of cocaine? It was just part of the cover. It was a club, for God’s sake.”

“And your cover didn’t demand you shove it up your nose.”

“Boys, boys…” Lady Smallwood sighed. “Inside voices or I swear I’ll send you both off with a nanny.”

Mycroft looked abashed, and straightened himself, refusing to look at Sherlock again. Instead he met Lestrade’s eyes.

Where Sherlock’s had been enchantment and charisma, Mycroft’s were something…different. Quiet. Reserved. Cool.  And, yet…

And yet they weren’t cold eyes, and there was something both weary and wistful in his expression.

“This is what he’s like,” Mycroft said, softly. “Out of control. Angry. Unreliable. Accusatory. Manipulative. He’s slipped back into addiction twice in the past three years. He’s insulted almost all our agents. He’s very good—a good agent, a good shot, a superb analyst and investigator. But we can’t let him out in the field any more. We can’t trust him.”

“What do you want me to do about it?” Lestrade asked.

“Let him work as a consultant with your surveillance program. He’s less likely to cause trouble that way, and he does love and know London.”

“He’s benching me,” Sherlock said, not looking up from his hunched position. “’How stupid are you, Sherlock?’ ‘What were you thinking, Sherlock?’” He glowered down at the table. “It was a mistake. That’s all.”

“Dis died.”

Mycroft’s words fell into the room with a quiet, horrible authority.

“But…”

“Dis died.

“If he’d been where he said he was going to—“

Sherlock wasn’t able to complete his sentence. The calm, cold man at the head of the table…

Well. Later Lestrade would decide the right way of saying it was “he lost it.” Not loudly, or violently. Something in that ferocious control snapped, though. Mycroft Holmes stood, and towered over his sitting brother, and it was like being at ground zero for some horrible, silent incendiary bomb that burned clear but hotter than the heart of the sun. “Died. What part of died don’t you understand, Sherlock? You spend enough time in the forensics labs—you ought to have some idea of what ‘dead’ means. Dis died. He wasn’t where he said he’d be because you weren’t doing what you were supposed to be doing. You were trying to show off how clever you were. Instead you alerted Jankov, you nearly got shot, and Dis died.

The last repetition nearly destroyed the older brother. Lestrade heard the faint quaver in his voice. Mycroft sat back down, suddenly, and buried his face in his hands.

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock growled. “Fine. I know. It should have been me.”

“Logically, yes,” Mycroft said wearily, hands still covering his face. “If Dis hadn’t stepped in to save you he’d be alive—and you wouldn’t. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be because he was saving you, Sherlock.”

“Maybe he was just showing off and trying to be clever,” Sherlock said, bitterly. “I’m not the only one who ever wanted to impress you.”

Mycroft’s hands fell and he looked at his brother out of empty eyes. “That wasn’t wise, brother-mine. Not wise at all.”

Sherlock grimaced. “He was always trying to get your attention, as if he was your brother, not me.”

Lestrade closed his eyes. How naïve was the boy? He was handing out truth like fake lucky money at Chinese New Years, by the handful, with no apparent idea what he was giving away—about himself, about his brother, about the poor agent who’d died.

“Were you using that night,” Lestrade said, eyes still shut.

“What?”

He could hear the surprise in the boy’s voice. “Were you using?”

“Just a couple lines. Just to stay in character.”

“That was dumb. You do know that, yeah?”

There was silence, then Mycroft started to say something. Lestrade raised a hand. “No. Let the boy talk. Sherlock…do you know that was a dumb choice?”

“Fine,” Sherlock growled. “Yes. All right. Fine. Maybe it wasn’t my best choice, but—“

No!” Lestrade shook his head, and finally opened his eyes, meeting Sherlock’s again and not looking away. “You made a bad move. It had an effect. Someone died. There’s no ‘but.’ It doesn’t matter why you did it, or why he did what he did, what matters is that you made some bad choices, and someone died as part of the outcome of that, and now there’s a real question whether you’re going to work again. Am I right?”

Sherlock’s mouth went tight. “Mycroft could sort it out if he wanted.”

“He is sorting it out.”

Sherlock sniffed and looked at the MI5 agent scornfully. “Oh, right. Kicking me out of active field work and putting me on surveillance under you is ‘sorting it out.’ He could make the entire problem go away. He’s The British Government.

“And the British Government can’t give you a get-out-of-jail-free ticket. Mycroft Holmes, your brother—maybe he could. The British Government can’t.” Meeting Sherlock’s furious gaze was like wrestling an angel. Lestrade could almost hear his mind creak and groan with the effort of will it took.

“I might as well not have a brother,” Sherlock said…and damn, Lestrade thought, he was a mean little prick. “I might as well have an archenemy. It was a mistake. That’s all. I made a mistake.” It was clear that even conceding that much was agony to the young man. “It wasn’t like I wanted….”

No one had to echo the words, this time. They could all hear the memory-echo of Mycroft saying, “Dis died.”

“I won’t work with you if you play silly buggers,” Lestrade said.

“Then you won’t work with me” Sherlock replied. “I have it on best authority I’m a complete fucking prat.” His eyes darted sideways to Mycroft, breaking their contact with Lestrade’s gaze for the first time since their staring match had begun.

Mycroft’s mouth tightened, but he didn’t say anything—not to confirm or deny Sherlock’s implied accusation.

“Do you want to work with me?”

Sherlock sighed, and wilted. “I…want to work. I can’t…I have to work. I’ll go crazy if I can’t work.”

Lestrade nodded, considering. “What are you good at?”

Sherlock closed his eyes, apparently calming himself. When he opened them he looked at Lestrade, and began to talk, voice rattling along like the brrrrrrrrrrrrrip of a playing card clipped against the spokes of a bicycle, or the clatter of a stick dragged fast along iron rails.

“Gregory Lestrade, approximately forty years old, married for—“ his eyes flicked over Lestrade, taking in his suit, his hair, his ring, everything about him. “Going by the state of your clothing and the wear on your ring you’ve been married for over seven years, now, and you and your wife have both grown apart. She does not serve as the safety net, providing extra care for your wardrobe—your tie is wrinkled, your suit should have gone to the cleaners one or two wearings back. Your shoes are shined, but not highly shined. The stitching on your shirt pocket has given way at one corner and not been repaired. You didn’t respond to my earlier suggestions regarding what Mycroft would very much like to do to you in the way one would expect of a newly married man or deeply committed man wearing his marriage like a medal of honor. You are, however, faithful. You’ve shown no sign of interest or desire for either my brother or Lady Smallwood, even to the degree of seriously assessing them and then passing on. You are faithful to your teams, both in the Met and in MI5: you speak of them with respect and concern…and show similar concern in considering me as a potential subordinate.

“You are more observant than you choose to appear. College educated in spite of your accent: you both understand and use vocabulary well above the limits of an uneducated man, and you’ve risen too high in both your positions to be less than educated and capable.

“You’ve dealt…” he faltered, then forced himself on. “You’ve dealt with drug users before, frequently. You are not intimidated, sympathetic, or accusatory. You’ve…” His eye narrowed, and he cocked his head, thinking. “Nooooo. No. You’ve not been addicted yourself. Not to…” He nodded, then. “Cigarettes. That’s your addiction. But you’ve also used, on occasion, and consider yourself lucky. You’re proud of your ability to deal with things others find difficult; proud of being adaptable. Proud of being modest—a contradiction in terms, that, Lestrade. You’re vain of your own lack of vanity, of your ability to sit down in a pub and drink your pint elbow to elbow with the plumber and the insurance salesman. You’re proud of your ability to look anyone, even my brother in the eye, and tell them to sod off.” He stopped, and then said, slowly, “And you’re going to take me on, aren’t you? Not because my brother wants it, and not because you think you can ‘manage’ me…but because you’re….” He blinked, then, and said, uncertainly, “Because you think I’m interesting.”

Lestrade grinned. “Well, you are, sunshine. Not nice. God knows, not disciplined. Interesting though? God, yes. So—you want to work with me enough to follow my rules?”

Sherlock studied him warily. “What are the rules?”

“Good question. I don’t know, yet. How about we get together in a couple of days and you tell me what you think you can do to boost my surveillance system. I’ll email you the data tonight, you think it over, see where you think you’d fit in. Then we can start planning. Is that enough to be getting on with?”

Sherlock suddenly smiled, surprised and amused. “I think it’s probably enough to start.”

Lestrade grinned back. “Good. Now, out. We’ll talk later.”

Sherlock frowned, obviously considered arguing, then backed down. He stood, gave an uneasy nod to both his brother and Lady Smallwood, and stalked out like a cat trying to pretend he’d not just surrendered to a big Newfoundland.

When the door closed behind him, Mycroft sighed heavily, then looked down the table to Lestrade. “You won.”

“He’s desperate….more than he’ll admit. You offered him a door. He took it.”

“You won’t always win so easily.”

“Didn’t think I would. Do you want me to use him for field work? Because I’m telling you up front, I won’t have him in anything but surveillance until I’m more sure of him than I am now.”

“No,” Mycroft said, sadly. “No, I wouldn’t expect anyone to put him in the field right now. Surveillance is a good start. It will keep him active and his mind busy.” He raised his chin and gave a quirky, gentle grin, half-wistful. “If you get a chance, you might want to consult him on some of your work with the Met. He’s quite good at deductive activity.”

“Regs would get in the way of that.”

“Regs can be dealt with,” Lady Smallwood said, with an amused smile. “If you find you’d like to give him access, and he’s working well with you otherwise, we’ll work something out. He’s a trained agent—it’s not like you’d be giving an amateur access.” She stood, and smoothed her elegant knit dress. “Mycroft, always a pleasure. I hope you feel the MI5 has cooperated with you in full?”

Mycroft and Lestrade also rose. “More than cooperated, Lady Smallwood. You’ve served well as intermediary between MI5, MI6, and my brother.”

“’Elizabeth,” she said, smiling. “I’ve told you before, you can call me ‘Elizabeth.’ Or even ‘Beth.’”

Lestrade noted with some amazement and some amusement that the other man’s eyes actually twinkled. “I am honored….Lady Smallwood. Honored, but not so impertinent.” His smile, though, was as good as if he’d called her “Bess.” Then he turned to Lestrade. “You’ll come talk with me further once you and Sherlock have become better acquainted?”

“Daresay I will,” Lestrade said, doing a bit of twinkling of his own to see what happened. “But don’t be fooled, Mr. Holmes. I’m MI5. Lady Smallwood’s my boss. Not you.”

A brow went up. “That could be changed.”

“No, it couldn’t,” Lestrade said, before Lady Smallwood could step in to protect him. He grinned. “Some things just work better if they’re not part of a single command chain, Mr. Holmes. I think your brother and I are going to do better if you’re in the loop—but not in charge. At least, not yet.”

It was then that he later decided he got the true measure of the man. He could see the temptation come over him—to retain control, to insist on authority. To hold on to that bit of power to both protect his brother and to punish him.

Mycroft Holmes set the temptation aside. “Not yet,” he agreed, then sighed. “Maybe never.”

“Oh, I daresay he’ll do work again for you someday, Mycroft,” Lady Smallwood said. “Give yourselves both time. And for God’s sake, forgive—yourself and him. I read the report. Sherlock’s judgment was off—but so was everyone’s.” She put her hand on Mycroft’s. Lestrade was honestly startled that the man didn’t pull away. “Dis wouldn’t blame you, Mike. Not you, not Sherlock, not even himself. Maybe the bastard with the gun. But not you or your brother.”

Lestrade studied the man as Lady Smallwood gathered her little cardigan jacket, her purse, and her briefcase.

Mycroft Holmes was nothing he’d quite expected to meet today, any more than his brother was. He was strong—insanely strong. He was manly in a way entirely different than the bloke-ish masculinity Lestrade wore with easy grace: as poised and still as an Elizabethan swordsman with a bristling collar of lace spines forming a frame around his head. Civil and fierce and precise… somehow he’d added a layer of romance and wit to rock solid conservative spine, and then tossed in something that Lestrade thought he would never understand. The man who’d danced a complex dance of anger and grief and pain and power with Sherlock was too achingly human to be contained in a three piece suit and an office in Babylon-on-Thames.

“Come along,” Lady Smallwood said, gesturing for Lestrade to accompany her. “We’ll be talking soon, Mycroft.”

In the lift down, she said, “You did well.”

“Thank you.”

“Watch out for Mycroft. He’ll coopt you if you let him.”

“I thought maybe, yeah.”

They were quiet, then she said, “I did this because it’s always better to have Mycroft owe you a few favors. He’s decent about repaying them, and… Hell. Someone gave him Archimedes lever, a fulcrum, and a place to stand. That man can move the world.”

“No need to explain, ma’am. Give a little, get a little.”

“No—Lestrade, if you make this work, he’ll owe you ten times what he owes me, or ever has owed me. He loves that mad brother of his…loves him even in spite of this. Make it work and you’ve got Mycroft Holmes at your back for the rest of your life.”

Lestrade chuckled, unable to believe it was quite such a big deal. “I’d take care of the kid anyway. Screwed up as hell, but there’s something great in there. Maybe even something good. Hard to tell past the anger and the jealousy, but—I think I’m betting on good.”

And Mycroft Holmes, he thought, as they both exited the lift into the lobby, was both…and someday, unless they were very lucky, being both would break him.

 

* This rank is so very bogus. I have spent too much time in a fic-writer’s frenzy trying to work out MI5/6 internal structure and rank/status system. For some utterly inexplicable reason I can’t find anything reliable! Color me shocked—shocked, I say! Where is the transparency? Where is the trust and openness? Anyway. Do not consider this a “real” title. I made it up out of my own wee little head. It is merely intended to suggest that Lestrade’s rank within MI5 is, rather like his rank within the Met, high enough to give him authority and supervisory duties, but still low enough to let him have street-time and do field work.

**Come on—if we’re going to have Lestrade be the sort of guy who listens to the Clash and was able to fit in with the crowd, he’s just got to be able to cope with basic “fanboy.” I don’t know what he’d have collected in modern parlance, but he’s enough my age for me to suggest “Love and Rockets,” “Sandman,” “The Watchmen,” would all be in his collection, and he would know the meaning of meganekko. (For those of you who don’t know: “Glasses-girl.” Manga archetypal heroine who’s always the sweet, brilliant nerd.) http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Meganekko/ Really, of our main characters, Sherlock *might* know as a result of a case (Like the Geek Interpreter), Mycroft *might* know as a result of either omniscience or, just possibly, a hidden vice for manga (crack theory), John just wouldn’t know, Mrs. Hudson would only know if she found Yaoi online. Molly…might be a fangirl. But of the lot of them, Lestrade really seems the most likely to have fallen into the sins of comics, anime, and fandom in his youth, and the most likely to have maintained an ongoing loyalty. (That’s my headcanon for today, and I’m stickin’ to it.)