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The House of Ghosts

Chapter Text

      “Bloody wonderful…”

Greg listened to the car sputter out its last vestiges of life and sat silently as the deceased vehicle coasted to a stop at the side of the road.  The lonely road.  The dark, lonely road in the middle of fucking nowhere.  Which was precisely where cars went to die.  Not on a busy London street, where you could grab a coffee while waiting for someone to remove your car to a helpful garage.  Not a tidy neighborhood where the mobile service was exceptional… while you were getting your coffee waiting for someone to remove your car to a helpful garage.  He needed coffee.  Almost as badly as he needed a single bar on his mobile to call that now-familiar vehicle removal service to deliver his car to the nearest place it might be returned from the great automotive hereafter.

Take a car, they said.  It’ll be more convenient than the train, they said.  ‘They’ should get his boot up their arse for their stupid suggestions.  However, given the ‘they’ in question was the Chief Superintendent, it might need to be done in a somewhat imaginary fashion or to a small doll with the bastard’s name written across the forehead.

Yes, he should be honored that he was chosen to attend the law enforcement conference and serve on several panels to demonstrate that the London contingent was still top of the game, thank you very much, but he was also fairly certain that the Chief Superintendent had been told by his wife that if he scarpered off for a few days of drinks with old chums and missed their anniversary it would be last anniversary he’d celebrate as a married man.  At least, that’s what she told him the day before he left on this voyage of the damned when she popped in to accompany the man in question to lunch.

Said man in question now owed this DI an enormous favor and it would be collected at the earliest possible opportunity.  Now, though… how to get out of this mess?

Greg checked his phone again and admired its consistency of showing absolutely no service available.  Many things could learn a lesson in consistency from his phone.  This car, for example.  At least it wasn’t…

Shit.  He almost hexed himself.  Nearly said ‘at least it wasn’t raining’ which would immediately…

It was raining.  With an ear-splitting thunderclap and flash of lightning to preface its arrival, too.  He was officially in some ridiculous horror comedy and the hero of that never fared very well, though he usually got the girl in the end.  Given there was no girl present, however, that could mean there was one lurking in his immediate future or he wasn’t the hero.  He was the luckless sap who dies in the opening scenes that serve as a flashback documenting just how haunted was the dark, lonely road that led to…

Was that a house up ahead?  Nooooooooooooo… he was the luckless sap!  Fuck!  Oh look, a house with a dim light in a window.  Maybe they had a phone he could use.  And a hot cup of tea to warm his bones after he arrived at their door cold and wet and looking exactly how luckless saps were supposed to look in the moments before their gruesome and mysterious death.

So, the question was… stay here in the car and hope another vehicle happens along to provide a ride to civilization or embrace his gruesome and mysterious death.  Given he hadn’t seen another vehicle at all during his eternity of driving this haunted lane, gruesome and mysterious death wins the day!

Taking a deep breath, Greg opened the door and darted out of the car, staying close to the trees for what cover they provided and ran as fast as he could in the dark to the door of the large, partially concealed house.  Actually, he noted, that if he hadn’t stopped in that location, he may have missed it as it was visible only in a very few places where the trees left a gap large enough to see anything behind them.

Even with the rain beating on him mercilessly, Greg hesitated knocking since the thought of his impending gruesome and mysterious death was not as silly as it had seemed when he was safe and dry in his car.  He had no idea what the crime statistics for violent murders in haunted houses were for England, but he had no desire to add a data point to that particular cursed and eldritch chart.

With icy rainwater running under his collar and down his back, Greg finally compelled his arm to rise and use the large, ominous knocker to announce himself to whoever might be at home.  When the door was finally answered, he did not feel a whit more at ease.

      “What do you want?”

The small, elderly woman dressed in black had sharp eyes that assured Greg she missed nothing and tolerated nothing that was not to her liking.

      “Um… my car...”

      “I don’t have it.”

      “No, I know that.  Something’s wrong with it and there’s no mobile service in this area, apparently, so I was hoping to use your phone to call out a tow for my car.”

The long glare Greg received for his request didn’t fill him with hope that he wouldn’t be walking the remaining trillion leagues to the nearest village, but it also didn’t fill him with certainty that the woman at the door was preparing to plunge a large and supernaturally-sharp knife into his heart.

      “Follow me.”

Knowing keenly that every sodden footprint left on the floor increased the chance of that large knife being produced from somewhere to end his impolite life, Greg tried to walk as lightly as possible and avoid the exquisite rugs as he followed along to the kitchen where, thankfully, the floor was made of that old and resilient tile they adored for kitchens since it could stand up to whatever the cook or maids threw at it while preparing the feast or party or whatnot for the homeowners.  His feeble dripping wouldn’t upset it in the slightest.

      “There.”

Greg looked where his guide pointed and saw a desperately old-style telephone that seemed very much at home in the desperately old-style kitchen.  If anything in here was manufactured after 1920, he’d be greatly surprised.  No, he took that back.  There was a small radio tucked into a corner of the kitchen that was later in date.  Not by much, but it might elevate the mood to a slightly more modern mode. Maybe even the 1930’s!

      “Thanks.  I appreciate it.”

Thinking just a moment, Greg changed his strategy and checked his own phone where he had a downloaded list of police and emergency services through the country and found the closest.  A local garage might give him the bum’s rush, but they wouldn’t do that if their local constable made the call.

      “You’re where?”

The local constable, apparently, was somewhat taken aback by the request.

      “Some large house along Old Briar Road, about…”

      “The Holmes house?”

      “I… have no idea.”

      “Did you hesitate to knock?”

      “Apparently, I’m at the Holmes house.”

Greg’s words earned him a short nod from the woman in the kitchen who, he noticed, was putting the kettle on.  Poisoning people with their tea was an old murder mystery staple, so his heart was not skipping with joy no matter how bloody marvelous a hot cuppa sounded at the moment.

      “Better you than me, mate.  I mean, sir. It’s haunted, you know.”

      “No… I didn’t know, but I do now, I suppose.”

      “Martha’s not usually there this late, so you’re lucky.  You might have met the ghost!”

      “Ok… so, you’ll have someone out to collect me and the car?”

      “Of course, sir.  It’ll be a bit since Gerald is likely at the pub and its murder to pry him away from his pint, but I’ll put the fear of snooping about his shop into him to get his arse out to you sooner than later.  You can still catch a late train depending on where you’re going, so I’ll phone the station master to tell him to expect you.  Not a lot of passengers buying tickets this time of night, so he often has a little nap in the evenings.”

      “Thanks, I appreciate it.”

      “Not a problem, sir.  Though… if I were you, I’d be waiting in my car when Gerald arrives.  I can’t guarantee he won’t leave you stranded since the alternative is knocking on the Holmes house door and nobody does that for love nor money if they value their souls.”

      “Because of the ghost.”

      “Precisely.  Expect him in half an hour to forty-five minutes, sir.”

      “Sounds fine.  Thanks again.”

Greg set down the handset and made sure to smile genially when he turned back towards the room’s other occupant.

      “Someone should be here soon to move my car to a garage.”

      “You’d better be there with it or Gerald will leave you stranded here, cowardly sod.”

      “Yeah… your constable said as much.”

      “Not surprising.  Told you about the ghost, too, so I heard.”

      “That was mentioned, yes.”

      “Poppycock.  Silly young fool.  There isn’t a ghost in this house and there never has been.”

As if on cue, the soft sound of piano music wafted into the kitchen, a beautiful, haunting tune that had Greg turning towards it as if hypnotized and the woman setting the teacup on the table shaking her head and muttering something rude under her breath.

      “I… it’s the radio.  Left it on by mistake.”

Greg tore his eyes away from the kitchen door and gave a little nod.  Radio… the one that wasn’t playing at all the entire time he’d been here until now.

      “It’s lovely, whatever the piece is.”

      “Some old thing.  You don’t hear much else on the radio, unless it’s some new thing that’s positively dreadful.  Drink that to put some heat in you.  I’ll see you with something to eat, too, before you leave.  No use offering you a towel what with you just getting wet again, but it’s easier to bear a good soaking with a full stomach.”

Greg had never heard that particular philosophy before, but he immediately embraced it with open arms.

      “Thank you.  I appreciate that.  Might I… I’m Greg, by the way.  Gregory Lestrade.”

      “Martha Hudson.  I own this house.”

      “It’s ummm… very nice.”

      “That it is.  Drink your tea before it gets cold.”

Recognizing a conversation ender when he heard one, Greg obediently sipped his tea and consigned himself to another line of bland, purposeless conversation.  He’d had to mill about with the public making bland, purposeless conversation often enough that it was almost second nature to him now.  Of course, those times were rarely accompanied by a breathtaking piano score…

__________

Mrs. Hudson looked out the window and only closed the curtain when she saw the brief peek of a headlight through the trees.

      “Well, he’s gone.”

      “Excellent.  I was most aggrieved by his presence.”

      “Only because you wanted tea and couldn’t have a cup while he was here.”

      “Perhaps.  It was a distressing situation, nonetheless.”

      “It wouldn’t be if you weren’t always staying out of sight when anyone happens upon this house.”

      “Staying out of sight is far preferable to… chatting.”

      “It’d be good for you to chat a bit.  Or, at least, listen to people chatting.  Might remember what it was like.”

      “I have no wish to do that.”

      “Don’t I know it!  Anyway… he enjoyed hearing you play.”

      “As do they all.”

      “Arrogant git.  That song particularly seemed to interest him, though.”

      “The Nightbird Sonata.  It would have been one of my most admired pieces, I suspect.”

      “Still could be.”

      “Impossible.”

      “Not necessarily.”

      “Yes, necessarily.  I desire, I believe, a cup of the spiced blend you purchased on Tuesday.  I have an urge for something warming.  The night is a bitter one.”

Watching the tall figure stride away without another word, Mrs. Hudson sighed and shook her head before moving to start the kettle going again.  This house was haunted, to be honest.  Haunted by many things besides a boring old ghost.  One day, perhaps, it would see an exorcism, but that day might come long after she, herself, could ever be glad for it…

Chapter Text

      “That sounds fun.”

And, in truth, it did, to Anderson’s ears.  A classic horror film scene lived in real life.  And, of course, it had to happen to someone completely unsuited to appreciate it, unlike him who would probably still be there trying to take snaps and capture ghostly utterances on audio tape.

      “Oh, it was Anderson, it was.  Stranded in the middle of nowhere.  At night.  In the rain.”

      “But you got to visit a haunted house!  That’s a story to tell at the pub when you want a free pint.”

      “Not much to tell to put the scare into people, though.  Ghostly piano music doesn’t really send chills down the spine.”

      “Not if you tell it like that, it won’t.  You are the worst storyteller in the world.”

      “Not much practice at it, I suppose.”

      “It’s got me interested, though.  What was it called?  The Holmes house?”

      “Yeah, but it’s owned by a woman named Hudson.”

      “Holmes… that name should be considered haunted, if you ask me.”

      “Sherlock’s not a ghost, to be fair.  A ghoul maybe.  Vampire… he does keep late hours, but certainly not a ghost or I could call a priest and be rid of him when he’s being a nuisance.  Did he bring us anything on the Watcombe case yet?”

      “No, but he said he had some experiment on and our case wasn’t interesting enough to pry him away from it.  Ok… let’s see… Martha Hudson?  That the one who owns the haunted house?”

      ‘Yeah, actually.  You found something?”

      “I found it is owned by a Martha Hudson, who inherited it from her great-aunt, who… there’s the connection.  The aunt was willed it by a Mycroft Holmes.  Think there’s any relation?  To Sherlock, I mean. That’s two fairly unique names to share a Holmes at the end.”

      “No idea.  Sherlock doesn’t talk about his family much.  At least not ancestor sort of family.”

      “Well, let’s see then.”

      “Anderson… don’t spy on people.”

      “Why not?  It’s fun and somebody has to use all of this shiny computer equipment.”

      “It’s not shiny.  It’s the polar opposite of shiny.  Shoddy.  That’s a better word for it.”

      “You have your fantasy and I have mine.  Ok… Sherlock Holmes… there’s your mum and dad and… grandparents, both sets…great-grandparents…. oh.  That’s interesting.  And… yeah, I think I remember that case.”

      “Case?”

      “I don’t remember it remember it, I remember reading about it.  Mycroft Holmes… the composer.  And pianist.  The one who died in a train accident, though his body was never actually found.  Or never identified, more precisely, since there was a LOT of mangled bodies that weren’t properly identified in the aftermath of that disaster.  It seems Mr. Mycroft Holmes had a brother, Sherrinford, who died in World War I and left behind a widow and son.  He was Sherlock’s maternal grandfather.  That makes this Mycroft what… cousin?  Uncle?  Explains Sherlock’s musical talent, though.  That’s supposed to run in families.”

Greg let out a low whistle as he looked over Anderson’s shoulder at the computer monitor.

      “I remember that name, now that’s it linked music.  My gran adored him!  Just called him Holmes, though, I’m not entirely certain I ever heard her say his whole name.”

      “Like Madonna.”

      “He was that famous, for the time.  One of those that packs the enormous venues worldwide, gives command performances for royalty… there were some recordings of his work and my gran used to play them over and over.  She saw him play twice, when she was a little girl and fell in love, I suspect.  I haven’t listened to those recordings in years.  I have them.  They were one of the few things I kept when I cleaned out my mum’s house after she died.  Funny Sherlock never mentioned him.”

      “Who knows what goes through Sherlock’s mind?  I have to wonder why the house didn’t stay in the family, though.  I don’t see connections to any Hudson’s here.”

      “Lover?”

      “Maybe.  Or patron.  No, that wouldn’t work.  Patrons are rich and wouldn’t need a house.  Maybe someone who worked for him?  Or did him a favor?”

Greg shook his head but didn’t prompt Anderson to dig further.  It was a waste of police resources and not for a very important reason.  Of course, that never stopped them before from investigating something trivial, but interesting.  Or they had a wager on.  Oddly, though, this one felt different.  The whole let sleeping dogs lie business felt like the right idea.  Besides, anything to do with Sherlock would only bring him a headache and he had enough of those as it was.

      “Happy mystery, then.  Nothing we need to waste time on when we’ve got actual mysteries to fathom out.  Where’s the Baker file?”

      “On your desk, where it’s been since you sauntered off for your haunted house adventure.”

      “Meaning nobody’s done a fucking thing on it since I left.”

      “You didn’t tell anybody to make it a priority, now did you?”

      “You’re supposed to read my mind for things like that.”

      “I’d need Sherlock’s microscope to read something that small.”

      “That was an easy shot, Anderson.  You can do better.”

      “Not until I get some caffeine into me.”

      “Black with loads of sugar?”

      “And sized to drown a rhinoceros.”

      “Back in minute.”

As Greg walked off, Anderson gazed at the screen a few more moments, then closed the various unnecessary windows and got back to work.  Trust Greg to have a potential adventure and have it be as boring as vanilla custard.  Though right now he could murder a custard.  Or anything sweet.  Better grab Greg quickly before he bought a pastry for himself and left his team dying from sugar cravings like the cheap blackguard he was…

__________

Greg wouldn’t admit that the Holmes house stayed at the back of his mind, but it felt like karma when the Baker case took a turn that necessitated him venturing back somewhat in the area of his great ghost adventure so detouring for another look wasn’t a hardship.

As before, the house was virtually invisible from the road and if he hadn’t an idea where it was, he would have missed it entirely instead of driving past it and having to turn around and backtrack a bit.  Now he found himself doing something he would actually arrest any other person for, sneaking about trying to peek into windows to catch a glimpse of more of the interior than the kitchen and entranceway.

      “What are you doing here?”

It wasn’t particularly manly to shriek like an excited 6-year-old, so that certainly wasn’t what Greg did after hearing the stern voice from behind him.

      “Shit…”

      “Language.”

      “Poop…”

      “Better.  Now, answer the question.”

Greg risked a smile at Mrs. Hudson who was glaring at him as fiercely as she had during his previous visit and wasn’t surprised when it only made her glare harder.

      “Ummm… to be honest, I was curious.  The whole haunted house business and everything.  I had reason, a real reason, to be out in this area and thought I’d stop a moment to get a better look at the house.”

      “You can see it just fine without being a peeper.”

      “I’m not a peeper!”

      “Peeping through windows makes you one, whether you like it or not.”

      “Fair.  But I wasn’t peeping for peepy purposes.  Just… wanted a look at things.”

      “Which is exactly how I’d describe peeping.  So would the constables.”

      “Probably true.  I didn’t mean any harm, though, I promise.  I was just curious.  Especially since I learned I work with someone who has a real connection to this house.”

      “Who?”

      “His name is Sherlock Holmes and…”

The glare factor increased by leaps and bounds to the point where Greg began to think the constables were the very least of his worries.

      “So, he sent you here.  Damned busybody.  You tell that boy there’s nothing here for him and that’s not going to change.”

      “I’m not here because he asked me to be!  He doesn’t know I’m here at all, actually.  I can see why he’s been out to be a bother though.  Must smart a touch knowing this house used to be in the family and…”

      “He’s not interested in this house.  Never has been.”

Never has been… sounds as if Sherlock has been making a pest of himself for more than short while.   Made sense.  When Sherlock pested, he did a long and thorough job of it.

      “Then what?”

      “You want to know, you ask him.”

      “Ok… ummm… I will.  But, he’s not the only reason I came, to be honest.  I looked into the house’s history a little and found it was owned by Mycroft Holmes, the composer.  My gran used to listen to him all the time.  She had some recordings he did and I remember visiting and hearing them on her old turntable.  Said he was somebody very special.  Never heard anyone like him in all her days.”

The first sign of softness Greg had seen lit on Mrs. Hudson’s features and he hoped she got to wear that look often.  It suited her.

      “He was very special.  The most talented composer and pianist of his time.  One of those prodigy’s who are born talented and take it to new heights because they really work at their art.”

      “I still have them, actually.  I can’t play them anymore because I didn’t bother to get another when my turntable finally decided to die, but I had them digitized to listen on my phone or computer.”

      “Oh, Mr. Holmes certainly wouldn’t approve of that.”

      “Well, he’s dead, so I don’t think the disapproval will be too fierce.”

Greg missed the small smirk that touched Mrs. Hudson’s lips because he was remembering how it felt to pull up those audio files and listen to them again.  He’d been listening to them a lot, too, since he learned about the house.  This Holmes fellow truly was a talented artist.  Shame he died so young and at a time when recording music wasn’t quite such an easy thing to do.

      “It’s a pity there weren’t more recordings of his music.  Do you know how many were made?”

      “For the general public to buy?  Seven collections.  Sets of those enormous 78’s.  There were various private recordings, but those never were put for sale.  As far as I know, they’re either still with the families of the people who owned them originally or in those museums that preserve music as well as knickknacks.”

      “No, that can’t be right.”

      “I think I’d know what’s right and what’s not, young man.”

      “I… not trying to be rude, but I’ve got eight series of recordings and I know my gran or her parents couldn’t have managed to get a private anything.  Working people, just like me.”

      “You must have miscounted.”

      “No… here.”

Greg pulled out his mobile and tapped on the icon to pull up his music files.

      “See for yourself.  I had all of them digitized and there’s eight.  Makes it more convenient to listen, as well, since those 78’s didn’t hold a lot of music for being so bloody huge.”

The complete lack of answer had Greg curious, but Mrs. Hudson staring with wide eyes at his phone had him concerned.

      “Mrs. Hudson?”

      “The Fairy Tale Suite.  Recorded in Paris.  You… how on Earth do you have that?”

      “Because my gran had it.”

      “That… nobody has that recording.  No copies were ever released for sale.”

      “I don’t know about that, but it’s there.  One of my favorites, actually.  It’s really rare?”

      “Rare?  More like unheard of.  Rumored, at best.”

      “Oh… that’s something I didn’t expect.  Want a copy?”

      “YES!  I mean…”

Mrs. Hudson tapped her lips thoughtfully and cut a glance towards the house while Greg looked on quizzically.

      “Let me ask my nephew about that.  He’s somewhat of an expert on Mycroft Holmes and would know better than me if I’m remembering things properly.  If I am… he might want to hear the original pressings.  We do have some old record players, several of them, actually.  Think you might agree to that?”

The request took Greg a bit aback, but it also intrigued him mightily.  He did want a better look inside the house, as well as learn more about the Mycroft Holmes who had lived there and, apparently, set the world ablaze with his music.  Further, he hadn’t actually heard the original discs played in many years and it would be a treat to hear them again and share them with someone who was actually an expert on the man and his music.

      “I’d happily agree.  Here, I’ll leave you my number so you can reach me with details.  Regardless, I can email you the audio files or drop them by one day if you don’t have time to sit and listen to the discs with me.”

Quickly jotting down his number, Greg found himself hoping very much that he’d hear more from Mrs. Hudson than her email address.  For a DI with long experience in serious and shocking crimes, the idea of a spooky little adventure was a treat.  Not that it was spooky anymore, mind you, what with the ghostly bit laid to rest, but some measure of spookiness lingered and that was good enough for him.

      “I… I suppose I should be leaving now.”

      “Yes, you should.  I’ll let you know one way or the other about the recordings.”

Mrs. Hudson didn’t wait for a reply, but hurried inside the house before Greg caught a glimpse of a fluttering curtain or something just as eerie to further pique his curiosity.  Watching through a small window near the conservatory, she waited for Greg to take a long, final look at the house, then begin walking back to what must be his car parked on the road, since it wasn’t in the long, mostly disused drive.

      “That man returned.”

      “That man is a bit more interesting than you think.  He knows Sherlock.”

      “That is not, in the least, interesting.”

      “Liar.  In any case, there’s more.”

      “Doubtful.”

      “He’s got a copy of the Paris recordings.”

      “Impossible.”

      “Very possible.  I saw the files myself.  He had them digitized from his grandmother’s original discs.”

      “Not.  Possible.”

      “Very possible.  They were even titled correctly.  You know how the books always get it wrong.  He didn’t.”

      “No… it is some form of trick.”

      “No reason for there to be a trick that I can see.  Besides… I asked if he’d bring the 78’s for my nephew to hear to get a better feel for things and he agreed.”

      “You do not have a nephew.”

      “I’m looking at him.”

      “Oh.  You deceived him.”

      “Call it a trick.  Like the one he’s not playing on you.”

      “If not a trick, then, an honest mistake.”

      “The Fairy Tale Suite isn’t a mistake.  The Fairy Suite is the mistake and that’s not what his files were named.”

      “A fortunate mistake of a previous mistake, then.”

      “Only one way to find out.  I’ve got his number and he’ll be waiting for my call.  Either he brings the original discs for a listen or… I get his digital files.”

      “Abominations.”

      “Then that leaves one option remaining.  I’ll wait a few days before ringing him up.”

      “I did not agree to that.”

      “You’ll have a few days to convince me out of it, then.”

A pair of icy blue eyes narrowed as Mrs. Hudson giggled and twirled to walk away towards the kitchen where something lovely was baking, which was certain to quell residual peevishness on the part of the eyes’ owner.  On their part, those eyes lifted and turned back to look out of the window where they settled on the branches of the trees blowing in the wind and remained there while thoughts turned to the possibility of… Paris.  Of those recordings, at least one copy, existing.  It should not be possible, not in a thousand years, but if it was… the chance to hear them again… to add color to the monochrome memories of such a time and place…

It was almost worth hosting a visitor in this house.  The mere thought filled him with a profound worry, as well as profound aggravation, but also, in this sole case, with something new.  Anticipation.  He would let the thought percolate through his mind for awhile, of course, then make his decision.  Mrs. Hudson might play pugnacious but would not take such drastic an action as issuing an invitation without him first agreeing to such a thing.  However, she would also be a monstrous bother until he gave his final word on the subject.  Better do that sooner than later for there was sufficient monstrosity in his life to wish more upon it…

Chapter Text

      “You heard from Sherlock today?”

Anderson looked up from the body he was examining on the ground and shook his head.

      “Nope.  From what I hear, though, he may have gotten tossed out of his flat.  Again.  He’ll probably go to ground for a bit so the landlord can’t find him for any outstanding rent or damage costs.”

      “Marvelous.  I’ll stop in and chat with the landlord, see if I can fix whatever mess Sherlock’s in.  I hate to see the lad sleeping rough when there’s no need for it.

      “There is no need for it.  Sherlock has money in the bank; he just refuses to spend any of it on things like rent and food when he can buy smelly old chemicals and bribe doormen for information when he’s on one of our cases.”

      “True, but sometimes you have to save people from their bad decisions.  Try, at least.  Besides if I know where he’s living, I can actually find the bugger when I need him.  And I do want to find him, sooner than later, if possible.”

      “Why are you so…ah.  Is this about that haunted house mystery again?”

      “Yeah, actually.  I was out there yesterday and, apparently, our little Sherlock has been a repeat visitor to the house, so says Mrs. Hudson.”

      “So, he does know about his famous ancestor.  Or, at least, his famous ancestor’s house.”

      “Which she says he doesn’t care about.  I understand that part because I can’t imagine him having any interest in an old house in the middle of Ruralvania, at least not beyond what he might see if it was sold for chemical and bribe money.  She gave me the impression, though, that there was something specific he was interested in, but wouldn’t say what it was directly.”

      “Information?  Maybe the mystery about this Mycroft Holmes’s death has him curious.”

      “Can’t see why.  It’s not really a mystery, all told.  And it happened long enough ago that it can’t matter much to Sherlock personally.  It’s got me curious, though.  There doesn’t seem to be any reason for him to be interested to this degree, yet he is.”

      “And Greg Lestrade is another person who enjoys a good mystery, so the snooping and skullduggery begins.”

      “Proudly, too.  Not that there’s much of a mystery behind what caused this poor chap’s death.”

Greg pointed to the body on the ground and was inappropriately happy that someone was having a less satisfying day than he was.

      “My Detective Inspector’s instincts tell me that the missing head and deluge of blood are somewhat important clues to the nature of this crime.  Not a tough one there, sadly.”

      “Let’s hope your haunted house offers more of a challenge.”

Something Greg wasn’t sure he agreed with or not.  It was a foolish bit of whimsy, certainly nothing worth much of his time or attention, but… it was a mystery.  A haunted house, Sherlock’s visits, that eighth recording… he hadn’t wanted to move to the detective’s side of policing because he was trying to hide from mysteries and puzzles.  Maybe Mrs. Hudson wouldn’t phone, though.  That would fairly well put an end to things, besides a quick chat with Sherlock to clear up his bit of the riddle.  Then the whole matter could be put behind him as, as Anderson had called it, a story to earn him a free pint at his local.  Which sounded very tempting at the moment.  It had been a long day and a decapitated body was a small hint that it was about to get much, much longer…

__________

      “Hello?”

      “It’s Martha Hudson.”

Greg set down his book and forcibly resisted the urge to straighten his posture at the no-nonsense tone, which would have been more than slightly foolish since he was currently lying on his sofa.

      “Mrs. Hudson!  Glad to hear from you.”

Despite the fact it had only been three days since he’d last visited.  However, his attempt at being nonchalant about his little mystery had failed miserably and it was all he could do not to phone her himself to check on matters or spend half his work day trawling through police records and newspaper stories to learn more about Holmes, the house and the rare recording currently being stored with its brethren in a slightly more secure place than it had been previously.

      “Are you still willing to bring your collection for my nephew to hear?”

      “I am.  Looking very forward to it, actually.”

      “When can you come?”

      “Uh… I’m off day after tomorrow, so I could do that easily enough.”

      “That’s fine.  When can we expect you?”

      “Whenever is convenient for you.”

      “Eleven.”

      “That’s works perfectly.”

      “Very well.  We’ll see you then.”

It came as no surprise that Mrs. Hudson ended the call with no further pleasantries, but Greg didn’t care in the slightest.  The hound was on the scent!  Not that it was particularly flattering to call himself a hound, but when something fit, it fit and there was no use fighting nature.  Now, all he had to do was borrow a car, shine his shoes and make certain he was at the door at 11:00 am sharp.  It didn’t take a detective, or a hound, to know that tardiness, and untidiness, would be looked upon poorly…

__________

Eleven in the morning, precisely.  Shoes shined, hair combed and dressed casually, but with tidiness and style.  He felt like he was trying to make a good impression on a bank officer to get a loan, but needs must when the devil drives and the devil could easily be sitting in the drawing room right now waiting to host him for tea.  Nobody said hauntings had to be from ghosts, did they?  Could be devils.  Demons.  Creepy dolls.  Though, if it was that last one, fuck all this… he was running for his life and never, ever looking back.

      “At least you’re not late.”

Mrs. Hudson gave Greg a quick up-and-down look which must have met with her approval since she motioned him to follow her into the house.

      “We don’t have a lot of visitors, as you can imagine, so don’t mind my nephew Michael if he seems a bit… off… at times.  That happens, you know, when you’ve not got many to chat with besides your old auntie.”

Greg nodded and quickly profiled this Michael fellow as a squirrely type who was probably a bit obsessive about the things he enjoyed, which was good since it meant he surely knew all there was to know about Mycroft Holmes and his music.  Mrs. Hudson had called him an expert and he’d met a few of those in his time.  They often knew more than the professional experts who had a list of degrees behind their name as long as their arm.  Not always, mind you, but often enough to make listening to them worth a moment of your time.

      “Michael, this is Greg Lestrade.  The one who has the recordings you want to hear.”

Greg cleared the door into what proved to be a well-appointed library and felt his expectations thrown out of the window like live grenade.

      “Oh.  Yes.  Mr. Lestrade.  Welcome to my home.”

The man’s voice was as smooth and sophisticated as he was.  Gaping at the tall, lean, immaculately dressed person favoring him with an admittedly bland smile, Greg tried to remember a time he’d been so struck by another man’s appearance.  He’d had his fair share of romances with men, but this Michael was gorgeous.  Classy, dressed the way you’d expect for someone from one of those movies about wealthy sophisticates lounging about the house while music played in the background and the discussion was about E. M. Forster’s latest work or the Oscar Wilde play they were staging in London.

      “I… hello!  I’m honored to be here.  It’s a lovely place.”

      “It is private, which is its most compelling feature.  Architecturally, it would benefit from a myriad of things the original designer lacked, such as artistic style and a sense of taste.”

      “Oh… ok.  It’s… it’s nicer than the building I live in.  Artistically, I mean.”

      “A damning indictment of the architectural history and standards of this country, I’m afraid.  In any case, the grounds do win my approval.  They are most beautiful when not drowned in the  tears and bitter disregard of Mother Nature and are very pleasant to gaze upon as a source of inspiration.”

      “Inspiration… for what sort of things?”

      “Anything.  Inspiration is the foundation of our mortal lives and one should strive to embrace it whenever it is presented.  Do you not agree, Mr. Lestrade?”

Greg saw Mrs. Hudson’s exasperated head shake out of the corner of his eye and remembered her words about her nephew appearing off at times.  If this is what she meant by off, he certainly was going to pay it heed because… it was intriguing.  Fit the man perfectly, actually.  Yes, it likely grated on the nerves after awhile if you had to share a car with him for a few hours, but now, it was drawing this DI like a moth to a flame.  He’d always admired educated people, people with artistic talent or sensibilities.  People who thought.  Felt.  Michael here was clearly one of those people.

      “Yeah, sure.”

He, however, was not one of those people, apparently.

      “I mean, yes, I do agree.  It’s important to my job, actually.  As much as the work is dogged plodding, a large part of it is following instincts and letting inspiration lead you places, make connections, see the situation with different eyes.”

      “Really?  I thought it was more racing about with one hand holding your hat on your head and the other raising your whistle to your lips.”

Greg had a sharp retort on his lips, but saw the tiniest of twinkles in those gorgeous eyes that made him rethink.

      “I’m old and senior enough that I can have the younger generation do that for me.”

      “Wise, I must say.  Age and experience should offer their privileges.  They do not substitute for everything, such as innate talent, however, they hone what one naturally possesses to a greater luster.”

      “It does curb my opportunities for exercise, though, and my waistline doesn’t feel very lustrous, as a result.”

There was that twinkle again.  Was that a scored point?  Should he care?  Was this flirting?  If so, was he doing it properly?  It had been awhile…

      “For all things, exceptions exist.”

      “To my great misfortune.”

Mrs. Hudson watched the back and forth and was torn between wanting to quietly leave the room and let things take their course and smacking both men on the head and reminding them Greg was here for a purpose.  Her ‘nephew’ was actually chatting, which was enough to promote a shock-prompted heart attack, but he could also realize it and take steps to throw a bomb and blow up any bridges he may have been building.  Best curb any bomb throwing urges before they began because cleaning human remains from the upholstery and drapes would certainly put her in a foul mood.

      “It’s certainly not our misfortune what you have in that box, I suspect, Mr. Lestrade.  Come on, let’s see it.”

Greg smirked at Michael’s lips pursing into a small moue of disapproval of his conversation being interrupted, but the curiosity and anticipation that began to glow on his face seemed to quash any desire to speak that disapproval aloud.

      “Great idea!  I admit I’ve been a little nervous with this one since it’s supposedly so rare, but I’m thrilled for the chance to hear it played as it was meant to be played again.”

      “It is unfortunate that I shall have to dash your hopes about an undiscovered recording, Mr. Lestrade, however, all examples of the Paris recordings were destroyed by the firm who saw them made.  They are as an extinct species, to be blunt.”

Setting down his box on the table that also housed a very old-style turntable, Greg shrugged and lifted out one of the 78’s, taking care to hold it by the edges, though it was housed in its original sheath.

      “Well, maybe so, but here it is so we can know for certain.”

Greg held out the large disc and continued to hold it as the ‘expert’ stared at it with a slowly dropping jaw.

      “Ummm… want to have a closer look?”

Seeing no movement occurring from the person to whom the question was directed, Mrs. Hudson gently took the record and walked it over for the gaping man to examine, which he did only after a very long pause where his fingers alternately reached out and pulled back from the object in her hands.  When he finally accepted it, a small sound emerged from his lips that was thickly laden with emotion.

      “Dear god…”

Mrs. Hudson stood at the ready because she honestly wasn’t sure if the shaking hands holding the record would be able to hold it much longer.

      “… it exists.  The artwork… such a source of debate and argument.  I must…”

The record was placed back into Mrs. Hudson’s hands a moment before her ‘nephew’ fled from the room, leaving Greg standing there very unsure of that to do.

      “Did… is there something wrong?”

      “No, I suspect not.  Give him a moment.”

Though only half a moment was needed before the house filled with a darkly seductive melody that began to draw Greg towards it like a moth to a flame.

      “Go ahead, lad.  I’ll put this back and check on our lunch.  I hope you like lamb, because that’s what we’re having and I anticipate you’ll be here long enough to eat it.”

Greg heard only random words in that speech as he was already walking in the direction of the music, and quickly found the conservatory where a full-sized grand piano was housed, currently being played by a man seemingly lost in sounds filling the room.

      “That’s The Fairy Tale Suite.”

      “Fairy tales… the foolish believe them happy fantasies for children.  They are not.  They are rich with history, dark intentions, the depravity in which humans so often delight… their messages are beguiling in both their truth and their temptations.”

      “You play it… I can’t describe it, but it’s absolutely brilliant.”

      “Of course it is… one must understand it to perform it and no one understands as I do.”

The words dripped with arrogance, but Greg knew in his heart that they were also true.  He could feel the music, what Michael had said about it, being beguiling in both truth and temptation, he experienced that in never note being played.

      “Do you know what happened?  Why the recordings were destroyed, I mean?”

There wasn’t the slightest mistake made in the playing, but Greg sensed a slightly change of energy that broke the spell he’d slowly been succumbing to as he listened.

      “A dispute.  Between the composer and the firm charged with making and distributing the recordings.”

      “That’s a terrible thing… I mean, if it cost people the chance to hear the music.”

      “Yes… but all choices come with consequences.”

Greg continued to listen and began to catch variations in what was being played until it was something he was certain he hadn’t heard before.

      “Is that… something you wrote?”

The low chuckle was just audible over the notes.

      “It is a section of The Fairy Tale Suite that was not recorded.  It is a longer piece that the recordings document.  They held little in terms of time and, often, sacrifices had to be made to bring a piece to world.”

      “Oh.  That makes sense, actually.  It’s… it’s gorgeous.  You must have the sheet music for the whole thing to know how to play it.”

Again, a low chuckle sounded richly through the room and Greg somehow knew, without seeing, that the pianist was smiling.

      “I do.  It is a relaxing piece to play on nights when I feel demons walk amongst the trees.”

Greg stood a moment longer, then quietly walked to one of the large armchairs near the windows and sat to continuing listening.  He had no idea how long he sat there silently, nearly as lost in the music as the person playing it, but he eventually heard the repeated sounding of a bell that slowly grew louder until the piano playing came to a halt.

      “Ah.  Lunch is ready.  Will you be joining us, Mr. Lestrade?”

      “I’d love to, thank you.”

      “I hope you enjoy a bit of fish.”

      “Mrs. Hudson said lamb.”

      “Did she?”

Greg nearly ran into the person leading the way out of the conservatory since that person stopped abruptly and spun to scrutinize him with more intensity than was entirely comfortable.

      “Ah, yes.  Most understandable.”

      “It is?”

      “Quite.”

      “Ok.  Good to know.”

      “Perhaps.”

__________

Greg was completely aware that he had a long drive ahead of him, but couldn’t dredge up a speck of urgency when it came to taking his leave from the Holmes house.  A fantastic lunch and a long afternoon of music had him so fully caught in a web that he found his cozy silk cocoon the most pleasurable place imaginable.  However, the point came where he had to put the shears to the silk and enter the cold, cruel world waiting outside.

      “It’s been a joy, it really has.  Mrs. Hudson, lunch was incredible.  Michael, I could listen to you play for hours.  Which I did!  Take all the time you need with those 78’s.  If I remember anything more about how my gran came by them, I’ll let you know.  I’ll phone a few of the older members in the family to see if they know anything more of the story.  I’ve never owned anything that’s actually part of history before, but if you’re willing to research it, I’m thrilled I do!”

Realizing he was beginning to babble a bit, Greg clamped down on the next flow of babble ready to spill across his lips and, instead, stuck out his hand to cement his goodbye.  Which received nothing more than a dubious stare from the man he was sticking it out towards.

      “It’s his pleasure, Mr. Lestrade, and mine.”

Mrs. Hudson grabbed Greg’s hand for a shake and surprised him by being strong enough to pull him forward a step so he was standing half in and half out the door.  The moment she let go, the pianist took the offered hand for his own shake and nod of agreement.

      “Yes, certainly our pleasure.  Do have a safe drive.”

Without another word, the hand was released and the tall, figure turned and walked away from the door, though Mrs. Hudson took a moment to give Greg a final pat on his hand as she nudged him out of the doorframe so she could close it firmly.

A strange household.  Very strange.  But, given the strangeness of the house itself, it fit perfectly and Greg found himself smiling as he walked towards his car.  Michael was a very strange man, but amazingly knowledgeable about music, especially the music of Mycroft Holmes.  And his playing… it was positively mesmerizing!  He’d balked slightly at being asked to leave behind the recordings, but two things ultimately had swayed him.  First was the idea of them being studied by an expert who knew things that he certainly didn’t, like who was the artist who did the sleeve art and what fonts were used for the typography.  Second… he’d have the chance to return here to collect them.

And that appealed.  It appealed a lot.

He appealed a lot.  Cool, brilliant, handsome Michael… something or other… appealed a very, very lot and the chance to meet him again was not a thing to let slip through the fingers. 

Though the one thing he shouldn’t do right now was start thinking about Michael’s fingers.  Long, strong, dexterous… what they did to a piano was sinful enough.  Imagine what they could do to a person…

Chapter Text

Yes, alright… he’d said he wasn’t going to use precious police resources researching anything about his little mystery, but he wasn’t using much in the way of actual resources and he was technically on lunch, so what he was feeling was only an imp in the pantheon of guilt monsters.

Everything checked out on the house, in terms of ownership and residency.  Owned by Martha Hudson since her great-aunt passed away and currently occupied by her, though she also had a house in the nearby village and seemed to spend a lot of time there, also, mostly evenings and overnight.  What he was having trouble finding was information about Michael.  It only solidly occurred to him when he started to snoop that he didn’t even know the man’s surname!  He’d assumed Hudson, but that was a bit foolish, really, and a search of Michael Hudson’s didn’t lead to anything, in any case.

With that failure on his shoulders, the next failure of finding out more about Mycroft Holmes failed to sting.  He found information, to be fair, but it was all the standard, boring stuff that didn’t paint any sort of picture of the man himself.  And, speaking of pictures, he couldn’t find one for love nor money.  Or twenty minutes of dedicated computer time.  Admittedly, the early 1900’s weren’t a time rife with photographs, but they certainly existed and there loads of artists, besides, who should have been anxious to paint a portrait or illustrate a newspaper article about the man.  But there wasn’t anything. Lots of reviews of his concerts and music, a few gossipy pieces about his travels or parties he attended, but that was it.  Maybe it was because he wasn’t a singer or something.  Classical pianists had a following, that was true, but not like what one might expect for a different sort of entertainer.

      “Still chasing your mystery, Greg?”

      “Still celibate, Anderson?”

      “Alas, yes.  But the new person at my bank might change that in my favor.”

      “Ooh, has she seen you yet?”

      “Yes!  And she didn’t faint.”

      “You’re in there, then.  Don’t fuck it up.”

      “I’m thinking a polite request to accompany me for drinks when she’s done for the day.  Provided I’m done for the day that day.  Which is always the problem.”

      “Don’t I know it.  That’s why I’m dating my lovely mystery.  It doesn’t care when I can find time for it or if our precious time together is spent at my desk while one of my hands is occupied with a cold carton of takeaway.”

      “I’m glad for it, Greg.  You deserve a little happiness in your life.  How did your visit go yesterday, anyway?”

      “Unbelievable.  Mrs. Hudson’s nephew is all she said he was, in terms of being an expert in Mycroft Holmes’s music and is a phenomenal piano player.  I could have listened to him all day.”

      “Ok, I meant learning about your dusty old albums, but I’ll settle for your romantic fantasies, if they’re on offer.”

      “My fantasies aren’t romantic!”

      “Sexual, then.  Actually, that’s better.  Do go on.”

      “No… it’s just I wasn’t expecting to go there and be treated to a concert that people in London would pay loads and wear diamonds and tuxedos to attend.  I don’t know why the man’s not on stage!  Or, maybe he is and I just don’t know it.”

      “Ok, but back to the sexy fantasies…”

      “There weren’t any.  Really.  Sort of.  He’s actually very striking, in an… days gone by sort of way.”

      “What does that even mean?”

      “Like… you know those Leyendecker ads?  The ones with the amazingly classy and handsome men?  He’s like that.”

      “And, since you’re old, that appeals to you.”

      “Since I have eyes that appeals to me.”

      “Now that you’re finally admitting he appeals to you, your sexy fantasy denial has been kicked squarely in the bollocks.”

      “Pfft.  It’s not as if anything could come of it anyway.  I get the impression he doesn’t leave the house much, so coming to London for drinks and dinner is likely the real fantasy in this scenario.”

      “You won’t know until you ask.  Or drag your arse out to the middle of nowhere again to do the drinks and dinner on his patch.”

      “Well, we’ll see.  I have to dart back at some point to collect my 78’s, so I’ll have a better sense of things then.”

      “Wagering time?”

      “No.  Unless it’s on how horribly you’ll be squashed when you try to chat up your woman at the bank.”

      “We can do both.  Being highly-qualified professionals means we can multitask.”

      “Can I finish my lunch, as well.”

      “That’s pushing it, but testing one’s limits is something I encourage.”

__________

Yes, he should be going straight home to be showered and with a beer in hand before the match started, but ‘straight home’ wouldn’t take him near Sherlock’s flat which was where he happened to have found himself, so the world seemed to have a different idea about how his evening should proceed than he did.

And what a lucky man he was that there was a light on in the window.

      “I have no time for you, Lestrade.  Go away.”

      “Landlord still angry with you, lad?”

      “Y… no.  It is irrelevant in any case since he is always distressed about this or that foible.  Or the weather.”

      “I won’t keep you long, then, I just… what do you know about Mycroft Holmes, the composer?  He’s related to you, isn’t he?”

Sherlock looked up from his microscope and scowled at Greg who had long ago stopped wondering what exactly had prompted a Sherlockian scowl.

      “Why do you wish to know?”

      “Because I’ve had reason to stumble across him recently.  Not literally, of course, because he’s dead, but I never realized that you were related and I had a collection of his recordings from my gran.  I had forgotten about those to a degree, as well, until I found myself at the Holmes house and had a chat with Mrs. Hudson.  I’m curious, that’s all.”

      “You spoke with Mrs. Hudson?”

      “Yeah, she mentioned you, too.”

      “Not kindly, I suspect.”

      “Well, no, to be blunt, but not unkindly either.  More that you were a bit of a pest, which surprised me.  Not the being a pest piece, but that you’d lower yourself to traipsing out to the depths of rural England for something other than a case.”

      “If you know Mycroft Holmes is a relation, then it should be no surprise that I would visit his home.”

      “Maybe not, but there’s nothing out there that seems of real interest to you.  Mrs. Hudson said the house itself surely didn’t spark your attention, for instance.”

      “Though, by rights, it should be mine.”

      “Ok, but you can’t tell me you’d actually want it, beyond what you might see in profit from selling the thing.”

      “True.  However, the house’s contents do hold interest.”

      “Really?  I didn’t notice anything in there that looked particularly interesting besides the piano and some vintage vinyl.  That said, I’m not an antiques expert or anything.”

      “You were allowed inside?”

      “Yeah.  First to use the phone and second when I went back to show Mrs. Hudson’s nephew some of my Mycroft Holmes recordings.  Apparently, I had an extremely rare one.  Not supposed to exist at all.”

      “Twice?  You were asked to return?  That… is intriguing.  What were these recordings?”

      “They were done in Paris, apparently, and…”

      “The Fairy Tale Suite?”

      “You know it.”

      “It is… somewhat mythical.  Supposedly, the recordings were made but subsequently destroyed before any were distributed.”

      “Well, I can attest that one wasn’t.  Michael even confirmed it and he was astonished actually that I had it.”

      “Michael?”

      “Mrs. Hudson’s nephew.  I think he lives there and she takes care of him or something.  Masterful with the piano.  I got to hear him play and… it was like you with the violin, when you aren’t torturing the poor thing for fun.  A maestro, if that’s the right word.”

      “Interesting.  I did not realize the house was permanently occupied.”

      “Maybe it isn’t, I really didn’t ask.  So, what is it about the house that interests you?”

      “It is not the house itself.  It is what it might contain.  Mycroft Holmes was the son of Siger Holmes, a composer of some note, himself.  His focus was the violin and, on occasion, string quartet or a string orchestra.  Most of what is known is anecdotal, for only two of his compositions have survived and they are… superlative.  There is a story within the family that the body of his work, in total, was passed to Mycroft Holmes, as his brother had no talent for music.  Holmes’s will bestowed everything to his housekeeper, Ana Hudson.  It is my hope that her family might still possess that body of work, along with that of Mycroft Holmes, for there is a rumor that he had a far greater number of pieces written than he ever recorded or performed.”

      “Oh… that’s certainly reason to want to pop in for a visit.”

      “However, I seem not to be as successful with that as you.”

      “Well, obviously.  You’re a prat and I’m not.  However, I can leverage my special access to ask about all of that if you’d like.  Michael certainly respects music and its history, so he might be willing to convince his aunt to let you see or photograph whatever exists of Siger’s and Mycroft’s music.”

      “Hmmmm… you are not a terribly successful negotiator but as I have seen no success on my part…”

      “I’ll be happy to do it.  I have to toddle back to collect my records, in any case, and I can broach the subject then.”

      “Very well.  If that fails, I will simply continue with my own strategy.”

      “Harassing the residents and trying to break in when you think they’re not home?”

      “Precisely.”

      “Wonderful.  Here’s a question for you, though.  Do you have any family photographs of Mycroft Holmes?  I’ve tried looking through various sources and I can’t find any.  I’m curious what he looked like.”

Sherlock thought a moment, then moved towards the bookcase to draw down what appeared to Greg to be an old photo album, which Sherlock thumbed through a moment before handing it over.

      “This is the only one.  Apparently, he did not appreciate his photograph being taken, but consented to this one at the request of his mother.”

Greg gave a quick nod then took a look at the large, monochrome photo.  And kept looking.  And kept looking until Sherlock finally began to wonder if the DI had suffered some form of mental debilitation and he needed to phone for an ambulance.

      “Lestrade?  What are y…”

      “This is him?”

      “I indicated as much, yes.”

      “This is Mycroft Holmes?”

      “I would ask what has happened to your brain, but you use it so rarely that it is difficult to attribute this mental lapse to a physiological misfunction.”

      “Thanks for that, I just…”

I’m just staring at the man I was watching play piano like he was Mycroft Holmes himself.

      “… he’s a handsome sort, isn’t he?”

      “No.”

      “To each his own.  I… thanks.  I appreciate you letting me see this.  Puts a face to the name and to the music of his I’ve heard.”

      “Why are you staring at the photograph as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

Because I think I have.

      “Because… I don’t know, actually.  I don’t think I imagined him looking this way.  So refined and classy, though I suppose that’s what a composer or pianist is supposed to look like from the films and such.”

      “You are still staring at it.”

      “Yeah… sorry.  Here you go.  No, wait…”

Greg took out his phone and took a couple of quick snaps of the photograph.

      “I won’t share it or anything, don’t worry.”

      “I wasn’t.  Mycroft Holmes is dead, so his wishes on the matter are irrelevant.”

Well…

      “Thank you anyway.  Alright, I’d best be going.  We still could use you for the Sedgewick case, if you’re interested.”

      “I am not.”

      “Well, if you change your mind, the forensics reports are in and waiting on my desk.”

Sherlock snorted as he replaced the photo album and fully ignored Greg until the DI shook his head and left the flat, albeit with a 70% certainty a certain consulting detective would be rifling his desk tomorrow looking for that file.

Not that it was priority in his mind at the moment, of course.  Mycroft Holmes…. the man at the piano was the absolute spitting image of Mycroft Holmes.  And a staggeringly talented pianist.  The ghost of Mycroft Holmes was doddering about his former home and entertaining guests with music and lunch!

Or not.  Mrs. Hudson’s great-aunt was Holmes’s housekeeper.  Many a housekeeper had a more intimate relationship with their employer than dusting his mantlepieces.  Could genetics be that precise as to replicate a dead composer through an illegitimate child?  It didn’t seem possible, but there were more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, and all of that.  It was certainly more plausible than his having had lunch with a very dead man.  And his aunt.

But, if there was a person with an air of an early 1900’s musical genius, it was this Michael No-Surname-Yet.   Ok, not time for the imagination to start running wild.  He’d have another chance to look at the man soon enough and, more than likely, would find lots of little differences between him and Mycroft Holmes.  Then he could go back to his certainly-not-sexy fantasies involving both of them doing things that you couldn’t do with a ghost, no matter how much you might want to…

Chapter Text

      “That works fine for me, actually.  I hope they were helpful.  Sure, I can do that.  I’ll see you Thursday, then.”

Setting down his mobile, Greg wasn’t sure whether to grin or give sway to that sight tremor that wanted to run up his spine.  As much as he wanted his recordings returned, he hadn’t even felt the slightest inclination to phone after he’d heard nothing for nearly two weeks.  Was he scared of chatting with a ghost?  No.  Maybe.  It was silly, stupendously silly, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something strange was going on and as much as his DI side wanted to investigate, his lizard brain was screaming caution into his mental ear.

Now the decision was out of his hands and he couldn’t blame himself for his oncoming horrific demise at the hands of a piano-playing ghost.  Or because he forgot the biscuits he promised Mrs. Hudson he’d bring, since she couldn’t get them nearby and usually ordered from London.  The ghost part was the more worrying of the two, though.  He could always lie about the biscuits being easy to find, but once a ghost had its long, limber fingers around your neck, you had rather run out of options for turning the situation to your favor.

__________

Biscuits?  Check.  Dressed appropriately?  Check.  Dressed appropriately, but with a bit more of a nod to highlighting certain physical good points and complementing various bodily colors?  Check.  Alright, time to…

      “Finished preening?”

Having a door swing open the very instant you were reaching for the knocker was probably a lot less terrifying when you weren’t expecting a murderous ghost to be on the other side of it.

      “I’m not preening.  My mother taught me to always check your appearance and assignments, such as biscuit bringing, before you knocked so you didn’t look a nonce.”

      “That went well.”

      “Yeah.  Ok, so here are your biscuits, madam.  I hope they’re to your liking.”

Not that it didn’t fuel my murder ghost theories when I found out the reason it’s hard to find these biscuits is that the company that makes them is a small one that started at the turn of the last century and hasn’t changed their recipes since they were first developed.

      “Good.  Saves me paying extra to have them dispatched.  Michael’s in the library waiting for you. Run along and chat.  He’s actually looking forward to it.”

Did murder ghosts enjoy chatting up their victims before the grisly mutilation?  It would be the polite thing to do…

      “Thanks.  I… I hope you both enjoyed the recordings.”

      “They’ve kept him busy, that’s for certain, and there’s always good in that.”

Making a shooing motion with her free hand, Mrs. Hudson sent Greg to what he hoped wasn’t his untimely death and he was proud of himself that he didn’t creep down the corridor and peer around the doorframe of the library before walking in.

      “Ah, Mr. Lestrade.  Punctual.  That is good.”

      “I try to be, Mr. … is it Hudson?  I didn’t catch your surname last time, I apologize.”

      “Michael is sufficient.”

      “Ok… then do call me Greg.”

      “How uninspiring.”

      “Ummm… Gregory?”

      “Better.  I have appreciated the time you bestowed me to study your recordings.  They are, in fact, genuine and not some form of facsimile.  I half suspected they might be, however, I was proven wrong in that.  What a tremendous thing to find.  Have you more information on how they were acquired?”

      “Yes, actually.  One of my grandmother’s friends is still alive and she said my great-grandfather found them when clearing a house prior to sale.  He was a builder, but they got hired, at times, to help haul away furniture and the like by the estate agents since they were already going to be there doing this or that repair to make the property more marketable.”

      “Oh… where was this property?”

      “I don’t know exactly.  She thought it was in Essex somewhere.”

      “I see.”

The slight wistfulness in his host’s eyes puzzled Greg, but puzzled was leagues away from murderous fury, so he was fully supportive of the sentiment.

      “If I learn more, I’ll certainly pass it along.”

      “Of course.  Thank you.  Would you care to learn more about your recordings?”

      Absolutely.  Given I knew naught about them before, anything would be appreciated.”

Accepting the wave towards one of the armchairs, Greg took a seat and felt himself relax a bit, in terms of being murdered immediately upon arrival.  He did not relax in the slightest, however, about the man who himself was taking a seat and crossing his long legs in the most languid manner a human might accomplish.  He was… exact.  As in a copy of the person in Sherlock’s photograph.  There wasn’t any variation he could see, no feature that didn’t match perfectly with the images on his phone.

      “Gregory?  Is there a reason for your staring?”

Yes.  But not one I can reveal at this time for many embarrassing reasons.

      “Not really.  It’s… a combination of being a bit too eager for what you have to say and my mind also churning a bit about something I’d like to ask you, but am not exactly certain how to broach it.”

      “Oh?  Hesitancy retards imagination, I find.”

      “Does it?  Good to know.”

      “I would advise abandoning yours if you wish the answers you seek.”

      “Alright… it’s about someone I know.  Who also knows, at least, Mrs. Hudson.  His name is Sherlock Holmes and…”

      “Oh good lord… that screeching peacock.”

      “That’s not the worst description of him, I admit, but his screeching is usually for a purpose.  Sometimes that purpose is a bit daft, I will also admit, but this time it’s not.”

      “I do believe he has been informed this house is not for sale.”

      “He doesn’t want the house.  He wants… Sherlock is a violinist.  A virtuoso, really, and I’m not saying that glibly.  His talent is incredible; very much like yours with the piano.  The house he has no interest in, but he does hope that, perhaps, your aunt has the music pieces that Siger Holmes wrote.  The Mycroft Holmes collection, too.  If not the originals, which I can understand you not wanting to part with, maybe copies.  If it helps, I don’t think he wants to sell any of it or use them to make money.  I honestly think he just wants to play his family’s music.  Learn more about it.  He says that the Siger Holmes material, especially, is virtually unknown beyond a few pieces.”

Ok, that was a bit of a murderous gleam in the old eye… exactly how did one defend one’s self from a murderous ghost?  Crosses?  That was vampires.  Oddly, the horror genre was disappointingly lacking in murder ghost defense tactics and that was a true bit of dereliction of duty, in his opinion.

      “Siger Holmes…”

      “That’s Sherlock’s…”

      “I know who he is.  A wretched man.  Loathsome by any measurement you care to name.  Not a single angel wept when he met his long-overdue demise.”

Ok… murderous gleam not for any person in this room.  Hurray!

      “Sherlock didn’t mention any of that.  Just noted his musical talent.”

It looked for a moment as if his companion was going to spit in disgust then changed his mind to spare the rug any insult.

      “His musical talent.  Of course.  How kind history has been to him on that score.”

      “I wouldn’t know.  I can’t say I’ve heard of the fellow, but Sherlock seemed to believe it was true.  He said there were two published pieces of his music out there and if Sherlock didn’t immediately say they were shit… pardon my language… then they must have some merit.”

Greg supposed he was meant to follow as Michael leapt up from his chair and stormed towards the conservatory, where he began playing a surprisingly light and airy tune, that was as close as Greg might have believed the music of… fairies… might sound like.  Not simple, not in the slightest, but suffused with a sparkling brightness and joy that he found himself grinning like a fool, though he was very glad the still-scowling composer couldn’t see it.

      “Yes, it is most jubilant, is it not?”

Damn.

      It is, actually.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like it.  It’s brilliant, though.  I have to wonder… ok, you might laugh, but when I heard this, I thought it would sound like what fairy’s might play and I started thinking if this, maybe, was where Mycroft Holmes got his idea for his Fairy Tale Suite.  I thought I heard a bit at the beginning that reminded me of it.”

Two hands suddenly froze over the keys and Greg began assessing the thickness of the window glass and his ability to leap through it to save himself from a ghostly mauling.

      “That… that is insightful.”

      “It is?”

      “We are inspired both by light and by dark, though each of us finds a balance between the two that suits our nature.  The Fairy Tale Suite is a child of darkness, of the old times and sinister purposes.  This piece is a child of light, of joy and breathtaking hope.  But, they both are born of nature and those who are far more connected to it than we mere mortals.”

      “It’s hard to reconcile the man you describe, Siger Holmes, with this piece of music.  It doesn’t seem the sort of thing a person like that would write.”

      “Yet it appears in still, I imagine, a few collections of work for that period.  Not a thing most modern performers would choose, most would be reticent to willingly engage with such an unabashedly ebullient piece, but it remains a notable example of that age of composition.”

The words were positive, but there was a dullness in Michael’s voice that saddened Greg, though he had no idea why.

      “That’s a shame, then.  I could certainly do with something like that in my collection.  I see so much in my job… so much that’s truly horrible and makes it hard to have any faith at all in the goodness of people.  Something like that reminds you that it does exist.”

There was a long pause before the playing began again, this time, with a different energy that somehow lifted the spirit of the music even higher, as if the first time he heard it was as dry as a dirge in Greg’s ears.

      “You may tell your Sherlock Holmes that his quest for Siger Holmes’s works is a futile one.  Beyond the two pieces already known, no others exist save one that Mycroft Holmes transcribed from memory.  A short piece written as a lullaby.  That piece… if you like, I… Mrs. Hudson… will surely permit it be copied in some manner for the young man’s use.”

      “Oh… that’s great.  I’m sure he’ll be thrilled for whatever he can get.”

      “Of course.  As for Mycroft Holmes’s work… that has been compiled many times.  There should be no difficulty in finding any of it.”

      “I think… he indicated that there was likely more than what was already available.”

      “Did he now?”

      “Family stories, that sort of thing.”

      “Family stories… not directly his family was Mr. Mycroft Holmes.  Sherlock would, I assume, be descended from the brother, Sherrinford.”

      “Yes, actually.”

      “Then his claim is small to whatever might exist and what exists is no more than what he might find in a respectable music library.”

You’re lying, Michael.  I wonder why…

      “Are you certain about that?”

      “Do you doubt me?”

      “Memories can be tricky things.  Might have forgotten something.  A little piece like that lullaby or maybe something that wasn’t even finished when Holmes died.”

      “Memories… yes, they can be most tricky, at times. At others, they are the bringers of the most horrific tortures.  Or, the rare blessing, the most beautiful of graces.”

      “Maybe I’ll be lucky and blessed by a little grace, then.”

Greg was confused, at first, by the sudden sound of laughter until he realized it was coming from the man at the piano.

      “You are persistent, Gregory.  A quality shared by detectives and artists.”

      “Do I win something for it?”

      “Impish… and perhaps.  Now, I believe you are here for information about your recordings?”

      “Does it mean you’ll stop playing?”

      “Would you prefer I did?”

      “The opposite, actually.”

      “Then I shall continue.  Do have a seat.  It is not a hardship to converse while playing, though I would not do so for more invigorating pieces.”

      “Perish the thought.  Chatting with me is invigorating enough.”

Where the fuck did that come from?  Oh, he’s laughing again.  Good job, rusty flirting technique.

      “Bold.  Another train shared by detectives and the artistic, apparently.”

      “Toss in good looks and charm and we have a party!”

This laughter was of a slightly different form and it was one Greg liked.  A lot.  It implied things.  And not just things, but things.  Mr. Murder Ghost might want to drain his blood and leave him a mummy husk, but he was willing to have a little playful fun with his living self beforehand.  Greg Lestrade, you still got it.  A bit ragged and patched in places, but the it is still going strong.  At least with murderous ghosts who were geniuses on the piano…

__________

      “Got it.  Glad I got this new scanner app for my phone, because it does a great job for things like this.”

Greg smiled at the paper on the desktop, which was the transcribed Siger Holmes lullaby Michael had promised Sherlock.

      “I generally abhor technology, however, that does seem a helpful, and nondamaging, method of copying a piece of written work.”

      “It makes a good copy, too.  Have a look.”

Greg pulled up the scanned image and held it out in a way that had his companion moving to stand beside him to see it.

      “Most impressive.  And it can be rendered at full size?”

      “Yep.  It’s scalable and the lad can print it out to put on his music stand.”

      “Efficient.”

      “Which he appreciates.  Sherlock is all about efficiency.”

      “Unusual for a violinist.”

      “He’s also a scientist.  An excellent one, too.  Applies it to his own experiments and helps us with bothersome cases that require some extra talent in the observation and deductive reasoning department.  We’re lucky to have someone like him to call on when there’s a need.”

Cocking eyes up at the man next to him, Greg admired how an expression of deep thought looked on his face.  Which was a bit pathetic, but not everybody wore deep thought handsomely, dammit.  He, for example, just looked constipated.

      “A unique individual.”

      “Very.  Which can be good or bad, but I try to focus on the good and give him a boot up the arse for the bad to inspire more good.”

      “Hmmm… wait here a moment.”

Which Greg happily did while Michael stepped out of the library, then returned a few minutes later with a few pieces of paper in his hand.

      “This was written specifically for Sherrinford Holmes’s wedding to Lucy Bainbridge.  It has never been published or performed outside of the wedding itself and a few additional occasions such as family holiday gatherings.  This piece does have familial meaning for your Sherlock Holmes so… you may make a copy of this to give to him.  I… I suspect Mycroft Holmes would not appreciate it being a new staple on BBC Radio, however, it is a piece that could readily be performed by violin if he chooses to do so.”

      “This… thank you for this.  I know Sherlock will appreciate it.”

Greg waited until the pages were spread on the desk and carefully snapped each one, checking that the quality was as high as for the first musical piece.

      “Thanks, again.  This will mean something to him, though he’ll take very great pains to hide it.”

      “He is not emotionally demonstrative.”

      “It’s more complex than that.  He’s careful about what he shows.  Sometimes it’s truly honest and just a wonderful thing to see.  Other times, he’ll show something that’s meant to hide what he’s really feeling and it breaks my heart because I suspect he’s learned to do that because he’s had to.  Teased, bullied, something… he doesn’t talk about it and it’s been a long road to earn something of his trust, so I don’t pry with too much force out of fear I’ll harm what we’ve already built.  Doesn’t mean I don’t try, though.  To be helpful to him, I mean, and for more than a case here and there to keep him amused.”

      “You care about him.”

      “I do.  He’s a good lad and I’m honored that he allows me to wriggle past his defenses.  It’s not a common thing with him, though he’s better than when I met him.  And every day, every week, he’s a little better, still.  I have high hopes for Sherlock and really don’t doubt that that I’ll see them realized.”

      “One might mistake you for a proud father, Gregory.”

      “Thank you.  I feel that way sometimes.  No kids of my own, so Sherlock draws the lucky straw.”

      “You are not married.”

Said as a statement, Michael, not asked as a question.  Took note of that, thank you very much.  Detective Inspector here.  We got skills.

      “Not anymore.  Was for awhile, but that’s long over.  Now, I’m free to pay my respects to a suitably interested woman, should one become available.  Or a suitably interested man.  I’m not picky about that.”

Hint. Hint.

      “A thing one could not always announce so easily in this world.”

Yet that sparkle in your eye says you’re happy I easily announced it now.

      “Very true and I don’t take it for granted.  Not everyone, even now, has the… damn.  Pardon me a moment, will you?”

Greg scowled at his mobile, but ignoring his work ringtone wasn’t something he did unless he was dead or near to becoming so.
      ‘Lestrade, here.  Ok.  Oh… well, that’s definitely good, though I wish it would have waited until morning because we’ll be at it all night.  Yeah, winning the lottery, too.  I’m on my way, but don’t expect me soon.  Yep… I’ll meet you there.”

Noticing his host staring very curiously at him, Greg smiled wanly and waggled the mobile in the air.

      “Caught a break in a case and I have to go.”

      “You days of rest do not appear very restful.”

      “Noticed that, huh?  Sometimes they’re fine.  Often, actually.  But, when work needs to be done, you do it whether it’s your off day or your shift is officially over.”

      “I understand.  Inspiration and artistry cannot be bound to the hands of a clock, either.”

And you look mournful about it, too, Michael.  This is good.  Well, in a sense. The sense of Greg and his dusty, musty social calendar…

      “It just means we have to take full advantage of the times we do have available for fun and relaxation.  Like we did today, for example.  I had a wonderful time, Michael, I truly did.  Maybe… maybe we can do this again, sometime.”

A sparkle and a… doused sparkle.  Uh oh.

      “I… it is not easy for me to dedicate time to such a thing, I’m afraid.”

Mrs. Hudson had been positively giddy from her eavesdropping, but wasn’t surprised that that lovely bit of bait was serving only to frighten off the fish and felt obligated to dive in and save the day.  Or stride in as if she just caught the tail end of their conversation purely by accident.

      “My nephew, Mr. Lestrade, is… susceptible to the call of his muse and finds it hard to get too far afield because he has no idea when it might strike.”

Hiding his smirk was difficult, but Greg did it with practiced ease.  He was no stranger to older female relatives leaping in try and boost his love life and he looked the same way Michael did right now when they made with their busybodying.

      “Then I’ll leave it all in your hands, Michael.  If you can find time and decide it might be a nice day for a visit, let me know.  London’s not that far and the drive is a pleasant one.”

      “Yes.  Well, we shall see.”

      “Good.  Mrs. Hudson, thank you so much for lunch, it was absolutely scrumptious.  Michael, thank you for all your help, I appreciate it more than you can imagine.  Best be off, then, so I stay employed.  Enjoy your evening.”

Showing himself out, Greg waited until he was fully through the front door before letting his grin spread over his lips.  Michael might be a touch hesitant, but matchmaking old ladies, even ones as dour as Mrs. Hudson, got their way more often than not.  Most likely, sometime in the future, he’d get a call that would bring him back here to this strange little murder house and the handsome, interesting man who lived there.  And, if not, then he had a wealth of memories to carry with him, since the specter of death had passed him by for this round of being murdered by a ghost.  He was going to hope for the former, though.  Not being murdered by an angry, vicious specter was a fairly low bar to set for happiness…

Mrs. Hudson watched her faux nephew stare out of the window at the retreating figure and waited patiently for the inevitable lecture.  She didn’t have to wait long.

      “It was utterly unconscionable of you to intervene in that manner.”

      “Somebody had to or you’d not have left open a single door for that man to walk though to see you again.”

      “Which he should not do.”

      “Why not?”

      “The answer to that is astoundingly obvious.”

      “No, it’s not.  What’s wrong with a little romance?”

      “Would you like a pad and pencil to take notes as I recite the eternally long list of reasons?”

      “There is nothing stopping you from having a nice little romance with Mr. Lestrade.  Or, at the very least, making a real friend.  He can visit.  There’s the phone and, perhaps, you’ll finally let me set up an email account for you so you can chat with him that way.  Maybe do that skyping thing.  It’s not hard, I showed my cousin Viv how to do it and she gets flustered using a chip-and-pin machine.  There’s a real chance for you here and you’d be a fool not to take it.”

The snort and dismissive flick of the wrist didn’t shock Mrs. Hudson, but what did was that it came from someone still staring out the window at a figure no longer in view.  He was thinking about things..

      “It is far too dangerous.”

      “It doesn’t have to be.”

      “He is a detective inspector.  He is certain to notice things.  To begin to question…”

      “Maybe.  Maybe not.  You’re not asking the man to move in with you here.  Just have a nice visit now and again or chat on the phone once a week or so.  More would be lovely, but we can keep your goals simple for now and see what happens.”

      “Matters… cannot lead anywhere, you know.”

      “Again, maybe or maybe not.”

      “They cannot.”

      “Worry about that another day.  For now, just think about having a friend.  Someone besides me to talk to.”

      “I have no need for conversation with others.”

      “You do.  Just think about it, dear.  He’s a good, respectable man who actually enjoys your company.  Don’t hide behind a bush when you have an opportunity that… well, it doesn’t present itself often.”

Or at all.

      “I shall be in the conservatory.”

      “How surprising.”

The long familiar ritual of scowling and waving off a scowl was undertaken with its usual solemnity and Mrs. Hudson was left standing alone in the library shaking her head and contemplating just how much prodding she could do without her ‘nephew’ having an enormous strop and being positively monstrous.  Probably not much, poor thing.  He wasn’t wrong in how he saw things, but this was the first time someone actually had opportunity to meet him and show interest, so… it would be a terrible shame if it all went to waste.  The poor man was so alone.  A friend, even a casual one, would be such a blessing and Mr. Lestrade certainly seemed willing.

But, it fell squarely in hands that might not be willing to reach out and take what was offered.  Oh well, if His Nibs avoided the issue, then there may, someday, be another chance.  It wasn’t as if the poor boy was going anywhere…

Chapter Text

      “Why do you not have the originals?”

Greg shook his head but didn’t act on his urge to punch the younger man in the arm.  Sherlock’s standard level of complaining was tiresome, at times, but he was doing a poor job here of hiding his excitement at the music being passed along, albeit digitally.

      “Because the owner wasn’t going to part with them.  To be fair, I think he’s some form of music historian because the knows loads and seems to be a true expert on Mycroft Holmes’s works.  Someone like that wouldn’t willingly part with important bits of music history, even for a family member.  I think it was kind of him to let me photograph these two.”

      “A lullaby and a piece written for a wedding.  Why not add in a jingle from a yoghurt advert and complete my artistic death.”

      “It’s a lullaby written by your great-grandfather for his sons and a private wedding piece from one of those sons to another.  All relevant to you, personally, and I defy you to honestly tell me they’re musically shite.”

      “My mental ear is screaming in agony from the mere sight of the notes on the proverbial page.”

      “Then why do you want the original copies.”

      “To burn them.”

      “That’s so weak it couldn’t lift a baby.”

      “And where is the rest of the material?  These cannot be the only existing specimens.”

      “I don’t think they are, actually.  Maybe he’s working on a book and doesn’t want his thunder being stolen.  I do know that if you want access to more, being an ungrateful prat isn’t the way to do it.”

      “I should not have to grovel for something that is mine by rights.”

      “By rights, it belongs to whoever Mycroft Holmes willed the whole business to and that isn’t you.  Be decent!  Mail a thank-you note to the house.  Maybe… record yourself playing the two pieces.  I told him you were a genius on the violin and it might sway him a bit if he knew you really were an amazing musician who would appreciate learning more about the music.”

      “Now I must play the dancing monkey for my rightful spoils.”

      “I’ve seen you dance, that’s probably not the best tactic.  Admittedly, you were high as a kite at the time, but I haven’t fully recovered from the experience.”

Sherlock’s rude noise in response didn’t do a thing to hide the fact that his fingers were moving against his hip in a pattern Greg recognized as fingering notes for his violin.

      “Well, it’s your choice, but I hope to be visiting there again and I could deliver something from you, like a note or recording of your playing.  Sorry you have to do things the way anybody else would have to, but sometimes it’s the only way.”

      “It is excruciating.”

      “You should see if there’s a cream for that.  Anyway, I’m off.  Just thought I’d bring your little pressies myself so you could berate me and the person who made the pressies possible.  Popping by the office tomorrow?”

      “If I do not, the Brightburn matter will languish forever as an unsolved mystery.”

      “Ooh, someone let you see that file, did they?  How annoying were you?”

      “Donovan threatened to tranquilize me and sell me as a training dummy for attack dogs.”

      “So, you were mostly on your good behavior.  Nice!  And you got a tasty case as a reward.  The financials should be run by tomorrow, so we’ll have a look at them when you stop in.”

      “Boring.”

      “Don’t be so hard on yourself, lad.  Some of us find you very interesting.”

Sherlock snarled, but Greg merely doffed his imaginary cap and sauntered out of the flat, wagering with himself that it wouldn’t be sixty seconds before Sherlock was on his violin playing the two pieces he’d received.  He truly hoped the lad would record them, too, since he’d heard them played on the piano and hearing a violin interpretation would be a joy.  His long simmering taste for classical music was beginning to boil lately and what a lucky man he was to have access to two enormously talented people who could make that music come to life.  Even if one of them hadn’t proved positively not to be a ghost…

__________

It wasn’t hard to miss by anyone who knew him that a certain DI was looking a little bleak of late, as if he’d been hoping for something that, apparently, was never coming to pass.  Greg would have agreed with them, too.  Two weeks and not a single word from the Holmes house.  Maybe it was silly to expect any; he’d only had two visits with Michael and STILL failed to get his surname or his profession, but he’d hoped the small connection he’d felt had been reciprocated.  It hadn’t, it seemed.

      “Crying in your pint?”

      “Funny, Anderson.  Or not.  I think I’ll vote for not.  And I would never ruin a good pint with bitter, salty tears.  I respect good beer far too much for that.  What are you doing at my local, anyway?”

      “Having a bite with a friend a few streets over and thought I’d see if you were embalming your liver.”

      “That I am!  It’s great to have a night that actually seems quiet enough for a few pints, a bit of telly and a good night’s sleep.”

      “When did we get so old that something that boring sounds utterly beautiful to our ears?”

      “If you find out, tell me.  Because I’m content with a little bit of time to be boring, I don’t even have my eyes open here for someone interesting to talk to.

      “What about me?”

      “I don’t think our conversations are going to lead to sexy gymnastics.”

      “I hope not.  If I’m ever that drunk, just kill me because the pain of dying from the memory isn’t worth the extra day or two of life.”

      “Deal.  I’ve got a couple of days free coming up, too, and I suspect I’ll spend them catching up on sleep, reading, telly and my favorite takeaway.  Definitely an old man, but there are worse things in life.”

      “True.  Anyway, where do you think…”

Anderson’s eyebrows went up as he watched Greg fumble frantically for his mobile as it began ringing in his jacket pocket, and actually run a hand through his hair before answering.

      “Hello?  Greg here.”

      “Why do you sound strange?”

My ghost!  Or not ghost.  Regardless, it was him and with a typically-Michael question to start this conversation off with a bang.

      “Ummm… I’m in a pub?”

      “There is an atonal and halting quality to the sound of your voice that is off-putting.”

      “Oh!  I wager it’s because I’m on my mobile.  They can sound a bit crap if you’ve not got a strong signal.”

      “Deplorable.”

      “I agree.  I… ummm… what can I do for you, Michael?  Call to chat?”

      “No.”

      “Oh, ok.  What then?”

      “I am phoning to invite you for a visit.  At your convenience.”

      “I’d love to!  I’ve got time coming up, in fact.  Next Monday, perhaps?”

      “That will do.  The cultural abhorrence of Mondays is not something I understand, so I do not believe it will dampen our time together.”

      “Mondays can be harsh for people with certain working hours, but we both march to the tune of a different drum, so the tune has a very different beat.”

      “Interesting.  Not marches, that is, only your perspective.  Though there are marches written for piano, I am not entirely supportive of the combination.”

      “What about the Imperial March?”

      “What is that?  Its melody escapes me.”

      “I’ll bring an audio file with me on Monday for you to hear it.  Very noble and consequential.  Not really a piano piece, though, now that I think about it.  It’s just the first one that came to mind.”

      “I see.”

      “I promise not to be so random on Monday.”

      “That is acceptable.  Until Monday, then.”

Correctly anticipating that Mycroft would end their call as abruptly as Mrs. Hudson would, Greg felt no disappointment at the dead line and, instead, did a little shimmy of joy on his stool.

      “That the boyfriend?”

      “That’s the maybe-one-day-if-I’m-wildly-lucky man I escort out for the evening.”

      “Baby steps.  That’s good.  Old men shouldn’t do anything too physical if they want to keep their bodies in one piece for the sexy gymnastics.”

      “He’s a pianist, too, so those fingers would make the gymnastics especially fun.”

      “Are we going to get any work of you until Monday or are you just going to be lost in erotic reverie?”

      “Hard to say.  If I do fall into a lust-inspired reverie, though, just hang a little sign around my neck saying ‘Brain Down.  Try Again Later.’  That should be alright.”

      “And not much different from most days.”

      “Say goodbye to the pint I was going to buy you.”

      “And hello to the nice whisky?”

      “I like the way you think.”

__________

Because he was a serious man with a serious job, Greg certainly wasn’t dancing in his seat as he drove the final few miles to his destination.  And he definitely didn’t have a lovely bouquet of flowers to present to Mrs. Hudson for her likely assistance in bringing him here today.  Ok he did have flowers, and he was dancing, and anyone who thought that was daft could go fuck themselves.  He was about to have another exceptional day with an exceptional man and that was worth its weight in flowers and dancing.

And the fucking off could also be performed by any who thought his hesitating and taking a deep breath before using the knocker because this still looked and felt like a haunted house, and there were some things that just happened on instinct.  Probably genetic.  One of those species memories from when… ghosts roamed the planet with dinosaurs.

      “Still punctual.  Good.”

      “And hello to you, Mrs. Hudson.  A little something to brighten your day?”

Greg handed over the flowers and used his most winning grin to make it a one-two punch which drew the tiniest of smiles out of Mrs. Hudson as a reward.

      “Well, these are lovely.  Thank you.”

      “You’re welcome.  You deserve something for the extra bother of having me about at mealtime.”

      “That’s true.  But, it’s also nice to cook for someone with a hearty appetite.  Some people worry too much about their waistline to eat a proper meal.”

Another nail in the murder ghost theory!  Michael couldn’t be a ghost if he worried about putting on weight.  Not that a man like that should worry.  Lean or heavy, the package he presented was a highly desirable one.

      “I promise to clean my plate twice today.”

      “You can come in, then.”

Greg hopped over the threshold and took a bow, smiling broadly at Mrs. Hudson’s ‘be off with you’ wave of her hand towards the conservatory where he could hear music playing.  And, since he didn’t want to interrupt that, he simply snuck into the room and took a seat to listen quietly.

      “Ah, Gregory.”

      “My sneaking wasn’t very sneaky, was it.”

      “It was not an abysmal effort, however, my hearing is most keen.”

      “Sorry.  Didn’t want to interrupt you.”

      “I was simply contemplating the tempo of this particular movement.  I have never been entirely satisfied by the composer’s indication, but am also not entirely certain how it should be modified.”

      “Who wrote it?”

Ok, you’re smirking, so I already know the answer.

      “I did.”

      “You know, I meant to ask about that.  I know you play, but you’re also a composer?”

      “I dabble.”

      “What I just heard wasn’t dabbling.  That’s what I do with a guitar in my hands.  What I heard was masterful.”

      “Thank you, Gregory.  That is kind of you to say.”

      “Honest, that’s all.  Do you perform?  In public, I mean.”

      “No.  That is not an… I am not moved to embark upon any form of public career.”

      “That’s a shame.  I’d pay to hear you play.  One of those fancy concert halls where they make you dress nicely just to sit in the audience.”

      “There are many such venues from which to choose.  They do, I must admit, offer their own degree of inspiration to those who perform in them.  The sense on grandeur, of occasion… of respect for the music.  It, first and foremost, is the important resident of the structure.  The ostentation of the décor and peacockery of the audience is but a minor attribute.”

      “That’s why they’re such fun!  You get to be a peacock and enjoy amazing music.  Tell me, at least, you get to enjoy a concert now and again.  Dressed up, lounging in one of those boxes that look down on the little people…”

      “No.  It is… it is not an easily accomplishable thing for me.  However, I do have my fill of recordings, both audio and video, to partake of what is currently available.  Some, at least, offers interest.”

So, Michael didn’t get out to concerts.  Money issue?  Could he have that condition where it was difficult to leave the house?  Agoraphobia?  No, that’s be a fear of sweaters.  No, that would be angoraphobia, you numpty.  There’s some name for it and it, apparently, was beastly for those who suffered from it.  It would explain a lot, actually…

      “That’s definitely true.  The best part, for me, is that if I’m called on a case, I don’t have to worry about disrupting people around me as I climb over them to get out of my seat or miss the rest of the performance, never to see it again.  If it’s on video or audio, I can enjoy at my leisure.   Oh!  Nearly forgot, Sherlock says thank you for the music.  He sent this note along with me and, as an extra thank you, recorded himself playing each piece.  I have the files if you’d like to hear them.”

      “Oh?  Yes, I would, actually.  I have not heard a different interpretation of those pieces and am rather curious about how another would give the music its life.”

      “Want to listen through the phone or do you have one of those Bluetooth things.”

      “Good lord… what possible dental malady is responsible for coloring teeth blue?”

      “It’s a wireless technology.  You can use it to send your phone signal to something like a speaker.”

      “Really?  How interesting.  In any case, I have no such thing here.”

      “I do.”

Mrs. Hudson strode in with a tray of nibbles and pitcher of lemonade, setting it down on the table next to Greg’s chair.

      “I keep it in the kitchen so I can stream music or whatnot from my phone while I’m working.  I’ll just be a moment.”

Greg snickered softly at Michael’s affronted expression, as if the man had been betrayed by his dearest friend.  The expression was still in place when Mrs. Hudson brought back the tidy little speaker that she further offended her ‘nephew’ by placing on his piano.

      “There.  She pairs easily, Mr. Lestrade, so it shouldn’t be a bother for you.  If it is, I’ll do it.  Some people simply don’t have the right touch.”

Greg knew well he was one of those people, so opened the Settings on his phone and handed it over, marveling at how quickly Mrs. Hudson had matters ready to go.  His counterpart was still too offended by both the invasion of technology and its settlement on his piano to notice.

      “Done.  Now, what are we listening to?”

Greg smiled and navigated to the files Sherlock had made and started the first one playing.  While he had to admit it was a gorgeous tune and Sherlock played it brilliantly, his reaction was nothing compared to that of the man now starting dumbfounded at speaker.

      “Michael?  Is it… do you like it?”

The lack of answer while the man closed his eyes and smiled was answer enough.  Tapping Greg on the shoulder, Mrs. Hudson reminded him of their refreshments, then darted away to leave the two alone.  Mr. Lestrade would come to understand what a profound sensation her dear ‘nephew’ was experiencing and, hopefully, find the whole matter as wonderful as she did.

When the piece ended, Greg quickly cued up the next and let it play, noting how the pianist’s moved on his thighs, as if they were playing piano keys and his body swayed slightly to the music.  When the song ended, Greg rushed to play it again as those limber fingers made a circular ‘again’ motion, then laid themselves on the keyboard and accompanied the recording, marrying the piano’s richness and slight variation in melody to the violin score.  When it was done, the fingers stayed on the keys as if they needed to associate themselves with the experience for just a moment longer.

      “Exceptional.  Utterly exceptional.  The depth of emotion, the instinct for the soul of the material, the technical expertise… he is a virtuoso, Gregory.  There is no doubt.”

      “I’ll tell him you said that.  It’ll mean something to him that another musician thinks he’s good.”

      “Thank you for this, Gregory.  It… my own soul is enlivened.  I must… yes.  I must write.  Do amuse yourself for awhile, will you?”

A quick dash allowed Michael to snatch paper and a pencil from a cupboard along the wall and he immediately began filling in the lines with a flurry of notes and annotations that Greg couldn’t begin to follow.  However, he could sit back and admire the spectacle, as well as relish the flow of music that interspersed each bout of writing.

And, of course, the interspersed shouts of questions concerning such surreal and baffling topics as whether nightjars were more akin to water or fire and how deeply did he believe the pain of disillusionment cut the soul.  It was somewhat startling when Mrs. Hudson shoved a plate with a sandwich and crisps under his nose and Greg noticed that they had long ago shot past lunchtime, but since the pianist’s artistic fires showed no signs of dying out, for a while, questions were answered through a mouthful of succulent slices of roast beef and, later, a hearty slab of cherry pie.

      “Gregory… magenta.”

      “Riff Raff.”

      “What?”

      “Frank. N. Furter?”

      “Whatever are you talking about?”

      “Didn’t you ask me about Magenta?”

      “Yes.  Does it stir you?  Raise in your eyes the light of enlightenment?”

      “Um… well, when I was a touch younger, she did raise something in me, but it wasn’t my eyes.”

      “I am confused.”

      “I’ll explain later.  For the record, magenta is a bit too flagrant for me as a color to do much enlightening.”

      “Yes… good.  My point exactly.”

Happy he’d passed muster, Greg continued reading a book on his phone until the well-known sound of a middle-aged man having a full-body stretch sounded through the room.

      “Finished?”

      “As much as a living composition can be considered finished.  It serves, for now, my purposes, however.  Would you care to hear it?”

      “Very much.”

It was impossible to miss the pleased smile of the pianist’s face and Greg settled back to enjoy the performance, which immediately punched him in the heart and held it firm, lifting it and dashing it by turns until it finally raised up something that felt stronger and more human than ever before.  He was a second too late wiping a tear off of his cheek, but found he didn’t care seeing how greatly his response affected the artist.

      “Thank you, Gregory.  A more profound critique I could not hope for.”

      “That was… unbelievable.  It was… visceral isn’t the right word, but I swear I felt that inside of me while you played.”

      “Music may inspire many responses and the master chooses which he wants to provoke.  What you describe was my intent, so I am satisfied with the outcome of my work.”

      “Thank you.  Really, that was something special.  Astonishing.  Moving.  Want a biscuit?”

Greg held up one of the few survivors from the most recent treat delivery and grinned at Michael’s widened eyes.

      “Dear god, yes…”

Tossing it over, wholly unsurprised that such limber fingers could snatch it easily out of the air, Greg tried to remember a better day for himself in recent years and came up bereft of a single candidate.

      “Oh… oh, Gregory.  I had not realized the time.”

Which, to be fair, neither had Greg, at least not for the last couple of hours.

      “Time extremely well spent, I’d say.”

      “Yes, but… we have not actually visited.”

      “I think we have.  Maybe not engaged in chit chat, but visiting certainly occurred and I, for one, am extremely glad for it.”

      “You will stay for dinner, will you not?  It is very near the proper hour and I believe I smell something already being prepared.”

Even if Greg didn’t have the day free tomorrow, even if he had the earliest shift imaginable, he’d stay for dinner.  He hadn’t seen Michael this animated since they met!  It was almost as if he was more… real… than before.  There was a vitality and vibrancy that, now that he thought about it, shined most brightly when the man was infused by his music.  It was a glorious thing to see and he wanted to see all that he could.

      “I’d love to.  You must be famished now, though.  Want a bit of a nibble while we wait?”

      “We shall likely be lectured about spoiling our appetites.”

      “That’s not enough to stop me.  You?”

      “Not in the slightest.”

      “Let’s go, then.”

Greg grinned and chased after his companion who had bolted from the piano bench and towards the conservatory door.  Mrs. Hudson couldn’t withstand the puppy eyes of two hungry men, now could she?  Well, yes, likely so, but at least he’d have someone to share his disappointment with if they got chased out of the kitchen with a broom…

__________

Sipping brandy near a cozy fire… shared with someone who is wildly intriguing, the experience vaults beyond enjoyable into ecstasy…

      “I’m not ashamed to say it, Michael.  This is blissful.”

      “I agree.  There is a cozy peace which has infiltrated my bones and I find it very much to my liking.”

As if on cue, a loud thunderclap shook the house and both men jumped a little in their chairs.

      “Dear heavens… are we beset by a storm?”

Moving to the window, Greg peeked out and gulped at what he was seeing.

      “Storm might be a bit of an understatement.  I think I just saw Noah’s Ark floating by…”

Now it was two faces staring out the window at the torrential rain and each man wondered how they had missed the storm’s arrival and escalation.  That cozy peace was a powerful thing, indeed.

      “I suppose I’d best be…”

This thunderclap was followed quickly by a violent flash on the ground and the briefest of shrieks that sounded unhappily like a car horn announcing the death of the car with whom it was wed.

      “No.  No, that did not just happen.”

      “I am afraid so, Gregory.  Your vehicle, for some reason, was visited by Thor’s wrath.”

      “Fucker.  I paid to see each of his films, too.  The last one twice!”

      “I’ve got a room ready for you, Mr. Lestrade.”

Greg whirled and gaped at Mrs. Hudson who was tugging on her mac and pulling up the hood.

      “What?”

      “You’re not going anywhere.  Even before your car was electrocuted.  At best you might have made it to the village, but the roads going further afield aren’t going to be passable.”

Greg cut eyes at his companion and didn’t know what to make of Michael’s expression.

      “Gregory cannot remain here.”

      “Cannot isn’t an option, I’m afraid.”

      “Then he might stay the night in your home.”

      “I don’t have an extra bedroom.  You’ve got several.”

      “There is an inn in the village.”

      “Which doesn’t have a vacancy.  I already phoned Phoebe and they’re booked.”

      “They are never at full occupancy.”

      “And that little art school two villages over never has an exhibition anybody wants to see, either, but this time they did a deal with one of the London museums as part some art-promoting event and quite a few people want to see what they’re displaying now.  Not to my taste, but it takes all sorts.”

      “You know he cannot remain here.”

      “Since he’s not discorporating in front of us, I suspect he can.”

      “Then… you must remain, as well.”

      “Not bloody likely.  You know I won’t stay here past midnight and you also know why.”

      “I…”

A nearly fearful look was shot at Greg who was completely unsure if he should or how he should leap into the conversation.

      “… it cannot happen.”

      “Well, it is, so enjoy being host for the evening.  I’ll be here in the morning, as usual, to see Mr. Lestrade with a good breakfast before he fathoms out how to transport himself back to London.  There’s food aplenty in the kitchen if either of you get hungry.  Goodnight, gentlemen.  Sleep well.”

Greg shifted slightly because it looked very much as if Michael was readying to tackle his aunt like a rugby player, but the pianist gradually quelled the urge and stood for a moment vibrating in annoyance or confusion or anger or something Greg couldn’t precisely pin down before tugging on his jumper and slapping a fake smile on his lips.

      “Well, that matter is settled.  I suspect you will find our beds most comfortable, Gregory, so do not fear for your rest on that score.”

The way he said it, though, led Greg to believe that other scores might step in to make his rest a very fearful one, but he kept that realization to himself for now.

      “I appreciate it.  I’m not scheduled to work tomorrow, so it won’t cause any problems in that area.  Given that… what say we have a bit more brandy.  You can really hear the rain and wind now and, I don’t know about you, but I like that sound, actually.  As long as I’m warm and dry, that is.”

      “Yes, on that point we are agreed.  The lamentations of nature are not something to leave unnoticed.  Such energy, the raw and unbridled energy.  Such a thing should be celebrated.  Fortunately, I have brandy aplenty and the fire shall burn for quite some time.”

There was still a queer gleam in the pianist’s eyes, but Greg was comforted by the fact that the more overt, seemingly panicked shine had left them.  It was painfully obvious that Michael was unused to any form of visitor, but an overnight one?  One that wasn’t intended to be an overnight situation?  He could understand the distress.  Well, Greg Lestrade was nothing if not skilled in putting people at ease in distressing situations.  He did it often enough on the job, and didn’t have brandy or a fire to bring into battle with him…

Chapter Text

Distress rising!  Ok… ok ok ok… that was definitely violin music.  Coming from above him sometimes and below him others.  Given above him was the attic, the spooky feeling was mildly described as extreme.

Then there was the laughter.  Quiet, genuinely happy laughter that he couldn’t match to an age or gender of the laugher, but it certainly didn’t help with the spooky.

Footsteps in the corridor outside?  Of course.  What would a haunted house be without ghostly footsteps outside your bedroom door?  The beds were amazing, though.  That much had been true.  Pity Michael didn’t mention the house was riddled with ghosts who made enjoying that bed fucking impossible!

Ok, not sleeping.  Sleep not gonna come.  Not in a million years.  Not even with the suspiciously large amount brandy Michael had kept flowing into their mouths.  Definitely not for a ‘let’s get relaxed and sexy’ reason either, apparently.  However, the soft piano music that began a few minutes ago said… hopefully… that if he dragged his old carcass out of this very comfortable bed, he wouldn’t be the only one awake and moving about at this time of night.  Besides the ghost, that is…

And, no, he didn’t look about for a weapon before he opened the bedroom door and began creeping along the dark, scary corridor and down the dark, scary stares, through the 2nd dark, scary corridor to the candlelit, so slightly less spooky, conservatory.

      “Michael?”

Do ghosts jump from shock?  Probably not.  Another point scored for you, mate.

      “Gregory!  Oh, you did give me a fright.  Did I disturb you?”

The fact there was an audible giggle at those words that didn’t come from either man in the room, had Greg scowling at the pianist who was favoring him with a hopeful smile.  Hopeful, most likely, that Greg wasn’t going to mention anything he may just have heard.

      “You’ve got a bloody ghost living here.  This house is haunted!”

      “Balderdash.”

      “Then who just laughed?”

      “It was the wind.  It does find cracks and crevices through which to whistle.”

      “Nope.  How about the footsteps outside my room?”

      “That was me.  I… was checking on you.”

      “Using your x-ray vision to see through the closed door?”

      “Pish tosh.”

      “The violin music?”

      “The radio.”

      “Which somehow just started playing again even though you haven’t moved a muscle.”

      “It… it is a Blueteeth model.  You simply failed to notice my beckoning it to turn on.  I shall, of course, lower its volume for our conversation.  And bring to you a brandy.  Just a moment…”

Greg glowered at the man who raced out of the room and swallowed the urge to stamp his feet at finding himself in a real haunted house when he was a sane, modern man who really didn’t believe in that sort of thing.  And he’s stupidly made all the mistakes watching horror movies told you not to make!  Staying overnight with a storm raging… that always ended in death!  Violent, hideous death and Roderick Usher was getting him brandy to lubricate the passing to the other side.

Good ol’ Roderick must have been working on something musical, though.  Actually, that sitting on the piano looked like the piece he was working on earlier.  He was certainly a flamboyant music writer.  It was beautiful, actually, how he did all the…

… wait.

Wait one minute.

Wait one fucking minute.

Pulling out his phone, Greg tapped a moment then stared at his screen.  Then stared at the sheet music.  Then stared at his screen again.  Then felt his heart fall into his stomach.

      “For you, Gregory.  A soothing brandy for…”

Greg whirled and stared at the person holding two glasses of brandy who, now, was beginning to look as unsettled as the man who’d done the whirling in the first place.

      “G… Gregory?”

      “It’s you.”

      “Pardon.”

      “Oh my god…”

      “I… Gregory, whatever is the matter.”

      “Your name isn’t Michael.”

      “I assure you that…”

      “It’s Mycroft.”

If the pianist went any whiter Greg was full prepared to believe whatever was pretending to be blood in his veins had said fuck it and ran away before the real fun began.

      “How… how utterly silly.  Yes, a little jape on your part.”

      “How do you explain this, then.”

Shoving the phone towards the man he was henceforth calling Mycroft because HE FUCKING WAS MYCROFT HOLMES, Greg also grabbed the sheet music and held it up so the screen and the paper could be compared side by side.

      “The handwriting is bloody identical!”

      “I… I will admit to a similarity, however, I have worked to achieve such a similarity as a small affectation for my own amusement.”

      “Lie.  What lie do you have for this?”

Throwing the music onto the piano bench, Greg tapped a few more times on his mobile and shoved it again into perfect viewing position so his target had no choice to stare straight into the eyes of… himself.

      “Wh… where did you find that?”

      “Sherlock’s photo album.  Your mum wanted it, apparently.”

If Mycroft turned any whiter, he’d be indistinguishable from a sheet, which was appropriate since a sheet-wearing ghost would fit in very well with the rest of the buggers here, in Greg’s professional opinion.

      “And don’t try to say you affected this, too, or I’ll box your ears.  It’s you.  You are Mycroft Holmes, who should have been dead over a century ago but, apparently, are happily puttering about your house sipping brandy and lying to coppers.”

      “I… no… you see…”

      “Don’t even try to lie to me again, Mycroft fucking, fucking Holmes.  I’m in a fucking haunted house and am not in the mood to play games with one of the ghosts haunting it!”

      “I am not a ghost!”

      “Then what are you!”

      “I… I do not know.”

The words came out so softly, so plaintively that Greg’s anger ebbed slightly and he traded a shoved phone in Mycroft’s face for a brandy glass in his own hand.

      “Then sit and tell me what you think you are and… what the fuck is going on here.”

      “Even if I am not entirely certain?”

      “Especially then.  Maybe…”

Why was his sympathy gene activating right now?  What was wrong with his head?  Ghosts!  And not ghosts!  Didn’t change things, though…

      “… we can fathom it out together.”

… if he didn’t help, he wasn’t the man he thought he was and he had enough on his plate right now with ghosts and not ghosts to weather a crisis of identity.

      “You have no idea what you ask, Gregory.”

      “That’s why you’re going to tell me.  And, lo!  The other ghost has fucked off for a bit so we can actually chat.”

That, at least, drew the faintest of smiles out of the long-dead musician, and he cocked his head as if listening to the blessed silence.

      “Mrs. Hudson does not remain late for she grows most aggrieved if the night is a cacophonous one.”

      “Good for her.  Cacophony isn’t going to get you a restful night’s sleep.”

      “No.  Nor, I suppose is a mind filled with questions.”

      “Correct.  So, start answering them while my brain is still able to process what you’re saying.  I have no doubt my terror will catch up with me at some point and I’m shit for comprehension when that strikes.”

      “Will more brandy postpone that eventuality?”

      “No idea, but I’m willing to try.”

__________

With one brandy tossed back for fortitude and another in their glasses to be slowly sipped because they weren’t entirely heathens, the two men sat in the conservatory and Greg waited for Mycroft to take the first step, which was a long time in coming.

      “Where do I begin…”

      “How about the point where you died, unless there’s something relevant before that like a bargain with the devil or a witch’s curse.”

      “I cannot claim knowledge of either possibility, but I cannot claim knowledge, either, of dying.”

      “You’re not dead?”

      “Do I seem deceased?”

      “I’ve never met a reanimated corpse before, so I genuinely don’t know.”

      “That appalling imagery aside… I truly do not know if I crossed the threshold between life and death.”

      “What do you know?”

      “That the train in which I was traveling suffered… it was horrifying.  At first, I believed it was anarchists, the scoundrels, however, it was but an act of negligence on the part of the train company.  Miscommunication created a devastating outcome.  Two fast-moving behemoths meet unexpectedly and the result defines carnage and chaos.  The screams, Gregory.  The screams of pain and terror.  To this day I hear them in my mind as clearly as I did when I lay in the twisted wreckage nearly undone by my own agony.  There was no question in my mind that I was short was for this world.  That my last moments would be in the arms of the goddess of pain and madness.”

      “Dear god…”

      “And I was infuriated.  Enraged.  I had so much yet to do!  So very much to create, to offer… I railed against the injustice of my life cut short, as arrogant as that may sound.  I did not pray, for I do not believe in a being to hear my prayers, but I beseeched.  I entreated whatever powers might exist in this vast universe to help me.  Of course, I expected nothing, if only because every person still alive in that tragedy was surely doing the same.  But… I was mistaken.  My pleas did not fall upon deaf ears.  I do not know… I felt myself failing.  I felt the very life leaving my body and, at a point that I still do not know was on this side of existence or the other, I heard my name.  I heard my name spoken in a beautiful, gentle voice and I felt a warmth.  A soothing, loving warmth that embraced what I was and made me something new.  The thing I now am.”

      “You’re not a thing, Mycroft.”

      “Am I not?   I cannot state with certainty this is my actual body or a… phantasm.  Just as I also cannot state with certainty the benevolence I assumed for my savior is well-applied.  Which is a terrible thing to contemplate.  Much have I learned since I found myself here, again, far away from the scene of my… death, change… I know not.”

      “I’d say it was benevolent.  You’re here!  You can play your piano, chat with people, do what you would normally do.”

      “No.  That is somewhat an exaggeration.  Come with me…”

Greg didn’t like the look on Mycroft’s face as the composer rose and walked to the small door that led outside into a garden, which was probably lovely in the summer.  And daytime.

      “Gifts bestowed with a price… can they be called gifts?  Or curses?”

Mycroft extended a hand through the open door and Greg gasped in horror at the change he watched happen.  The hand became… gnarled.  Twisted and broken.  Much as it would appear if… it had been mangled in a hideous train wreck.

      “That’s…”

      “Horrifying?  I agree.”

Further stepping out of the house, Mycroft’s body contorted into a tortured shape and even in the moonlight Greg could see the disfiguring scars that crossed his face.

      “Ok, you don’t have to do this.”

      “It is not… painful, per se.  I feel every bit of damage, how it lessens me, disables me… but the pain is gone.  I left it behind in the devastation, though this remained mine to endure.”

A blinded eye turned towards Greg, with its functional twin following an instant after.

      “Not something to incite your passion, am I?  Your pity, perhaps.  A sense of gladness that you are not what you see before you.”

      “To be honest, none of that came to mind.  I was more wondering if being out here somehow… started the clock running.  On you, I mean.  I’ve read that in some stories.  A person lives in an enchanted castle or dimension or something and as long as they’re there they don’t age.  Leave it and the clock starts ticking again.”

      “That… an interesting reflection.  I believe it does, in truth, but I venture beyond my walls rarely.  I have little reason to do so, but… there are days where the lure of the elements is too powerful and I walk, as best I can, in my gardens to experience them.  It is a tonic to my being and one for which I am thankful.”

      “Care to show them to me now?”

The look Mycroft gave Greg was disbelieving but it slowly morphed to something different.  Something made possible, in part, by Greg’s offering of his arm and quiet patience while a decision was made.

      “I would.  They are somewhat unlovely at present, but a man with imagination and a connection to nature can envision their beauty simply enough.”

      “My imagination is top notch, I like to think.”

      “Somehow, Gregory, I do not disbelieve you.”

With the best his disfigured face could muster for a smile, Mycroft took Greg’s arm and urged Greg forward to support his own broken, shambling motion.  And, only now, did he notice that the rain had stopped.  Just as suddenly as it had begun…

Chapter Text

The slow, halting walk seemed to take hours, though the clock in the conservatory showed not even a single hour had passed since they stepped outside.  Greg had let Mycroft set the pace and duration because he could not imagine that any movement on the composer’s part was hard won and, further, won at a high cost.  Though, once across the threshold, the return to his normal appearance was rapid and it was if Mycroft had never been the shattered creature that had just taken a turn through the gardens supported by Greg’s arm.

      “And our brandy awaits us patiently.  Thank you, Gregory.  It was a bracing walk made most pleasant by your company.”

      “It was a lovely walk and not only because you have a lovely house and property.”

On a scale of one to ten, that scored a two in flirtatiousness.  His game certainly needed upping, but it was brutally difficult what with… ghosts!

      “I have found solace here, even before my possible demise.”

      “I do have to wonder how you made it back, given…”

      “Oh, I had not the worry of transportation.  I simply appeared here, in the conservatory, in point of fact.  It was a most terrifying experience for my housekeeper, not only because I appeared from thin air but also… well, my body was whole and well, but the same could not be said for my garments.  She was severely scandalized.”

Greg laughed but added it to the evidence file growing in his head as to whether Mycroft was or was not a ghost.  Appearing out of thin air argued heavily for ‘ghost’…

      “She was related to Mrs. Hudson, right?  I find it hard to believe she was as scandalized as all that.”

Now it was Mycroft’s turn to laugh and he added it to the evidence file growing in his head that this Gregory Lestrade was a most unique and… delightful… fellow.

      “A valid point.  I was extremely lucky in that, actually, as Martha met me when she was very young and readily accepted my singular nature.  When the idea of her taking on the responsibility of this house was broached, she gave it very little thought before accepting.”

      “That must be so strange.  Her knowing you from when she was a little girl.”

      “It has made for some… interesting transitions as she aged, though I always endorsed her decision to live apart from this residence, maintaining an independent household and life.  I am not incapable of caring for myself and… she has sacrificed a great deal to help preserve my secret, as well as tend my needs, and what she can gain for herself, apart from me, I am glad to see happen.”

      “She mentioned, though, the…”

Greg waved his hand about in the air, which was met, rather creepily in his opinion, by the faint sound of spectral laughter.

      “Ah, yes.  In truth, she was honest in stating she is not fond of the disturbances, but mostly because they, on occasion, interfere with her enjoyment of some film or other she is viewing.  She, like me, is rather used to it all by now and the vast majority of the time the house is quiet.  It is not often we see a night such as this one where… I have no idea what prompts my guest to regale me with such discordant and non-specific chaos, but perhaps a ghostly presence needs not a reason for what they do.”

      “You’re a ghost haunted by a ghost.  That has got to be the strangest thing I’ve hard and cops hear and see a LOT of strange things in their work.”

      “Is haunting the correct term, though?  That usually denotes a malevolent or, at least, disruptive condition and I am hard-pressed, irrespective of nights like tonight, to ascribe malevolence to the presence.  Though…”

      “Yes?”

      “This was not a thing that occurred often or as notably before my… experience.  On occasion I had a sense someone was watching me, especially when I played and, rarely, I heard what to my ears was a gentle peal of laughter, but the bold nature of these events that we now witness… it was as if my accident was the trigger.”

      “That implies some personal connection.”

      “I… I agree.  Gregory, this house, what do you know of its history?”

      “Not much.  That it’s Mrs. Hudson’s through inheritance and you left it to her great-aunt when you allegedly died.  It was yours before that.”

      “All true.  However, that is only the distal tip of the spear of history.  Before that, this house… was my mother’s.”

      “Oh.  She kept her family place when she married.”

      “Yes.  Her father lived here until his death and he willed it specifically to her, with a provision that if she divested it to any individual not of blood relation, it would be considered a void of contract and the property would be sold, the profits divided among any blood relations remaining in the family.”

      “That’s unusual.”

      “Not if you knew my father.”

      “Ooh… sounds like your grandfather did, though.”

      “Quite.  Mummy married young and rather unwisely.  Father was not the suitor Grandmama and Grandpapa desired for her and that was likely the reason she chose such a blackguard.  Mummy had a rather rebellious streak and, now and again, it did not work in her favor.  She was wild.  Free. And blessed with a musical talent that was transcendent.  To hear her play, it was a transformative experience.  She composed, also.  Exquisite pieces filled with joy and exuberance.  Your soul filled with the brightest of lights when you heard her work.  You felt loved, cherished, as if the ills this world had laid upon you were swept away by music.”

      ‘The piece you played for me!  That wasn’t your dad’s piece, that was your mum’s wasn’t it?”

      “Very good, Gregory.  Father despised that she had such talent and he… was mediocre, at best.  A functional musician, better than many, but compared to Mummy, he was but a dull gleam to her shining star.  And, he was such a blackguard, he peddled her work as his in an attempt to bolster his reputation, as well as his pockets.  He succeeded a handful of times in convincing this or that publisher that his jealous brain birthed such works of art, but most quickly saw through his horrid schemes.  He did, unfortunately, acquire a minor reputation as a composer and violinist, built on Mummy’s genius, but it failed to elevate him to more than an insignificant footnote in music history.  Especially… especially after Mummy left him and he had no further access to her creations.”

      “She left him?  That wasn’t very common at the time, was it?”

      “No, it was not.  Not unheard of, you understand, but a thing that was considered rather outrageous.”

      “Which your mum didn’t care a whit about.”

Hearing Mycroft laugh was, to Greg’s ears, almost as wonderful as hearing his music.

      “Correct.  She had this house and income from family investments, so she could live a comfortable life, albeit without the veneer of respectability a married woman would carry.  Frankly, she was a known entity among her circle, so her abandonment of my father made little difference.  If she had taken that action while I and Sherrinford were children, of course, the story would have been a different one, but we were both in the world seeking our own fortunes by that point.”

Greg nodded and felt a vague scratching in his mind that had served him well in his career.  It always meant the thing he was starting to think was probably worth following up on because… reasons.

      “Mycroft, do you think your ghost is your mother?”

The look of relief on the composer’s face told Greg he’d hit the target on the first shot.

      “I do not wish to, but I do.  My life is not a blessed one and it is difficult to believe Mummy would willingly chain me to this house forever.”

      “To save you from death?  I can imagine that for a mother.  Especially since she probably didn’t have long to think about it, what with you spiraling towards doom and all.”

      “A fair point.  Moreover… I have a sense there is something she wants from me.  Something I must do but I have no idea what is the objective she seeks I accomplish.”

      “Any reason you think that way or just a sense?”

      “My dreams.  And, yes, I do dream.  There are times, tonight would be one very likely if I ever take to bed, where my dreams do not feel entirely my own.  I am provided with images that, while utterly prosaic, are repetitive and unvarying in their nature.  A child’s tin whistle, a brown leather trunk, a small plush bear, a key on a bit of twine… various meaningless items, but they appear in my mind and fail to interact in any manner as to give me clues as to what they mean or symbolize.  I readily admit that my own dreams are often soaring flights of fancy, but this… this is neither soring nor fanciful.  To be truthful, I would be offended if my mind used it’s incalculable imagination to conjure such banal images.”

      “Ok, yeah, that does sound a bit suspicious.  And, I assume you’ve tried to remember or find those objects?”

      “Most certainly.  A few things I have found… an inkpot and a pen with a lacquered case, for instance.  There were in a desk where Mummy attended to her correspondence.  Another pen, however, far shabbier than the one I located, I have never found, along with the remainder of the items.  Given my rather reduced reach in to the world, I have enjoyed little opportunity to pursue the matter though, in fairness, I have no idea in which direction that pursuit would take.”

      “Sounds like you need a detective on the case.”

      “I… oh.  Gregory, are you suggesting you might find these items?”

      “I’m suggesting you probably do need help with this and someone with experience in this area might be useful.”

      “It is a valid point, to be certain, but I am not entirely convinced any of this holds meaning.  If my mind were to have a jest at my expense, soiling my dreams with the mundanities of life would be a fitting one.”

      “Let’s assume, for now, that there’s something real, or unreal, behind it all and proceed from there.  I’m going to have another suggestion, though, and you won’t like it, even though I do think it would be out best shot at discovering if your mum or whoever is here is trying to send you a message.”

      “And what is that?”

      “We bring in Sherlock.”

      “Good heavens, no.”

      “I know you need to guard your secret, that part is not something I’m forgetting but a few things work in your favor there.  First, if and when Sherlock’s convinced that you’re real he would protect your secret just so he could study you like a lab rat.”

      What a revolting thought.”

      “It is.  And I’ve been his lab rat many times to speak from experience.  Further, though, he’s family and may know things.  A story here or there, maybe more photographs that have some of those items in them.  He could even have one or two of them himself.  And, honestly, he’s good at solving puzzles and mysteries.  I’m good but his brain often sees things that mine doesn’t because he thinks differently than I do.  Besides, you two are connected by more than family.  You share an amazing musical talent and I know he’d have countless questions and ideas to share.  They’d all be couched in you’re doing it wrong or could do it better, but a man as brilliant as you would see through all that nonsense easily enough.  Wouldn’t it be nice to actually get to talk music with someone who knows what you’re talking about  and feels the way to do about the music he plays or hears?”

Greg wasn’t sure he had Mycroft until that last bit when something lit in the composer’s eyes and began to glow brightly.

      “That… what an intriguing notion.  The boy is talented, that is unquestionable, and it has been a veritable eternity since I have conversed with one who understands the nature of music, inhabits it as I do.  You truly believe he would protect my secret, Gregory?  It is my very existence in jeopardy should my reality become known.”

      “I truly believe it.  He’ll pretend otherwise, but he’ll be very aware how dangerous it would be for you if word got out and… he’s prickly, a thousand hedgehogs aren’t as prickly, but his heart is a good one.  He wouldn’t wish you harm.  Real harm, that is.  He’ll annoy, inconvenience, embarrass and harangue you mercilessly, but the very few times I’ve seen him accidentally hurt, as opposed to insult, someone by word or deed, it’s devastated him.”

      “Much like my brother, Sherrinford.  His tongue could be sharp and he often spoke without thinking, but the intention was never to cause true pain.”

      “Sounds like Sherlock’s got a bit of your brother and a lot of your mother in him.  I feel I ought to ask, since ghosts often have a… tragic start… did anything happen to your mum?”

      “An excellent question.  She lived here for a good number of years, most contentedly, then for a reason I have never known, went to London.  She… there are conflicting stories about how she met her end.  All agree she was waiting in the Underground and fell in front of a train.  However, a few witnesses stated she was arguing with a man before hand and two accounts claim he pushed her into the path of the oncoming train.  There is no consensus and the police, apparently, did not pursue those statements as they were far in the minority.  One notation by a constable indicated he believed one of the two witnesses, further, was worse for drink.”

      “What do you believe?”

      “I do not know.  I wish to believe it was an accident, however… that I also believe she lingers here, hoping one day I understand her wants, does not greatly support the first belief.”

      “Think she wants you to find her murderer?”

      “I have no idea but I hope that is not the task for which I was… transformed… for I was also not granted the means to travel through time and watch the terrible event occur.”

      “Yeah, I can see where that might be a problem.  I’ll see what’s in the records for it, though, in the police files.  Maybe there’s something I the newspaper archives, as well, along with what the Transport people might have tucked away.  I know this is painful for you, Mycroft, but if I can unearth some information, I will let you know.”

      “Thank you, Gregory.  And, yes… it is painful, but not as much as in years gone by.  So many, many years gone by there are now, too.  I forget at times how long it has been.  For many things.”

The tragic wistfulness in Mycroft’s eyes made Greg feel like an utter heel for what he was about to ask, but his DI instincts wouldn’t let him rest if he didn’t.

      “Mycroft… in my work, there are certain questions we ask as a matter of course, just routine stuff, like what people’s alibis are for the time of death…”

      “You want to know where I was when Mummy died?”

      “Ummm… if you wouldn’t mind.  You are the one being haunted, after all.”

Instead of the offended outburst or denial he’d been expecting, Greg was awarded the joyful sound of laughter.

      “Oh, Gregory… I am delighted!  Not to be considered a potential suspect, but that you are taking this most seriously.  I had hoped that your solicitousness was not merely a placation, and now I have rather stellar evidence which is very much to your credit.  And, for the official record, I was in Geneva.  I received a telegram notifying me of the incident.”

      “Good!  I can cross you off my list.  Your brother?”

      “He was at his residence that day, with his wife.”

      “Ok, your father?”

      “That… is very good question.”

      “Uh oh.”

      “He maintained that he, also, was at home that day, however, he had unexpectedly the day before given the servants the day free and the gardener told Sherrinford that he thought he saw father embarking the train that morning.  He could not be certain, for he was somewhat in a hurry himself, but he never wavered from a strong impression that the man he saw was Father.”

      “Ok, if he was alive, I would be following up with statements from the staff and train station personnel, getting the train schedule and questioning those working that particular shift, as well as those working the London end… and having a long chat with your dad about his whereabouts and status of his relations with your mum, disposition of her properties after her death, etc.  Then it would be your mum’s friends and any house staff to track her movements on the day she died and those that led up to it.  Run financial checks, talk to employers… not quite lines of questioning I can pursue now, though.”

      “Might you consult with the various individuals who take up long-ago crimes and seek their solution in… some way?”

      “You mean the non-fiction writers and BBC types who are looking for a profitable outcome of their work?  It’s not a bad idea, I suppose, but they usually have a big ‘this is what we think happened’ caveat at the beginning or end and don’t come to a definitive conclusion.  Some do, because they dig up records the police don’t have access to or didn’t know existed, but… it’s a strategy if other lines of investigation fail.  That’s why I want Sherlock on this, though.  The plod comes about asking questions… it makes some people more cooperative and some people less.  Having both police and non-police sniffing around can maximize the number of doors opened for you.”

      “Yes… I see.”

      “That was a pregnant pause.”

      “Guilty.  Let us hope the child shall be healthy, wealthy and wise.  In any case, and rather amusingly, I was contemplating how I might participate in this inquiry.”

      “Answering questions, looking over information we find…”

      “Would it not be more helpful if I was more… present?”

      “I… no.  No, you are not coming to London.”

      “I admit I am repulsive, however…”

      “WHAT!  No, you prat.  That’s not it.  First, it’s bloody hard to get around London if you’re non-disabled, let alone have motion problems.  Second, you said you don’t do more than a brief toddle around your gardens.  You have no idea what would happen if you went further afield.  I won’t see you endangered, Mycroft.  Aware, real and here is better than… gone.”

      “So… you do not find me repulsive?”

      “That whole valorous speech and all you got out of it was I think you’re attractive?”

      “Oh my, that is quite an escalation from my statement, but I am certainly delighted by it.”

Greg threw up his hands and glared at Mycroft who beamed proudly and, though Greg would not admit it, gorgeously, too.

      “You are a pain in my arse, Mycroft Holmes.”

      “A classically beautiful pain with, if I might be so bold, an exquisite arse, besides.”

Greg tried a power glare, hoping the essence of Sherlock would work against a family member, but he started laughing two seconds into it and totally ruined the thunderous effect.

      “Yeah, I can’t argue against any of that.  Your arse is something a painter or sculptor would love to feature in some work of art.”

      “You assume it has not already?”

      “Wha… there’s a painting of your arse?”

      “Something more… accurate.”

      “A photograph!”

      “Photograph… such a singular word.”

      “Plural!  There’s a plural of photograph of your arse!”

      “Oh yes.”

      “Then I must see the plurality.”

      “Gregory… I think not.”

      “I think so or you wouldn’t have mentioned it and used a sultry tone.”

      “Was my tone sultry?”

Mycroft purred in sultry tones.

      “Yes, since it was exactly like that one.”

      “Very well.  If only to assuage your curiosity.”

      “Very well, if only to show off your exquisite arse because you adore the thought of me getting a peek at that lusciousness.”

Greg had no idea how they so quickly gotten to sexy talk, but he was very supportive of the method, whatever the hell it was.

      “Follow me.”

Oh, go ahead and use a beckoning finger, Mycroft Holmes.  Seriously, go ahead because that finger actually seems to control my libido switch and flipped it up to smoldering.  Given Mycroft could do things like play a piano and lift a fork, he was certainly corporeal enough for any sort of fun this old DI might have in mind.

And we’re in your bedroom!  This is a very suitable place for old DI fun.  Or young DI fun.  Sex.  I’m talking about sex, Mycroft.  Not that you can hear any of this, but that’s not stopping my brain running wild at the moment and oh god you’re getting out an enormous photo box…

      “Here we are.  Note, of course, I was but a youth at the time, only 23 years to my name.  A mere nymph compared to what I later became.”

Opening the box, Mycroft flipped through the contents and extracted a large photograph, then a series of others, handing them over to Greg for viewing.

      “Oh my god…”

Greg was very approving of nudity for many reasons, but had always found the human body an incredible subject for artists.  This… this was a prime example of why.  The photographs were truly example of art.  Very old, with that old quality that made them seem almost unreal like, oddly, they were photographs of ghosts.

And this ghost was a glorious figure.  Long lean limbs, flawless creamy skin, an arse that made you want to fall to your knees in worship and a cock which was so beautifully formed it would make an angel weep with joy.  Or lust.  Both, actually.

      “Mycroft…”

      “Yes… deliciously tawdry of me, wasn’t it?  An acquaintance of mine was experimenting with photography and asked if I would pose for him.  Isn’t the light for these breathtaking?  Perfectly angled through the windows to create truly stunning images.”

No, what does that, Mycroft, is your body, which cannot even be approached by the word stunning.  And you face… dreamy, sensual, alluring… this is the sort of face you fall in love with even if you never speak a word to the person as long as you live.

      “They’re… art.  Actual, honest art.”

      “I was surprisingly pleased.  And a touch drunk when they were taken.  Absinthe, of course.  We were enjoying a rather debauched day.”

Naked, sultry Mycroft and absinthe.   Yes, my old lonely cock, I am clearly recognizing your reaction to this idea.  And I approve of it wholeheartedly.

      “These could be in a museum.  Or one of those high-end photography books that win awards.  Seriously, Mycroft… I’m transfixed.”

      “One did, by happenstance, appear in print.”

      “WHAT!”

      “Geoffrey, my photographer, was but a dabbler, but he gained some mild acclaim for his work.  I kept the photographs he made of me, for they were experimental pieces and… well, even a musical genius was held to some standards of decorum.  One, however, I could allow out of my hands for his use.  He made two copies of this one…”

Mycroft removed another photo from his collection, obviously taken the same day, of his naked self standing in front of a large window, gazing out into the sunshine, one arm upraised holding back the drapes and the other reaching over Mycroft’s head to clasp the first by the wrist.  Not a bit of his face could be seen, but that in no manner diminished the power and beauty of the piece.

      “That, ultimately was published with some vapid title such as Youth Contemplates Nature or something equally fatuous.  I was more inclined in my youth to suffer such inanity.  Like many, I fancied myself more bohemian than I was truly… I shall not say the tendency passed wholly into history as did my milk teeth, but it quiesced into something more refined and reserved for those with whom I shared more than a taste for a warm afternoon and a few glasses of highly potent drink.”

      “The world was blessed for even this one photo, truly blessed.  Get the chance to see that gorgeousness every day?  Blessed.”

      “You flatter me, Gregory.”

      “I’m just being honest.  Do you really have no idea how bewitching you are?  And not because you’re a ghost, either.”

      “I am not a ghost.  But… I do appreciate being considered bewitching.  It was a goal, in a sense, when I played for an audience, but for a private audience, I would enjoy amending the intention of the bewitching somewhat.”

      “Enjoy, you say…”

Only Mycroft knew how much Mycroft was fearful of his next move, but fear had never stopped him from doing a single thing in his life and he certainly would not let it hold sway now.  Leaning forward, he pressed his lips to Greg’s, savoring the rush of sensations such a simple gesture flooded through him.

      “Yes, enjoy is the correct term.”

This time it was Greg leaning in for a kiss and, though his brain might have been gibbering slightly at what might result from kissing a long maybe-dead Mycroft Holmes, none of the horror- or fantasy-novel possibilities were quite ghastly enough to shove down the greater desire to bask further in the sense of perfection he gained from kissing this unique man.

      “Oh.  You did not turn to stone, perish or receive in my stead my disfigured body and eternal curse.”

      “You thought that might happen!”

      “I had no idea, though I thought the possibility extremely minor, at best.”

      “Lovely.  Give the man a nice kiss and he’s a bit deflated the whole business didn’t turn into a scene from a cheap horror film.”

      “It was an intriguing question, was it not?”

      “No.  Yeah, ok, it was.  Looks like we answered it, though.  However shall we celebrate?”

Mycroft smiled what Greg could only call a predatory smile and snaked a hand around Greg’s neck to gently draw him in for another kiss, this one so blistering with heat that Greg quickly budged away from the photographs in case they started to combust.

      “Gregory…”

That was the silkiest purr ever to flow into Greg’s ears.

      “… how greatly you stir my passions.  You upheave my soul in the most transfiguring of ways.”

      “Mycroft… I know we haven’t known each long…”

      “Time is an illusion.  An artifice for the small and pedantic.  Inspiration, Gregory… inspiration and passion.  From you I have gained both and would return them in kind.”

      “I don’t know if I can settle for a one-off shag, Mycroft.”

      “Then luck is yours, for I have no intention perpetrating such an insult.  I do not know long you might find me intriguing or desire the pleasure I long to give you, but for that time… I will share with you my body and companionship.  And do so gladly.”

No heroine in a gothic romance could possibly have a heart beating as quickly as his, in Greg’s opinion, but if he started roaming the moors in a long, white dress, he’d still be glad he let a romantic ghost shag him senseless.  Slowly backing towards the large, ornate bed, Greg shared a smoldering smile with Mycroft and drew them both into a kiss that lasted after his legs hit the mattress and he let Mycroft guide him down onto the mattress.  The composer may possibly be dead and perhaps a ghost but the man certainly knew his way around the male body.

And Mr. Gregory Lestrade was more than happy to be the lucky recipient of that expertise, whether it was bestowed by an spectral apparition or not…

Chapter Text

There was a feeling when you were well and truly shagged and woke up in the bed that still smelled of that well and true shagging that could only be described as incredible.

It was a little less incredible when you realized that you were alone in that bed and your lover wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

      “Mycroft?”

Ok, senses now fully engaged and… oh yes.  The sound of a piano being played.  And, the sun wasn’t up yet, so… actually it was still in that time of the night where you could acceptably call it late, though it was more accurately described as early and… piano stopped.  Now it’s going again and… that’s the same bit he just played, but a tad different.  And stopped.

Composing.  Writing something new.  Ok, it might be wildly vain to imagine that he was inspired by their bit of fun and simply had to get to his piano and work the inspiration out of his system, but that’s exactly what it seemed like and, since it was highly flattering, that’s what this foggy DI brain would choose to believe.

Because… wow.  Maybe it was because Mycroft likely hadn’t had sex in a very long time, but he liked to think it was because Mycroft was an incredibly passionate man and that passion showed itself in a variety of ways.  Music, being one.  Hot, mind-shattering sex being another.  He would never have expected when his car decided to die… the first time… that it would lead to him having a night of amazing sex with a maybe-dead man, but if you didn’t feel grateful for the universe’s little gifts, no matter how strange, then you were a humbug.

Greg Lestrade was no humbug.  He was also not getting out of this cozy bed when he could lie here and listen to Mycroft create a new piece of brilliance.  The rain sounding against the window, the music winding its way up the stairs, the occasional flashes of FUCK!

Bolting upright, Greg struggled to control the beating of his heart and looked madly around the room.  That last flash of lightning.  At the foot of his bed there’d been a man.  Standing there glaring with murder in his eyes.  But… that couldn’t…

Another bright flash of lightning had Greg leaping out of the bed since the man now appeared next to him looming as if he was preparing to…

Now Greg was diving behind an armchair since a third flash brought the man standing in front of him with something long and gleaming in his hand.  A hand that was rising as if to stab him directly in the heart.  Looking about for a weapon and finding nothing, Greg eyed the distance to the door and was preparing to make a run for it when another flash of lightning lit the room and he caught sight of his attacker standing between him and the door but… only for an instant.  Before the flash faded, a blur seemed to wrap itself around the more fully-formed figure and both vanished from the room.

Or did they?  Were they ever there at all?  Greg blinked the fear and panic out of his brain and took note of the silver candlesticks on the hearth and the large dressing mirror, the fatigue still heavy in his thoughts, as well as the overall eeriness of the house and room… none of this was a dream, that much was certain, but was it more a figment of an overheated imagination seeing what it wanted to see?  What it expected to see in a house like this, on a night like this?

Since he wasn’t going to get any answers crouching naked behind a chair, Greg found a dressing gown and slippers that Mycroft had apparently laid out for him, donned it, padded downstairs and thought a moment before making himself a cup of tea, instead of pouting himself a large brandy.  Tea in hand, he finally crept into the conservatory so as not to disturb the man at the piano.

Some people might be annoyed at being completely unnoticed, but Greg was more than content to sit unremarked, sip his tea and both listen to and watch Mycroft at work.  It was doing wonders for his nerves, actually.  This, definitely, was real.  There was a real person creating art and he was privileged enough to be there when it happened.  Though it did draw up some true feelings of regret.  All this beauty, this astonishingly gorgeous music had no audience.  It stayed within these walls and nobody outside Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson ever heard it.  That was a crime, in his opinion. A tragedy.  In a world far too filled with them already.

__________

Greg had no idea when he nodded off, but woke to find a blanket over him and his teacup gone from the table next to his chair.

      “You are an incomparable muse, Gregory.  Even when lost to the arms of Morpheus.”

That voice was nearly as majestic as the music still playing in the room…

      “Glad to hear the drooling and snoring didn’t put you off.”

      “You do surprisingly little of either and embrace sleep so tightly that I admire your commitment to that state of being.  A condition, sleep, that is fraught with potential to cleanse the mind or fill it the messages from one’s deepest soul.”

Yeah, about that…

      “Can I ask you a question?”

      “Of course.”

      “Are there any other ghosts here besides your mum?”

The pause in the playing answered Greg’s question handily.

      “Whyever would you think that?”

      “Meaning yes, there is, but what did I see or hear that leads me to that conclusion.”

Mycroft’s shoulders slumped slightly and he turned to study Greg’s face.

      “You did experience a presence.  One that troubled you.”

      “I’d say being attacked with a knife is troubling, yes.”

      “What?  No, that has never before happened.”

      “Well, I won’t put it at 100% real, because I was just waking, but having a figure appear, get closer, then raise what looked exactly like a knife to stab me does put it at over 90 % in my opinion.”

      “Dear heavens, Gregory… I… that is horrifying.”

      “I’m lucky that… ok, this part is also strange, but it seemed as if another apparition pulled the first one away from me.  I couldn’t see anything about it clearly, it was just a… smear of reality… but it covered the first one and then they both disappeared.”

      “The first figure… what detail could you discern?”

      “Ummm… it was a man, that much I know.  I… I don’t remember his face well.  I swear I could see it, but the part I focused on was his eyes.  They were angry, furiously angry.  He didn’t say anything, though.  Just appeared when the lightning flashed and… I do remember one other thing.  He was wearing a ring.  I saw it when he was lifting what I saw as a knife.  A silver ring with a large purple stone. That’s why I remembered it – I’ve seen stones in men’s rings, but I don’t often see purple ones.  At least, I think it was purple.  It could have been a blue, I guess.  The light wasn’t good and I wasn’t thinking too clearly.”

The large sigh from the composer was a clear sign that, yes, the stone was purple and, further, Mycroft knew more about it than the color.

      “An amethyst.  Peruzzi cut, which was extremely unusual.”

      “You know it.”

      “I should.  I saw it upon my father’s hand every single day.”

Greg’s eyes widened, but he decided that shouting and running in a circle gibbering in terror that there was another ghost in the house and that he’d been left alone in bed with that ghost on the loose having free access to cutlery.

      “Oh… did you know he was here, too?”

      “I suspected it but, as for my mother, I had no firm proof.  In truth, I have never seen him in this house, though I have felt a presence, now and again, that was not… I cannot say my more active specter is benevolent, but it exudes less of a malevolent energy than this other haunting.  Mrs. Hudson has seen a shadow, an impenetrable shadow she also believed to be a man, though his features were never discernable.”

      “Then, why now?  Did he… was he angry about your liking men?”

Given Mycroft’s father was a right bastard, this seemed highly likely.

      “He found it contemptible, however, I was discreet with my activities and never gave him or any of the family reason for embarrassment.  As such, he mostly left alone the topic, though he was often cold of demeanor to any male guests of mine that visited our home.”

      “What I saw wasn’t cold or contemptuous.  It was rage.  I’ve seen… felt… that before from people just before they made a terrible decision, which usually would add a lot of years to their already hefty prison sentence.”

      “I do not understand this, Gregory.  This phantasm has done nothing before except… loom.”

      “I wouldn’t have minded a bit of looming, but the attempted murder was a bit much.  Luckily, the other ghost intervened.  You’ve seen that one before, right?”

The slow shake of Mycroft’s head did not do much for making Greg a happy man.

      “No.  The various audible manifestations are the sum total of what I have experienced.  Perhaps… if pressed, I would confess to the occasional glimpse of an insubstantial figure in a mirror or pane of window glass.  The hint of a shape as I entered a room or one seen from the corner of my eye as I played.  But, I have never seen anything as you describe.  Especially something that was active, opposed to merely existing for a moment then vanishing.”

      “So, I’m the special boy, then.  Lucky me!”

      “There is meaning to this, Gregory.  I am convinced of that.”

      “I won’t say you’re wrong.  A change of habits is something, from my experience, to pay attention to.  At least when we’re working a case.  Trying to murder the DI on scene is something especially worth paying attention to.”

      “Father was not a particularly brave man.  A cruel one, but generally through word, not often through deed.  To attempt such a thing… it makes little sense, but should sense be something appropriate to consider when one is reflecting upon the actions of a phantom.”

      “What do we do?”

      “I am not a spiritualist; of my various talents cannot be counted the ability to either commune with or direct the actions of the dead.”

      “Then I’d say we have to resolve this situation sooner than later.  You may not have been bothered before, but something has changed and we don’t know how much longer that might be true.”

      “What do you suggest?”

      “I’ll get back to London and dredge up Sherlock for a chat.  Or, better yet…”

Greg made a ‘one moment’ gesture and darted out of the room, returning a few minutes later dressed in the previous day’s clothes and pressing his mobile to his ear.

      “Knowing Sherlock, he’ll be awake at this hour.  It’s just a question of whether he’ll be willing to answer the… Sherlock!  Bugger off, you evil infant.  Look, I’m at the Holmes house and… why do you care?  Shagging a ghost, if you want to know.  Then don’t be nosy.  I’m with Mrs. Hudson’s nephew and he’d like to invite you out here today for a chat about Mycroft Holmes and his music.  Do I sound drunk?  Look, he’s a genuine expert and does have more of those pieces of sheet music, so this is your chance to pick his brain and have a look at his collection.  Yes, I will arrest you if you steal something.  Maybe.  He might.  I’m convinced he is, yes.  Answered all my questions convincingly.  Well, then you come and find out yourself.  Fine.  Starter for 10, then, whatever you want.  I’ll phone Sgt. Walker and ok you taking a car.  Because I need a car.  Because mine got struck by lightning and died.  No, I’m not joking.  Yes, you can bring your gadgets and run some tests.  Ok.  No.  Especially no.  Ok.  Yeah, bye.”

      “Gregory?”

      “He’s on his way.  The chance to prove you know nothing about Mycroft Holmes and to see your music overcame his reluctance to do anything I asked outright and if he’s not here in time for breakfast, I’ll be surprised.  Though it would save me smoothing over problems with the local lads when he’s exceeding the speed limits by a few hundred miles per hour if I’m proved wrong.”

      “A hooligan.  Lovely.  Sherrinford would be aghast.  He lacked even a scintilla of hooliganism in his blood.  More’s the pity.”

      “Sherlock’s a lively one, that’s for certain.  Be prepared to guard your music with your life… or whatnot.  He’s not above tucking things into his coat or trousers when he takes a liking to them.”

The bright peal of silvery giggles startled both men, but Greg took it as a good sign the earlier nastiness was a thing of the past.  For now.

      “If you’re as independent and artistic as Mycroft says you are, ma’am, you’ll adore Sherlock.  Bit of an acquired taste, but a good lad at heart.”

      “Gregory, really.”

      “What?  That’s probably your mum!  You have to be nice to mums.  It’s in the rules.”

      “Which rules?”

      “The ‘oh, I’ve got a man in my house, who was formerly in my bed, and now my mum’s here smiling and asking if we’d like tea’ rules.”

      “Mummy was not prudish.  Nor particularly interested in making tea.”

      “A gin woman, then?”

      “Whisky, actually.  Father disapproved terribly, so she mostly sipped sherry when he was present, then emptied the glass in a swallow and filled it with his good whisky after he departed.”

      “Ok, I officially like your mum.  Even if she’s haunting your ghost, she’s tops in my estimation.”

      “I am not a ghost.  Could a ghost pleasure you as thoroughly as I did last night?”

Oh that grin.  That’s a knickers-dropping grin and it works just as well on tired boxer briefs.

      “Hmmm… I’m not certain.  I might need a greater sample size for analysis to make a truly informed decision.”

      “Most scientific.  Science and art are most complementary, I find.”

      “And you’re going to demonstrate that perspective to me, I wager.”

      “As often as you like.”

Chapter Text

Starting the day with breakfast in bed was glorious.  Except when it was served by a housekeeper with a knowing look in her eye.

      “Something to fortify you two for the day.  It’ll be an interesting one, I wager, since the local lads already phoned to say Sherlock’s in their cells for trying to break the sound barrier through the village.  I think they’re amenable to releasing him to a higher-ranking officer, so you can use my car to go and collect him, Mr. Detective Inspector from London.”

Greg smacked the laughing Mycroft on the thigh, the naked thigh, which he knew Mrs. Hudson must know since they were both under the same sheet and naked from the waist up, and… this was almost as bad as your mum catching you shagging!  Not that they were shagging now, of course.  They were about 20 minutes ago and that was almost a bullet too close for dodging.

      “Ok.”

      “That’s it?”

      “Ok, Mrs. Hudson?”

      “Try to sound more authoritative when you chat with the sergeant.”

      “I will.”

      “I’ll have your clothes pressed a bit so you don’t look a rumpled mess.”

      “Thank you.”

Setting the large tray down on bedside table, Mrs. Hudson merely gave a haughty sniff as her response and waited until she was out of the bedroom before doing a dance that continued down the stairs.  Her Mr. Holmes had sex!  With someone he didn’t have to pay!  Not that he’d done that while he was… dead… but she’d suggested it often enough as a way to bring a little fun into his life.  And that Mr. Lestrade was a good one, too.  Good looking, especially.  She’d be going after him herself if she was a few decades younger.  And he wasn’t already smitten with her employer.

Now, time to get clothes pressed, do a spot of tidying and start thinking about lunch.  For an extra mouth, too.  Two extra mouths, really, but Mr. Lestrade was a familiar mouth.  Very familiar, most likely, to a certain musician after last night…

__________

      “Does Mrs. Hudson always serve you breakfast in bed?”

      “No, never in my… life… has she done such a thing.  For you, she has provided a special service.”

      “She was hoping to see me naked wasn’t she?”

      “Most likely.  Her taste for the male form is positively exquisite.”

      “Well, that’s nice.  I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life.”

      “I would think it would take far more to embarrass you, Gregory.  You were positively shameless last night.”

Greg couldn’t stop the smile creeping onto his lips if he tried.  Fortunately, he had no desire to try.

      “I’ve got shame.  There’s nothing shameful about sex, though, is there?”

      “Not at all!  Even in my time, the various prohibitions and protestations were for one’s societal self.  One’s private self could indulge in a wondrous variety of sexual pleasures.  Some did require more discretion than others but that did not mean they were not available to sample.  I find sex a delightful activity, physically, but when you step beyond the physical, which is a rare thing to accomplish, it soars to unimaginable heights.  The union of mind, body and soul… it is a heady thing.  There is reason it has served as the fount of inspiration for so many of the creatively inclined.  It takes a special person, someone touched by the muses and favored by the Fates to weave lasting beauty from their sexual energies.  And, of course, one requires the proper inspiration.  You, Gregory… when I say you inspire me, I do not say it lightly.”

Mycroft leaned over and positioned himself so his leg draped across Greg’s as he kissed him with a gentle, simmering heat.

      “Now, we shall breakfast and begin what I anticipate will be a tumultuous visit with your Sherlock.  He seems a pestiferous individual and, from your words, I glean that is his normal state of being.”

Greg gave Mycroft a peck on the lips and rolled over to lift the breakfast tray which was, since Mrs. Hudson had a very good idea of the lustful urges of well-matched men, provided with a thoroughly-insulated pot of tea, pastries, fresh fruit, cheese and savory biscuits.

      “It is.  You just mentally make your groceries list while he’s nattering on with this complaint or that and wait for him to get it out of his system.”

      “My worry is he shall enact his inanity on the local constables.  What is the status of laws concerning the treatment of prisoners currently?  Can they still be flogged?”

      “No, but he’s had a few close calls, now that I think about it.  Better not have him wait too long to be collected.”

      “We shall not overly hurry our breakfast, though, of course.”

      “God no.  They’ll start with the treadwheel or something before the flogging begins, so we’ve got time.  Tea?”

      “Love some.  A bit of warmth for the body while I contemplate my family paying its debt to the Crown.  My uncle Rudolph spent several days in the custody of the law, at one point.”

      “What was the charge?”

      “Strangely, he would never say.  However, from that point on the magistrate was a frequent visitor to his country home.”

      “That sounds a touch shady.”

      “Not if one knows the magistrate was a lifelong bachelor and dear Uncle Rudy was a highly private man.”

      “Ah, love.  Or lust.  Whichever, it’s a grand thing even if it starts with a night in the nick.”

__________

      “They had no right to arrest me!”

      “They had every right.  It’s called the law.”

Greg frog marched Sherlock out of the local police station and towards their cars.

      “Pfft.”

      “Lovely.  You’re just lucky they were willing to let the matter drop with only a caution against driving like a maniac.  Do me a favor, will you?  Keep your horrible driving on the good side of law-breaking?  Especially here?  I really don’t need a bad name growing in the area.”

      “Why not?  You have already blackened your name thoroughly in London.”

      “Funny.  And it’s because… reasons.”

      “That makes no sense.”

      “Maybe they’ll make more sense in a bit.  It’s a short drive to the Holmes house, but try not to get arrested again on the way there.”

      “I make no promises.”

      “Yeah, I really expected no less.”

__________

      “I suppose I have to let you in, this time.”

Mrs. Hudson glared at Sherlock who glared back but, Greg was happy to see, with a bit of worry at the edge of his eyes because there was little doubt who’d win a glaring contest here if it went on long enough.  Smart of the lad knowing it wouldn’t be him.

      “Come on, then.  He’s in the conservatory.”

As if Greg didn’t know from the music playing that still drew him like that moth to the flame.  It seemed to have the same effect on Sherlock, too, who was marching towards the source with a look of determination on his face.  Without preamble, Sherlock planted his feet in the conservatory and took a book from his pocket, opened it to a page and cleared his throat.

      “What piece did Mycroft Holmes perform in Barcelona in 1901?”

The playing didn’t pause, though the volume lowered enough for a response to be heard without shouting, unlike someone who would remain nameless.  Though he was most definitely named Sherlock.

      “None.  The only performance in Barcelona was in 1898 and it was positively ghastly.  The venue was only partially constructed and the acoustical attributes were shockingly bad.”

      “An acceptable answer.”

      “Meaning he was correct.”

      “Be quiet, Lestrade.  Question 2 – how was the Rose Concerto modified in 1903?”

      “Modified… an interesting word.  Can you modify a work of art?  Or does any change create it anew?  Or create something different entirely?”

      “One must first broach whether art is a static construct or a dynamic one.  If we begin with the premise of… that is irrelevant.  Answer the question.”

Mycroft was still playing the piano, so Greg couldn’t see his face, but there was no doubt in his mind that he was grinning as merrily as he was playing.

      “An additional few minutes was added to the opening movement to accommodate it being used in a new ballet.  Not that it mattered, of course.  When the ballet was first performed the conductor and orchestra were given the original musical score, rather than the modified one.  The principal dancer recognized the failure of the orchestra to implement the new tempo that was also threaded into several passages that led to the new music and ultimately improvised the end of that particular segment of the performance to accommodate the shorter-than-rehearsed score.  The choreographer was furious, but the audience failed to notice anything amiss and it made no appreciable difference in the overall performance, so the changes were, ultimately, removed.”

      “A scholarly response.”

      “Thank you.”

      “That anyone with an even cursory knowledge of music history could provide.”

      “I disagree.”

      “Your disagreement is misplaced.  Lestrade could have done as well and he is musically, and intellectually, inept.”

      “Hey!”

      “Watch your tongue, Sherlock, else your visit here shall be for naught.  And there will not be another.”

Greg’s smiled quietly, both at the rebuke and the tone Mycroft used to deliver it.  Not too dissimilar to the tone he used to mutter the filthiest, most exciting things imaginable in his ear the previous night.

      “Pfft.  Question 3 – why were The Fairy Tale Suite recordings from Paris destroyed?”

      “Good heavens, that is even a better-known thing that the modification of the Rose Concerto.  A composer-production dispute that could not be resolved.”

      “False.”

      “Again, I disagree.”

      “Who was David Stanhope?”

It was only the briefest of lapses, but Greg caught the tiny pause in the music and it tapped on his curiosity to get its full attention.

      “I… he was the middle son of an earl who owned the company which hoped to produce and distribute the recordings.  The Fairy Tale Suite was to be its first noteworthy release.”

      “Nothing further?”

      “That was sufficiently factual to address your question.”

      “Very well, I shall restate.  Who was David Stanhope to Mycroft Holmes?”

The triumphant note to Sherlock’s words did not slip Greg’s notice and he simply waited patiently to see where this was leading.

      “Stanhope made the original offer to record the piece and brokered the details of the final agreement.”

      “As I suspected.  An expert only in the basic material that could be learned from an out-of-date encyclopedia.  My time has been well and truly wasted, in terms of gaining genuine discourse concerning my relation and his works.  Simply provide access to the original scores for me to study and I will refrain from further comment concerning your lack of knowledge to spare you further humiliation.”

Now the playing stopped entirely and the figure at the piano sat straighter and squared his shoulders, staring out across the piano body and through the window beyond.

      “David Stanhope was Mycroft Holmes’s lover.  On the basis of that relationship, Holmes agreed to nurture David’s new endeavor, providing suggestions for musicians who might agree to work with David for something less than their normal spoils and, ultimately, to donate to the cause a recording of his own music, which would have done much to bring the company to the attention of the music world at the time.  Stanhope… let us say he was not a scrupulous fellow, in business or in romance.  When Holmes confronted him about an affair, and not the first about which he had been confronted, David threatened to reveal Holmes’s homosexuality to the press and do what he could to besmirch his reputation should Holmes dare to leave their relationship.  Fortunately, David’s exceptional beauty was not equaled by an exceptional character, so it was not difficult for Holmes to secure records of illicit business dealings and use them as leverage against him to both drop his ridiculous threat and sever their business relationship completely including destroying all copies made to date of The Fairy Tale Suite.  From what I gather, however, David saved one set of recordings and it seems to have been found very near where his family home resides in Essex.  There.  Does that satisfy you, Sherlock?”

Greg realized he was holding his breath and did his best to let it out silently, not to disturb the stillness in the room that followed Mycroft’s speech.

      “The blackmail issue has never been revealed.”

      “Yet you seem aware of it.  I would ask how.”

Sherlock reached into an inner pocket of his coat and drew out another book, this far older than the first.

      “October 7.  David is pestilence made flesh.  I shall curse his name until the fires of damnation rain upon this Earth at the End of Days.”

Two things happened simultaneously.  The first was Mycroft whirling on his piano bench to stare shocked at Sherlock and the second was for Sherlock to stare shocked at Mycroft.

      “Where did you acquire my diary?”

      “How are you alive?”

      “My diary!”

      “A ghost!”

      “I am not a ghost!  Give me my diary!”

Mycroft leapt forward to snatch the book from Sherlock’s hand, which served as some evidence of his non-ghostly existence, since he held it fast to his chest without it passing through an insubstantial form.

      “I have looked for this for so long…”

      “It was in a cache of personal items taken from this house when… you died… and stole the house from the family to give it to your housekeeper.”

      “Nothing was supposed to be removed.  Nothing!”

      “Apparently, your housekeeper took pity on us and gathered a few things for the family to have as keepsakes.  I am told the cousin who collected them… accidentally tucked in a few extra items before they left the premises.”

      “I knew it!  How does a body lose an umbrella when one has not left the house!”

      “It is an ugly umbrella.”

      “How dare you.  I chose that myself.”

      “You have ugly taste in umbrellas.”

      “Coming from an infant dressed like… that… your words hold little weight.”

      “What is wrong with how I’m dressed?”

      “Everything.  Really, there is not enough time in the remainder of the universe’s existence to enumerate the flaws with your garments.  And grooming.”

      “You dare?”

      “I do dare.”

Greg looked between the two men and marveled how quickly this had veered from the original purpose of the visit and how quickly typical family dynamics snapped into place once the two met.  Weirdly, given the age Mycroft Holmes died, or didn’t die, he was about seven years older than Sherlock.  That should make things interesting.

      “No, you are the dunderhead, stupid ghost.”

Very interesting, indeed…

__________

Part of Greg’s police training had been in crowd control, which came in handy even if the crowd amounted to two individuals.  Fortunately, he didn’t have to resort to full riot gear to get the conversation back on productive track, something that the library and a warm fire was doing a lot to promote.  A good cup of tea was helping, too.  Even Sherlock approved and he was a terrible snob for tea.  Come to think of it, though, so was Mycroft…

      “I know the key of which you speak.  It is somewhere in my flat.  Not overly large, but old.  It is no longer attached to the hemp twine, but it still remained when I was a child.  I removed it to better study the key itself.  It was my first attempt to deduce the type of object for which the key was made.  It was fashioned for something very much like the trunk you describe.”

Mycroft nodded slowly, though not necessarily happily.

      “Your phrasing indicates you are not in possession of the trunk.”

      “I am not.  I tried the key on every suitable example I could find at any property still in family hands… ahem, hint, hint… however to no avail.”

      “Your embarrassing attempt at implication aside, nothing of that sort exists here, either.”

      “Are you certain?”

      “I have had a rather extensive amount of time to be certain.”

Sherlock blinked at the sudden memory of who it was sitting across from him in the library and that the entire conversation was nothing short of fantastical.  However, there was no doubt he was speaking to the Mycroft Holmes and his mind, for a reason even he could not fathom, was not at all uncomfortable with the revelation.  It likely had much to do with his advanced intelligence and… other things that were very important and relevant.

      “Be that as it may... I also have a pen case for which there is no pen.  It was in my grandfather’s effects and, as far as I know, the case has always been without its pen.  The set would not have been an expensive one and the case appears well used.”

      “That would seem a match for the pen in my dreams.  Your grandfather’s you say… young William.”

      “I was named for him.”

Greg’s ears pricked up sharply.  Sherlock never mentioned his full, real name to anyone.

      “He was a delightful young man.  A keen mind, but a playful spirit.  I saw little of him in the years before I… became who I am, for I was abroad much of the time, but we corresponded often.  He made a fine life for himself, from what I understand.”

      “A capable businessman, to be certain.  I was always more impressed by his scholarship.  He published several tomes on economics theory that were most advanced for the time.”

      “His father had a talent for finance, one he ardently pursued.  I have a similar one, though I used it only for my own purposes and not to develop business interests.  It irritated Sherrinford to no end that I had no interest in promoting the financial side of my music beyond what was required to fund the lifestyle I preferred.  It has been more than sufficient, however, to continue to sustain my existence without having to take actual employment, which is not something I can readily do and maintain the secret of my existence.”

      “No, I suppose not.  The tin whistle, however… that does not sound familiar.  I will look again, though, to see if I possess it.  Now, tell me more about the other ghosts.  When will they manifest?”

Greg grinned at Mycroft’s exasperated eyeroll at the ‘other ghosts’ remark, but there was almost a doting edge to it that Mycroft, he thought, wore well.  Little Sherlock might be finding another proud dad to call his own.

      “I have never experienced any manifestations before nightfall.  After midnight, most commonly, but not exclusively.”

      “Inconvenient.”

      “I doubt specters care much for our convenience.”

      “Perhaps not.  However, I wish to question them and it seems I must now remain here to do so.”

Mycroft cut eyes at Greg who simply shrugged.

      “How do you intend to question an apparition?”

      “In whatever manner is successful.”

      “Meaning?”

      “Exactly what I said.”

      “Indicating you do not know.  Very well, you are welcome to remain here and perpetrate whatever mystical machinations you concoct from the overheated whimsy of whatever dreadful films or novels you have consumed on the topic.”

Sherlock waved off the insult while Greg smirked at the failed attempt to conceal his glee.  Sherlock was doing everything he could to appear utterly unfazed by the situation, but he was practically leaping out of his skin to learn more about Mycroft and any other supernatural elements this house might hold.  Further, the non-supernatural elements were clawing at him, too.  He’d heard Mycroft play.  He’d heard the works he created.  Musical genius and musical genius under one roof… he’d want to take advantage of that.  Even if, truth be told, he wanted to test the legend.  Sherlock was never satisfied with something until he tested it himself.  Thoroughly.

      “Well, there’s no reason I can’t take Sherlock’s car back to London and he catch the train tomorrow once he’s communed with the dead or whatever he’s got planned.  I can start making inquiries about your mum’s death.”

      “Oh…”

The startled tone took Greg off guard but he wasn’t entirely certain what bit of Mycroft’s guard had been offed.

      “Mycroft?”

      “I had… a silly thing, but I had forgotten that you must leave.”

Mycroft’s and Greg’s eyes met and held the gaze for a long time where much was communicated without the need for words.

      “Yeah, I’d sort of forgotten, too.  I’ll be back soon, though.  And I’ll phone.  Often.”

      “With that ghastly abomination of a sound defiler?”

      “Your mobile disgraces modern technology, Lestrade!  Even a moldering corpse acknowledges this fundamental fact.”

      “You can screw yourself, Sherlock.”

      “That is anatomically impossible.  I am not surprised you would make such a profound mistake in basic anatomy as you are the product of our lackluster education system and it has been a millennium since you last enacted any form of carnal activity.  Why are you smiling?  That is not a condition suitable for… why are you smiling at him?  Oh… I’m going to be sick.  Wait… is that a violation of the natural order?  Sexual congress between the living and the dead?  If you are miring me in a philosophical conundrum, Lestrade, my retribution will be both swift and furious.”

      “Are you done?”

      “Not nearly.”

      “Mycroft, want to leap in here while I see about more tea?”

      “I, also, do not wished to be mired in a philosophical conundrum, especially one that, again, likely paints me as a ghost.”

      “Then get mired in something else.  Maybe show Sherlock something you wrote that he’s not seen before.  Play it, even.  You can argue over that while I see if Mrs. Hudson will let me put the kettle on.”

      “Hmmm… perhaps Sherlock would agree to play, also.  It has been an age since I have heard Mummy’s pieces played as they were intended.”

Sherlock’s brief flash of delight extinguished almost as soon as it lit.

      “I have no instrument.”

      “I do.  One moment.”

Sherlock glowered at Greg who easily recognized it as his confused glower, as opposed to any other flavor. Sherlock had a rather robust portfolio of glowers and it was a small victory to have learned to categorize them with Greg’s level of success.  In a few minutes, Mycroft was back with an old violin case that he reverently laid on Sherlock’s lap.

      “I believe this should do nicely.”

Sherlock intensified his glower but opened the case with nearly the same reverence as Mycroft, then stared stunned at the contents.

      “This… I cannot believe what I am seeing...”

Taking the violin out of the case, Sherlock scrutinized every inch of the instrument, running his hands tenderly over its body as would a lover.

      “This is a Stradivarius.”

      “It is.  My mother’s.  I ensured it was kept far out of Father’s reach after she died.  This was her most prized possession and she more than honored its exceptional quality with her incomparable talent.  It has not been played in… oh, for a lamentably long time.  I am certain it would appreciate being coaxed to sing once more.”

Greg watched with a growing sense of pride as Sherlock quickly inspected the condition of the bow, made various preparations, tuned each string, stood and began to play.  Now it was time to watch Mycroft whose eyes were growing soft hearing the glorious music being created by his dear mother’s own violin.  Settling back in his chair, Greg finally decided the kettle could wait a bit.  Moments like this didn’t happen often enough in life to ignore any that crossed your path.

Though, if that look he shared with Mycroft was any indication, he’d have a lot of opportunities for more…

Chapter Text

      “When shall you return, Gregory?”

Greg took Mycroft in his arms and kissed him softly, reveling in the feel of the man’s lips against his own.

      “Soon.  I can never be fully certain that a day free isn’t binned by work matters, but it shouldn’t be too terribly long.  I’ll phone when I’m home tonight and… well, often enough to be embarrassing after that.”

      “I find already that I miss you, my dear.  I imagine a void where you would lie in my bed and curse it with the foulest of imprecations.”

Grinning like a lovestruck schoolboy was not what a mature, serious DI would do in this situation, but Greg remembered a time he gladly thumbed his nose at both maturity and seriousness so refused to feel ashamed of the large, boyish smile spreading across his lips.

      “I like the sound of that, though I don’t have the verbal dexterity to say something as lovely in return.  But, I will miss you, Mycroft.  I’ve enjoyed our time together, all of it, not just sexy bits, and I am anxious to be here again.  Hopefully, with news, too, about our little mystery.”

      “I have little doubt you will learn what can be learned, Gregory.  Now, you’d best be off and I shall continue to play host to young Sherlock.”

      “Have fun with that.”

      “He is a tempestuous youth, but youth carries with it the expectation of tempestuousness.  At least, for those with the greatest artistic gifts.”

      “I’ll take your word for that, since my artistic gifts are the sort you pass off to unsuspecting relatives that you see once a year at Christmas.  I’ll phone soon, alright?”

Greg leaned in and gave Mycroft a kiss, lingering a deliciously long time because it was the last kiss he’d have for at least a week and that was a tragedy, in his highly-relevant opinion.  When that one was over, a quick peck followed fast before Greg spun on his heels and he sauntered down the drive to Sherlock’s car to make his way back to London and arrange for the collection of his vehicle.  Fortunately, the evidence of a lightning strike would erase any suspicion as to how the car actually met its demise, though his team would certainly concoct some extremely elaborate stories to substitute for the truth.  That was fine with him.  It’d keep them too busy to concoct some extremely elaborate stories about the person he was visiting when Nature decided an arse-kicking was very much in order.  Those buggers could be murder when they scented romance in the air and he certainly didn’t need another murder on his plate, what with a desk piled high with folders screaming murder at him in large, official-looking font…

__________

      “Disgusting.”

Mycroft rolled his eyes and turned to face Sherlock who, like a nosy child, had been observing his and Greg’s sultry goodbye.

      “I disagree profoundly.”

      “You cannot leave this house.”

The abrupt change of conversational course took Mycroft by surprise, but Sherlock seemed very much the chaotic and unpredictable type …

      “That… I will not lie and disagree, also, on this point, however, I would ask how you came to that conclusion.”

      “Nobody in the village has seen you save an occasional glimpse through a window which many believe to be a glimpse at a dark and vengeful spirit.  Further, you were careful to keep your hands from crossing the threshold on the door, even when Lestrade was standing partially across it himself.  I, also, will not lie and deny connections to various legends and stories concerning the nature of dark and vengeful spirits may have colored my thinking, for even the most  fantastical of tale often is found to have at its root some element of truth or, at the very least, narrative logic.  Not that spirits are in any manner logical, of course.”

      “Given I am not a spirit, your point is moot.”

      “What are you, then?”

      “Never have I been able to fathom the nature of my existence after the… incident… on the train.  I am corporeal, have the standard set of human needs, have continued to nurture my already-impressive talents… for all intents and purposes, I am the same person always have I been with the exception that I have yet to die.”

      “Interesting.  Do you wish to continue in this state?”

The question took Mycroft aback and he found that a simple answer was not forthcoming.

      “Compared to what alternative?”

      “Any.”

      “That option allows for being turned into a toad by a wicked witch.”

      “Very well, if you must be pedantic, the choice between gaining, again, a finite lifespan and aging until the point of death, immediate cessation of existence, or continuing on as you are presently.”

      “Given such choices, and not one where I continue on as I do presently but with unlimited freedom of movement, then… I am not certain.  In truth, I have given the matter little attention as there are no options for me to take at this point beyond the final one on your list.”

      “You have no preference?”

      “My preference… would I choose to bring my music again to the world?  To perform, record, publish new works, interact with those who have their own talents for art, music, literature… all of that I would snatch in an instant were they put upon my proverbial plate.  However, my singular nature precludes me from said snatching and I see no method of changing the situation in any fashion.”

      “Yet you pursue both Lestrade and this little puzzle of your dreams.”

Mycroft scowled and motioned Sherlock to follow him to the library, where he poured for himself a large glass of something soothing.  Sherlock and ‘something soothing’ seemed a sensible combination at the moment.

      “You are pestiferously inquisitive.”

      “I simply seek to understand the parameters of this investigation.  What is the endpoint?  The goal?”

      Is not solving the puzzle sufficient?”

Now it was Sherlock’s turn to scowl and he fidgeted in the chair he’d taken, along with the proffered glass of Mycroft’s exceptional brandy.

      “Yes, most often.  However, I find that is not quite the case here.”

      “Your reason.”

      “I… they are mine to know and relevant only to me.”

      “Nonsensical blather.”

      “Perhaps, but the question I posed is not.  What is your goal for this investigation?”

Mycroft huffed and rolled his eyes, but not with any appreciable vigor.

      “To know, I suppose.  To understand what message I am being sent, if that is what it is that lives in my mind.  To scratch the itch that plagues my brain and be rid of it once and for all.  Beyond that… I know not.  Perhaps I hope it, further, brings resolution of the question of my existence.  Provides clarity as to what I am and for how long I will endure.  Illuminates other abilities or options for my life that I have yet to know or consider.  All of which are my business and relevant only to me, so I now stand far above you in providing information for the matter at hand.”

      “Pfft.”

      “Brilliant.”

      “I am, yes.  I am also... Lestrade is not someone I would have you hurt for the sake of slaking your unseemly lusts.”

This time Mycroft’s response did have vigor, though his eyes didn’t roll so much as widen sharply, then narrow to scrutinizing slits as he peered across the room at Sherlock’s unsmiling face.

      “An unexpected tangent in our little discussion.  I wonder why.  You assume such a thing is my intention?”

      “I assume nothing.  I am simply stating a fact.  I will be most aggrieved if your use of him, whether sexual or for his access to police resources, sees him gaining nothing in return.”

      “That… why would you think that is not my full intention?”

      “I have read your diary.”

Mycroft’s scrutinizing slits widened again, this time in something of an ‘oops’ reaction that made Sherlock snort with conviction.

      “Ah… yes.  Fair, though I am not ashamed of the fact I enjoy the various pleasures offered by this world.  And this body.”

      “A hedonist.”

      “Perhaps.  Though not an appalling one such as lay siege to coffee houses, private clubs and intervals at the theatre, loudly proclaiming their hedonism to all who might be within earshot.  Ghastly fellows, on balance, and without any genuine appreciation of how some measure of indulgence can free the spirit.”

      “Not an altogether foundationless perspective however… I reiterate that Lestrade is not to be considered a simple hedonistic indulgence.  He… does not understand or subscribe to such notions and would be…”

      “Hurt?”

      “In a word, yes.”

      “Then I am fortunate that, as I stated, that is not my intention.  He is a surprising individual.  His body is exquisite; however, his heart is breathtaking. He makes me laugh, too, which is not a terribly common thing.  I find myself most eager to explore where time spent with him might lead.  Though, to forestall the puerile comment poised to leap from your opening mouth, it will not lead anywhere but within these walls.”

      “I was not going to say that.”

      “You were, but I spared you the embarrassment of juvenility.  Now, have I assuaged your concerns?”

      “No.”

      “Joyful.”

      “Again, I have read your diary.  However, I am willing, for now, to give benefit of the doubt since other matters are more pressing.”

      “You desire, again, to play the Stradivarius.”

      “I would be a poor excuse for a violinist if I did not.”

      “True.  I have several pieces you might enjoy practicing with the instrument.  They were written especially for it, in fact.”

      “By whom?”

      “My mother.”

      “Intriguing.  I would be interested in playing them.  I wonder if hearing them might inspire our ghost or ghosts to be more forceful in their manifestations.”

      “I do not know; however, failure delivers, still, a greatly moving musical experience.”

      “A valid point.  Let us begin, then.”

__________

Sherlock made a small note to self:  Do not taunt or tempt ghosts for they may decide to respond in kind.

Sleeping was, of course, never intended for the night, but it would nary have been possible in any case due to the rather mischievous ghost or ghosts that plagued him.  And clearly delighted in it!

      “That is my tea!”

Which was moving away from him at, admittedly, a snail’s pace, but the cheek was clear and obvious.

      “You have inspired our ghost marvelously, Sherlock.  Bravo.”

      “Shut it, Mycroft!”

      “I will not, for I am wholly put out that my tea was targeted for a ghoulish chilling and yours was only budged a tad out of position.  Cold tea, Sherlock.  And on your head be it.”

      “Shut it, twice!”

      “Most erudite.”

Sherrinford would be bald from snatching the hair from his head if he were alive.  The child was incorrigible!  Turbulent, chaotic… everything the stolid Sherrinford was not.  Which included creative, talented, curious, artistic… For all blessings by the Fates came damnations, perhaps, so the scales balanced.

      “That is my biscuit, you messy-maned brigand!”

Or in Sherlock’s case, tipped slightly on the side of lunacy and larceny.

      “Your name is not on it.”

      “How does Gregory begin to tolerate your immaturity?  No wonder the man’s hair is long gone grey.”

      “Yes, I suspected you were secretly dissatisfied with his aged feebleness.  I shall make note of it.”

While Sherlock drew a small notebook out of his jacket, Mycroft poured salt in this tea and smiled at Sherlock’s indignant squawk.  For her part, Mrs. Hudson simply shook her head at the nonsense and was grateful it was past time for her to leave for home.  She had no desire to be a child minder at her age, especially to two such spoiled infants.  Though, for the record, they were adorable infants who were actually bonding faster than she could ever have predicted.  It seemed a little human contact was doing her Mr. Holmes a world of good…

      “That’s a complete waste of good tea, Mycroft Holmes.  Positively traitorous, in my opinion.”

      “He stole my biscuit.”

      “We’ve got more.”

      “We also have more tea.  At least, for those who deserve it which, at this table, numbers one.”

      “I am also reporting your glowering at Mrs. Hudson to Lestrade.  He believes in treating the elderly with kindness, so that is a second test you have failed.”

Mrs. Hudson’s elderly nature hadn’t dulled her head-smacking speed in the slightest and Sherlock scowled stormily while he rubbed his head to soothe the sting.

      “That’s a taste of what you’ll get if you’re an evil bugger again, Sherlock.  Now, the both of you – behave.  If I come back in the morning and find this house in a shambles, don’t expect me to do a lick of cleaning or see you set for breakfast.”

Apparently, dismissive flicks of the wrist had a genetic component because the two waved her way were indistinguishable to Mrs. Hudson’s trained eye.

      “Lovely.  I hope the ghost gets the two of you and takes you to the devil.  Not that he’d want you, though, miserable babies.”

Snorts, too, were genetically based and earned good finger wagging before Mrs. Hudson turned and left the two to survive the night as best they could.  Given she’d tucked the extra fresh biscuits she’d made that day into her handbag for her own late-night nibble, their survival was already seriously in doubt.

      “From your diary, I would have supposed you could manage an impertinent housekeeper.  Or is your tongue only vicious when it is lapping ink onto paper?”

      “Pose your inquiries to Gregory.  He is well positioned to judge the machinations of my tongue.”

The full-body shudder that ran through Sherlock made the tectonic plates shift a fraction to prompt a minor earthquake in Botswana.

      “There is little wonder why your music is positively sodden with erotic overtones.”

      “Oh… erotic, you say?”

      “Now that I know you have, in some unknown manner, potentially cheated death, I am can verify my theories as to your musical inspirations.  Eroticism is certainly one of them.”

Mycroft’s lips curled into a devilish smile over the rim of the fresh cup of tea he had poured as he chuckled darkly at the pronouncement.

      “For some pieces.  I may go so far as to say many, though not all.  Not nearly all of them, not even the majority.  However, to deny the inspiration of lust, of desire, of the erotic delights of the flesh… preposterous.  One must express passion in whatever form it takes and through whatever medium it demands.  Sometimes, passion is expressed physically, through sex.  Other times through music.  Or painting or writing or whatever other artistic, creative urge rises to answer its call.”

      “And the passion of the mind?”

      “It is no different.  It is expressed by whatever mechanism suits it or desires the challenge of expressing it properly and profoundly.  The passion of joy, of success, of ego, of… oh, whatever stirs the fire in one’s breast.  Music can express them all.  Whether the audience is receptive to the message, let alone feels moved by it, is another matter.”

      “How do you know which inspiratory event to pursue?”

      “I never know, therefore, I pursue each when they arise, if possible.  Sometimes, it is not and I grieve the lost opportunity to create and explore myself through a new path.  However, it is difficult achieve creative greatness when one is imprisoned in a hansom cab that is mired in the hustle and bustle of London’s streets.”

Mycroft reached for another biscuit and noticed that Sherlock was staring at him, an indefinable look on his features.

      “Sherlock?”

      “You rode in hansom cabs.”

      “On occasion.”

      “I see.”

      “I cannot imagine you see anything interesting from that banal activity.”

      “From the perspective that I am speaking to someone from another age for whom history is a genuine memory and not a figment concocted from various media sources, there is much in which to be interested.”

This time, Mycroft did see.

      “I stand corrected.  And, in the interests of disclosure, I have ruminated, on occasion, on what I consider history and what a person who lived through it would have experienced.  I recognize I am a man out of time, in some sense, though I have tried to keep current on the various goings-on and have not entirely eschewed technology, for it does deliver to me many benefits that I greatly enjoy.”

      “Do you have a computer?”

      “No, though Martha does and I use it occasionally.  I do have a tablet that I sometimes employ to gather a bit of information I require or to acquire a book that has caught my fancy or brave the quagmire of modern music to see if anything has risen to something beyond an ear-assaulting level of competence.”

      “Rarely.”

      “I agree.  There is much I would enjoy doing, I suspect, were it possible.  I enjoyed traveling, for instance, and would do it again, if that was an option available to me.  Attend concerts, museums, the theatre… I exist now and would not exist now, even without the inexplicable occurrence after the train collision due to the pestilential ravages of age.  For that, I cannot claim to be ungrateful.  However, the price paid is a steep one and I feel that price daily.”

      “If your curse or whatever it is were nullified… if you continue to exist, how would you continue on?  A pianist again, or some other walk of life?”

      “I cannot envision my life divorced, even slightly, from my music.  The question would be what was required, monetarily, to mark a greater presence in this world.  Not that I am without means, of course.  Rather a lot of means, to my credit, that I continue to grow through prudent investing and Martha’s rather shrewd hiring of financial advisors to oversee the funds.  My accounts are wholly in her name, but I have signatory privileges, so I may purchase what I like.  That is one element of the modern age I do appreciate – online shopping.  Such an easy thing to do.”

      “When one has a fixed residence, I presume it is.”

      “You do not?”

      “Landlords are not wholly welcoming of a tenant with any degree of scientific curiosity.”

      “Meaning?”

      “They evict me when I blow something up.”

      “Well, it is hard to blame them for protecting their property.  I, for example, went rather gracefully when I was evicted from a residence for, shall we say, a small matter of structural violation.”

      “What happened?”

      “My piano fell through the floor.”

      “That is unfortunate.”

      “I agree.  It was not a stellar example of the instrument; however, it certainly did not merit such an ignominious fate.”

The male laughter was joined by a joyful female tone that has each man sharing a look that confirmed each heard it clearly but wasn’t eager to investigate at the moment.  There was a happiness in that laughter that was… delightful.  And infectious.

      “Come, Sherlock.  I have a further piece I feel you would relish playing.  A duet, in fact.  For piano and violin.”

      “If this is one of your erotic compositions, I will be greatly aggrieved.  And nauseated.”

      “Entirely without eroticism, I assure you.  A composition for an evening of revel and jubilance, most assuredly of the… wholesome… type.  I first performed it with Mummy one summer’s day for a gathering of some rather illustrious members of our local community.  All under the age of ten.”

      “Oh dear god.”

      “God forsook me that day, the villainous coward.  The music however… it is a piece glorious in its gaiety.  It matters not that, when I wrote it, I was envisioning the gamboling of mythical, highly artistic, positively luminous creatures instead of drippy, dirty, chocolate-smeared homunculi.”

      “A much kinder mental image.”

      “To be sure.”

__________

Yes, it was definitely colder in this spot.  Damn, Lestrade!  Why could the dolt not have made some mention of a scientific challenge so he would have brought a suite of appropriate tools and equipment to collect proper data!

And, of course, Mycroft would have nothing useful on premises.  The man had the mind of a genius, but it was tragically tunnel-visioned.  Admittedly, his music was astonishingly beautiful, not something that would be admitted aloud, naturally, but seemed utterly uninterested in expending any of his brain potential on other matters of import.  Such as science!

However, a true scientist, which well described himself, could make best use of what was on hand, even if that was but a mercury thermometer, an accelerometer crafted from a jar, string and heavy bolt, an an equally tossed-together compass and a candle to detect the most minute of drafts.  So, best use of them would be made.  Though to what avail he had no idea.  Ghosts… what was there even to quantify about a ghost?  To measure, enumerate, elucidate… if it was not for the verifiable presence of Mycroft Holmes, who should have been not only dead but naught besides skeletal remains, this entire endeavor would be ludicr…

      “Hello?”

Sherlock’s thoughts had been interrupted by the sound of footsteps.  Not an altogether unexpected or unique occurrence, even in his brief time in this house, but these were different.  They sounded with the characteristic quality of someone who was running, in this case, along the corridor past him and down the stairs to the ground floor of the house…

      “Is anyone…”

… and being followed.  By an individual with a heavier, more measured step as if confident speed was not consequential in this chase because the prey had no means of escape.

      “Who are you?  Either of you?  I… I would speak to you if… you are amenable.”

Sherlock wasn’t certain anymore which was more troubling – the sound of footsteps or the sound of them stopping.  Very near where he was standing.

      “I am hoping to ask you some questions.  I have no idea how you might provide an answer, unless you have a method of doing so already established, such as vocalization, knocking or… please tell me it’s not a Ouija board.”

The silence was bad, but the filamentous tendrils of icy cold that began to wrap around Sherlock’s body were worse.

      “It is, isn’t it?  Marvelous.  Very well.  If you are absolutely that adoring of the sort of cliched drama one only finds in the lowest quality penny dreadfuls, then I suppose I will have to comply.  Mycroft may have one, being a refugee from some overly-emotive gothic horror novel himself, but if not, is there something that might suffice in the meantime?”

The answer to that was not particularly informative, not that Sherlock was in a position to notice or care.  Being lifted by invisible, frigid fingers and hurled through the window to plummet to the ground below comes with its own set of concerns to focus one’s attention…

Chapter Text

Consciousness crept up to Sherlock’s mind far more slowly than the detective would have preferred, but it did allow him to become accustomed to the individual aches and pains in turn so he wasn’t assaulted with all of them howling in agony at once.

      “Sherlock!  Sherlock, are you alright?  Can you walk?  Can you move?”

It was a fraught internal battle as to whether the voice in his head was real or imagined and no clear winner was decided by the time he found the strength to crack open his eyes.  Then immediately wished he hadn’t.

      “Foul spirit!”

Apparently moving was still a skill he possessed and Sherlock used it to pummel the grotesque figure looming over him, unheeding of its protests to stop until his mind registered several salient points.  The first was that the foul spirit had a rather colorful vocabulary, in terms of vulgarities  Another was that the spirit was rather more solid than one might expect for a disembodied being created, at best, out of the wretched ectoplasm that figured so prominently in nonsensical paranormal fiction.  A further point was that his arms worked and so did his torso, so barring nonfunctional legs, he likely was not paralyzed from his fall.  Lastly, the foul spirit was now seemingly far more wretched than foul and cowering from his blows, shielding his head and face as best it could.  While wearing highly familiar clothing.

      “Mycroft?”

      “Who did you expect?  Disraeli?”

      “It is you.  Only you would invoke such a pompous figure as your example.  What… what has hap… I see.  This is why you cannot leave the house.”

Sherlock stared in shock at Mycroft’s broken, disfigured form and actually found himself wondering how the creature had intended to drag his unconscious body into the house, given it seemed scarcely capable of dragging its own form more than a handful of footsteps.

      “Brilliantly reasoned.  Come, let us get you indoors.”

Sherlock involuntarily recoiled from the twisted hand Mycroft extended and felt an unfamiliar surge of shame for his actions when he saw the pianist’s pained eyes, which finally prompted him to take the offered hand, then scowl at Mycroft because it was rather clear there was not much his relative could actually do to help him off of the ground.

      “I can walk perfectly well on my own.”

      “I have seen no proof of that, unless you are inhabiting a hallucination that you are currently strolling through my garden and not using your arse to warm the ground on which the garden sits.”

Sherlock’s rude noise provided the soundtrack for him standing, then wobbling both from the force of the rude noise and his very unsteady legs, but it did make him feel more at ease, given he was much more comfortable being petulant than genuinely, if unintentionally, hurtful, something he felt certain had occurred because of his actions.

      “If I was inhabiting a hallucination, I highly doubt it would involve a fatuous hedonist such as yourself.  I require tea.  And… paracetamol.  You will provide me with both.”

This time, it was Sherlock who extended a hand, which earned a snort from Mycroft, but who took it nonetheless to help himself stand.  The two remained hand in hand as they slowly and haltingly made their way into the house, which eliminated the slowness from one of the pair, but left the other happy to collapse on the nearest cushioned surface to stare at the one fully restored to normal appearance.

      “The transformation was rapid.”

      “Yes, it is always thus.”

      “The time of day does not matter.”

      ‘No.  Did you believe it would?”

      “If we posit this is a ghost story, then such things seem more appropriate for the night.  No, I retract that.  Ghosts are supposedly at their best at night, but wither during the day.  Truly it is a conundrum. Might there be a monograph on the subject, I wonder.  From a reputable scholar?  Would a reputable scholar condescend to even broach the topic?  What ghastly wallpaper.  Did you purchase it from a company that normally provisions mental asylums and prisons?”

Mycroft glared at Sherlock then snapped his fingers to focus Sherlock’s wandering attention, which was likely wandering due to falling from a substantial height after being thrown, apparently, through a window.

      “Tell me what happened, Sherlock.  I heard the window shatter then the thump of your body hitting the ground.”

      “That is a succinct synopsis of the event.  I would add to it that I was thrown through the window by a ghost.  At least, I assume it was a ghost in that it was not visible, however, I heard footsteps prior to our altercation and saw nothing to produce them.”

      “Did you sense the ghost was male or female?”

      “Male.  The footsteps were heavy.  Heavier, say, than the first step of footsteps that moved along the corridor.  I… I think the first specter was being pursued by the second, which is the one that assaulted me.”

      “An intriguing, though worrying, development.”

      “Are the spirits generally this active?”

      “No, not in the slightest.  This surge of activity coincided with Gregory’s arrival in my life.”

      “Lestrade’s arrival anywhere is not a gladdening occurrence, but I cannot see why it would provoke unrest among the dead.”

      “Neither can I, though your first point is rubbish.  I, for one, have exceedingly glad when he crosses my threshold.”

      “Similar could be said of a wandering hound.”

      “I was never fond of dogs, per se, so your second point is also rubbish.   However, they both are confirming to me that you are not notably injured from your fall as your capacity for insult remains at its full potential.”

      “I… no, I cannot say I am, at least, in terms of broken bones, dislocations or head trauma.  I do suspect I shall suffer greatly in several hours, however, due to muscle insult.”

      “And I have little doubt you shall vent that suffering upon me.”

      “Of course, but, until then, we should continue to investigate the situation.  Do you feel the ghosts will speak to me now that I have survived their trial?”

      “No, not particularly, for I feel that was not so much a trial as an attempt at outright murder. “

      “Then, perhaps, they shall speak to me out of frustration or anger.”

      “Or use you to destroy another of my windows.  The fuss, Sherlock… I shall have to hire a glazier to repair the damage and who knows what mess they will create for which I will have to endure Mrs. Hudson’s wrath.”

      “That is your concern?”

      “Now that your health has been proven intact, yes.”

      “Wonderful.  You are a terrible host.”

      “I am a touch out of practice, I’m afraid.  However, I do not remember any guests I entertained that provoked the ire of departed souls.”

      “Why do you believe I provoked anyone?”

      “I have met you.”

      “Oh.  Very well, I may have been a bit adamant about my contempt for Ouija boards but, in fairness, anyone with a scintilla of intellect would feel the same.”

Mycroft nodded because the statement was obviously true but also because Sherlock was definitely sounding as if his wits were returned to him and that eliminated a final worry of concussion or other damage to his aforementioned intellect.

      “Then, let us avoid mentioning such in the future.  I am more concerned, at the moment, that the being who assailed you is likely the same as attacked Gregory.  I have never been bothered but you both have been the focus of his violence.”

      “Either he has some particular reason for leaving you alone or a particular reason for objecting to myself and Lestrade.  Given we share an interest in and intent to investigate the case of your dreams, I believe the motive is grounded in the latter.”

      “Agreed.  It troubles me, for I would not see anyone harmed because of this little puzzle.”

      “Harmed?  A paper cut is well described as harmed.  I was catapulted through a window!  A closed one!”

      “And survived it handily.”

      “Untrue.”

      “Oh, have you taken residence on the spectral plane with my other ghostly housemates?”

      “If I am not entirely colored by bruises by daybreak, I will be greatly surprised.”

      “Then let us make good use of the time you remain so unencumbered.  It would be pointless to…”

Mycroft stopped and began looking about, joined by Sherlock, at the sound of a sharp, but quiet, click that seemed to come from somewhere under their feet.

      “Mycroft, is there a sublevel to this house?”

      “Yes, but only for the original footprint of the structure, which this room does not occupy.”

      “Are you certain?”

      “Quite.”

      “Then what was that noise?”

      “I have no idea.”

Despite the growing aches in his body, Sherlock flung himself onto the floor and began tapping, scowling that the hollowness he expected to hear didn’t manifest.

      “Are you satisfied?”

      “No.  Is this the original flooring?”

      “Original to me.  I know Mummy improved the interior after she came again to live here.  Little things, mind you, such as new furnishings for certain rooms, window coverings, paint and wallpaper, refinishing the wood panels… that sort of business.  I suppose she could have had the floor replaced or restored.  I was in… Venice, I believe, or Florence… one or the other… during her first six months or so of residence when much of the work was done.  Why do you ask?”

      “The width of the planking differs from that in other areas of the house.”

      “Not entirely uncommon, but I admit that I have given little thought to it.  Until last year, much of the floor in here was covered by a rather tasteful rug I bought in Turkey.”

      “What happened to it?”

      “I left the door open to better enjoy a rainy summer afternoon.  While I tended to some matters in the library one of the village dogs decided to pay a visit and brought with it any manner of nature’s less pleasant elements, which it gladly deposited on my rug.  The fiend also chose to make a chewing toy out of two of the corners. The amount of damage wrought by one despicable canine in the span of half an hour hardly is believable, yet my lovely rug now exists as naught but a memory given both the expense and bother of having it cleaned and repaired.”

      “Then it is not surprising you are unfamiliar with the general quality of the flooring, itself.  That and you are woefully unobservant.”

      “Incorrect.  I simply devote my observational energies to issues of import.  The nature of my floors has not, to date, elevated itself to that lofty status.  Why, even, is this relevant?”

      “Because… here, help me.”

Mycroft curled his lip in reluctance, but got on the floor and helped Sherlock tap on the boards until he felt one rebound under his tap as if it was not securely nailed down.

      “Ah… a loose plank?”

      “Loose or disengaged…”

Sherlock scuttled over to where Mycroft was kneeling and, after they conducted their silent ‘After you.  No, be my guest.’ exchange, Mycroft gave the board a tug and gasped slightly as it popped out of place and revealed a hollow space underneath.  From that hollow he extracted a small book easily as old as himself.

      “What is it?  I see numbers; those are likely confusing to you.”

Thumbing through the pages, Mycroft pfft’d at Sherlock, then took in the rows of figures and passed it over to the detective to have his own look.

      “A ledger, it seems, silly infant.  A record of payments.  Regular and, though not generous; moderate for the time.  The writing is in Mummy’s hand.”

      “Support payments from your father?”

      “No… they began while she still resided with him.  And continued until her death.  Besides, Father would hardly bestow a farthing towards her upkeep once she took her independent residence.  Not that she needed it.  It always rankled Father that she was much wealthier than was he and, further, had a good head for finance and growing her wealth, something he lacked.”

      “Then who was her benefactor?”

      “I… have no idea.  As I stated, though, this is not a sum I would expect for an actual benefactor.  A schoolmistress’s wages, at best.”

      “You think this a salary record?”

      “Not necessarily.  Mummy never intimated she was employed in any manner and I saw no evidence of it at any point.  She was a woman of independent means and had no need of such a thing.”

      “Returns from an investment?”

      Perhaps… but why record this one and not the myriad of others she inherited from her father?  Besides, those were overseen by her solicitor on a day to day basis, with Mummy annually reviewing her accounts and amending various investments to boost her coffers.”

      “Interesting.  And why were we shown this now?  Why were you shown this now?  This obviously has been here for the duration of your residence.”

      “I… I have no idea.  Though, your and Gregory’s presence has prompted much change in the dynamics of my life.”

      “This must relate to the investigation.  Before, it did not exist in tangible form but, now, between Lestrade and me, more as a result of me than Lestrade, it is going forward and with clear avenues of research unavailable to you.”

      “You think the ghosts or whatever walks my corridors have been motivated into action by the possibility of our success?”

      “Or of our failure, if that is the hoped-for conclusion to our efforts.”

      “Divulging this ledger argues a hope for success.”

      “My crippling calamity argues a hope for failure.”

      “True… which also explains, perhaps, Gregory’s experience.  I have had few people in this house besides tradesmen and certainly none who I have trusted with any information about myself or my situation.  Both you and Gregory are not only unique in that respect, but also in that you both are well-suited to undertake an investigation into my dreams and the nature of my existence.  It seems the phantoms are of opposing opinions as to whether this is a good thing or not for this household.”

      “If they think I shall be deterred by a slight misfortune of gravity, then they are sadly mistaken.”

Mycroft decided not to comment on the fact that Sherlock’s crippling calamity could become a slight misfortune within near the span of a heartbeat, but it certainly gave him further evidence as to the nature of Sherlock’s soul.  Which he shared with over-tired toddlers and petulant puppies everywhere.

      “Neither shall I.  What is the hour?  Gregory should learn of these developments.”

      “The hour matters not when the case beckons.”

      “Are you channeling Agatha Christie?”

      “No.”

      “You did a fine job of it, nonetheless.  Given the sun has not risen, I suppose we should postpone any conversations until a more appropriate hour.  I am of a mind that Gregory is far more in need of sleep than am I.”

      “That is a polite way of saying he is sluggardly.  I shall add that to my report on your true perceptions about him.”

      “And I shall return the Stradivarius to its cozy rest.”

      “Unacceptable.”

      “How fortunate that I care little about your perceptions about anything, let alone the nebulous, bourgeois concept of acceptability.”

      “Did you just invoke the trite and overwrought paradigm of the bourgeois?”

      “I did.”

      “You are old.  And cliched.”

      “I am from a time before your paradigm became a cliché.”

      “That does not negate that you are old.”

      “My age is an area ripe for philosophical debate.”

      “Philosophy is for the bourgeois.”

      “Oh dear heavens… I am phoning Gregory.  I feel the need for mental and moral support for you are an unrepentant child.”

      “He is sadly lacking in both of those areas, but he will likely swear when you wake him and that is always entertaining.”

      “Does he sleep nude?”

      “What?  Ugh... what an appalling thought.  I am proud to say I have no idea.”

      “Tis a pity.  Gregory nude and swearing is a delightful thing to imagine.”

Sherlock’s faked convulsion of disgust was only slightly hampered by the growing pains in this body which had no chance of emerging victorious in a battle against his need to express his utter and complete, if somewhat affected, revulsion.

      “I hate you, Mycroft.  You have curdled my brain with your debauched mental imagery.”

      “Now who is being bourgeois?”

      “Probably Lestrade.”

Mycroft made to retort then thought a moment and nodded to credit the possibility, though he felt it a happily small one.

      “If so, he will be garmented in plain cotton pyjamas and demonstrate that particularly loathsome British politeness when I wake him from his slumber.  That is something I do not place at a high probability of occurring.”

      “A wager then?  Or do aged demi-ghosts engage in wagers?”

      “We do and this one I uptake gladly.  You stand on the pyjamas and politeness side of the bargain, I take it?”

      “And you on the shudderingly-horrendous nudism and vulgarity side.”

      “Ten pounds?”

      “Agreed.”

      “Whose phone shall be the instrument of our assessment?”

      “Mine, however, I shall put my phone on speaker so we jointly can judge the outcome.”

      “Splendid, for I have little doubt we both would cheat if the outcome were left to a single arbiter.”

      “True.  Blood will out.”

      “Always.  Especially when money is involved.”

Chapter Text

Anderson watched Greg peck for a long moment on the computer keyboard then slowly backspace over the long moment’s pecking output in his typical two steps forward, one step back method of data entry.

      “What are you bothering the computer for now?  You know it hates being bothered by someone with your lack of grace on the keys.”

      “I’ve seen you type with your toes, Anderson, so fuck off.”

      “That was only once and I wanted to eat my lunch before it got cold.”

Anderson stepped behind Greg to look down at the screen and whistled at the file Greg had called up.

      “That’s a moldy oldie.”

      “Yeah, just… checking something.”

      “You’re lucky it’s been digitized.  I know they’re working through the older cases, mostly for historical value, but it’s not a high priority.  Huh… does that say ‘Holmes?’ “

      “That it does.  It’s… you know that man I’ve been visiting?  He told me the story of Mycroft Holmes’s mother.  She supposedly fell in front of a train here in London.  There were reports, apparently, that contradicted the claim it was an accident.  He wanted to know if there was anything else to the story.”

      “A favor for the boyfriend?  That’s new.  Usually you only waste police resources to win a bet.”

      “I’m not wasting anything as I officially fell off the clock twenty minutes ago and the half-shilling in electricity the computer’s using is more than overshadowed by the fact that you spent half an hour today researching wireless headsets for your game console.”

      “That was important.  A happy copper is a productive copper.  In any case, have you found anything?”

      “Well… yes and no.  The file’s as thin as you might expect for the time and for the fact that it was ruled an accident, but there is a notation by the constable at the scene that a witness claims to have seen her arguing with a man and it was getting pretty heated.  There wasn’t anything in the way of corroboration and the chap couldn’t give more of a description than he was a large man with a dark coat and hat.  Which, I suspect described almost all the men waiting at the platform that day for the train.  The witness did say that he didn’t see the man, though, after the supposed accident and he looked about for him because he had suspicions about what had happened.”

      “That’s not worth much.  Anything else?  Anything on the body that might indicate why someone would want her dead?”

      “No evidence collected from the scene, at least, none that was noted in the file.  As it was, she couldn’t have been in good shape when they got her off the tracks and forensics wasn’t something given a great deal of consideration at the time.  I suspect the Transport people did an investigation themselves and I’m going to see if they have any records from that time that might help.  It’s unlikely, but you never know.”

      “Worth a try.  Any indication in her history that someone might want her dead?”

      “Not necessarily.  From what I gather, she had a poor relationship with Mycroft’s father, she even divorced him, if you can believe that, and there’s a bit of suspicion that he might have done it. No previous reports of violence, though.”

      “It is usually a spouse or family member; we know that well.”

      “The husband was a prick, too. From what I hear.  Whether he was enough of a prick to kill someone, though, is another rmatter.”

      “What does Sherlock have to say?  It’s his family, after all.”

      “Not much, mostly because he doesn’t know anything.  Details, I mean.  He knew she fell in front of a train but there don’t seem to be any extra family secrets that Myc… Michael didn’t already know.  “

      “Sherlock can’t be happy about that.  He likes to be the one who knows more than everyone else.”

      “I don’t think he’s happy or unhappy, because he never gave the situation any thought.  Now, though… he’d like to see this investigated a bit, even if it’s only on a very unofficial footing.”

      “Our Sherlock does love a mystery.  Background on the victim?”

Greg passed over the notes he’d scribbled and smirked as Anderson took the computer opposite him and started typing.  Sherlock wasn’t the only one who loved a mystery.

      “You’ve run the basics already?”

      “Yep.  Didn’t find anything under Holmes or her maiden name Arliss.”

      “I’ll snoop about anyway.  While I do, you will regale me with your plans for your next date with this Michael fellow.  You haven’t mucked things up yet, but I know it’s coming and I’d rather forestall that with some solid dating advice than suffer you moaning because you’ve let another respectable catch slip through your fingers.”

      “Solid dating advice?  From you?  Remind me how things with that Karen bird ended?”

      “We agreed never to talk about that.”

      “Which is why dating advice from you is laughable.  Karen Orney.  Korney, you called her.  And to her face!  Might as well hang a sign around your neck that says ‘I Like Being Celibate.’ “

      “I thought it was funny.”

      “She didn’t.”

      “No.  No, she did not.”

      “You’re not a Casanova, Panderson.”

      “Neither are you… shite.  Can’t do it with your name, can we?”

      “Not really.  I’m lucky that way.”

      “It’s the only way you’re lucky.”

      “Oh, I disagree.”

      “Ugh… that’s your sex grin.  I feel sick.”

      “You should.  You should be sick with envy.”

Anderson made a rude noise and Greg grinned at the familiar sound.  It would be nice if he could do a bit more boasting about Mycroft but, in truth, he had to be more than slightly careful because too much talking about him was bound to produce a slip of the tongue.  Calling him Mycroft once could be waved off as having the case on his mind or he’d been listening to his records a lot recently, but more than once would look strange.  Admittedly, him looking strange was nothing new, but best err on the side of caution.

Adelia Holmes.  Very independent woman, from what he could see, let alone what Mycroft had told him.  Even took back her own name, at least as much as making herself a hyphenate.  Adelia Holmes-Arliss.  Or, on a few documents, Adelia H. Arliss.  She had a nice signature, too.  One of those beautiful old-fashioned things that looked like calligraphy.  Mycroft’s signature was similar, at least what he’d seen on his sheet music, which he always signed.  You know, though… if you looked at Adelia’s signature… hmmmm…

Greg sat pecking for awhile, then let out an exhalation that quickly got Anderson’s attention.

      “Got something?”

      “Maybe.  Thanks to you, partly.”

      “I’m partly happy, then.  What’d you find?”

      “Apparently, there was a music critic at the time, one Addison Harliss.  Pretty well known, from what I gather.  Seems his columns stopped right about the time our Adelia H. Arliss died.”

      “We’ve seen coincidences, Greg.  That one feels like the sort we pay attention to.”

      “Yeah, I agree.  Mycroft’s mother was a violinist and even composed a few pieces, from what I understand.”

      “It’d fit.  It’d fit, too, why she’d hide her real identity.  I don’t think women were very respected for that sort of thing at the time.”

      “She may have also worried her husband would cause trouble for her.  He seems the type to show up at the paper and cause a stink.”

      “Maybe he did.”

      “Or maybe they know someone else who did.  Someone who may not have been happy about one of old Addison’s reviews.  Critics tend to have a lot of enemies.”

      “Think the paper still has employee information or complaints files from that far back?”

      “I plan to find out.  I doubt they keep letters to the editor or anything like that, but they may have published one or two.  Or can point me to someone who might know something about Addison Harliss.  A historian or something, one who specializes in music or the opera or theater.  Seems Mr. Harliss was fairly versatile in what he’d review.”

      “She’d would need a place to live, I’d think.  Or, at the very least, reliable hotel lodgings when visiting London.”

Greg nodded and continued writing down the list of inquiries he’d need to make to pursue things further.  Finally, he set down his pen and grinned with something that felt suspiciously like optimism.

      “I think we might actually have a lead.”

      “That’s rare for us.”

      “I know.  It’s too late now to check the news offices, but I’ll make some calls tomorrow and see what they know or can find for me.”

      “Sounds good.  It’s not so late, though, that we can’t move this to your flat and dig about on our own for what we can line up for deeper digging in the future.  With you funding dinner.”

      “That’s highly mercenary of you.”

      “Thank you.”

      “You’re welcome.  And it’s a good idea, besides.”

      “Another thing that’s rare for us.”

      “Must be an eclipse coming.”

      “That or the world’s ending.”

      “Think the delivery driver can outrun the apocalypse?”

      “I’ll double his tip if he does.  Hate to meet the End of Days on an empty stomach.”

__________

      “My… Michael, are you still there?”

That was a good question.

      “I… good heavens, Gregory.  I know… knew… know of this Addison Harliss.  An insightful critic, which was something of a novel thing at the time.  You genuinely believe this could be Mummy?”

Greg looked over at Anderson, who had one hand wrapped around a slice of pizza while the other hand typed on his laptop and was glad he’d decided against putting this call on speaker.

      “It sounds possible, don’t you think?”

      “I… I have to say I do.  My only point of reticence is that I would anticipate she would tell me something of this importance. At least, she would tell me because she would know how amusing I would find the situation and how readily I would provide her with what information I knew about the various composers, conductors and performers of the time.”

      “Maybe she wanted to avoid that.  Be unbiased and just judge the performance she was seeing.”

      “Possibly. Oh dear… the ledger!”

      “What ledger?”

Mycroft quickly gave Greg a summary of what he and Sherlock found under his floor and, as critically, how they were able to find it.

      “The sums, Gregory.  They were not out of bounds for someone employed in a position of significance for a London newspaper.”

      “Have Sherlock take snaps of a few pages.  I’ll see if the paper has any payroll records of that period and compare the two.”

      “An excellent idea.  He is sufficiently recovered from his ordeal that the task shall not vex him unduly.”

      “Ordeal?”

Mycroft quickly narrated the story of Sherlock’s experiment with human flight and Greg was hard pressed not to reveal a world of classified information to the person in the room who was not cleared to hear it.

      “That’s… not good.”

      “No, but he weathered the experience rather well, all things considered.  He is staying a further night to take various readings he was unable to catalog previously, but will return to London in the morning. You may question him further on the incident at that time.”

      “Alright, I’ll do that.  What about you?  Any problems I should know about?”

      “No, beyond a few minor pranks and an increased level of noise, I blessedly have been left alone.”

      “Good. Not good that Sherlock…”

Anderson’s happy little ‘Ooh!,’ got Greg’s attention, because what made the somewhat sour man giddy enough to squeal had to be worth his attention.

      “Hold on, Michael…  Anderson, is this a nappy-related issue?”

      “It could be!  Seems our Addison Harliss owned property in London.”

      “What?  Uhhh… Michael, in your research, did Mycroft Holmes’s mother own any London property?”

      “Own?  No, not to my knowledge.  She had a plethora of investments but none involving the outright ownership of real estate.  At least in London.”

      “Our Mr. Harliss did.”

      “Truly?  This is highly intriguing, Gregory.  It seems Mummy had secrets.”

      “Most people do.”

      “True.  What is your next step in investigating the matter?”

      “Check it out further.  Property ownership leaves a paper trail and that leads to lots of helpful things like bank accounts, names of co-owners, loan guarantors, tax records, transfer documents, wills… For something this old, we can’t count on computer searches to get us everything we need, so whatever physical evidence I can lay hands on is going to be useful.  Can you check about for anything on your end?  I know you’ve probably been through the house a hundred times, but you might see something now that you interpret differently because of this new information.”

      “Yes, I understand.  Context is critical for many things to be properly and thoroughly experienced.  I will begin looking immediately.  What else might I do to assist?”

      “Ummm… nothing, at this point.  When Sherlock’s back here, he’ll be able to take on some of this himself and start going through his own things, asking questions of family and looking through family records, but the best way for you to help is scour the house for any additional clues in light of what we uncovered.”

      “Nothing more?”

      “Ummm… if you know any historians who might have information about Addison Harliss, you could ring them up for a chat.”

      “I do not chat.”

      “Don’t chat, then.  Have a serious, academic discussion.”

      “I know none with whom to do that.  At least, not personally.  I suppose I might research the topic somewhat for a relevant candidate.”

      “Whatever you do, it’ll be another helpful avenue of investigation we’re pursuing.”

Mycroft’s frustrated sigh was something that had Greg’s sympathy, but there wasn’t anything he could do to ease that frustration.

      “I’ll phone tomorrow with an update, ok?  You won’t be left in the dark.”

      “My life is darkness, Gregory.”

      “Have a biscuit.  That’ll make things better.”

Grinning at the stream of insults he only recognized because of a pub quiz where Victorian insults had been a topic, Greg ended the call and gazed fondly a moment at his mobile.

      “You’re in deep, Greg.  Embarrassingly besotted.”

      “I’m not embarrassed.”

      “The embarrassment is held by the rest of us who have to suffer the symptoms of your besottedness.  Anything useful, though, from your snuggle-wuggles?”

      “He hadn’t heard of Holmes’s mother having an alter ego or owning any property in London, but he’s going to go back through his files and such to see if he missed something or didn’t recognize something he did see for what it actually was.  Apparently, for example, he found a ledger that seemed to document wage payments that are in line for someone writing a column for a newspaper at the time.”

      “We’re getting a copy?”

      “Sherlock is going to take some snaps.”

      “Good.  Think we’ll have time tomorrow to pay a few visits and check some of this out?”

      “Maybe.  Depends on the Turner case.  We’re supposed to get the forensics report tomorrow.”

      “Nah.”

      “Nah?”

      “They’ve got two people out with flu and another is on holiday.  We won’t see it tomorrow.  We’ll be lucky if we see it this week.”

      “Oh.  Then we may have time to play detective.”

      “Can I have a shiny badge to wave about.”

      “You can have the best the nearest toy shop can provide.”

__________

      “You are old.”

      “Thank you, Sherlock.”

      “Even your vulgarity vocabulary is ancient.”

      “The purpose is served, regardless.  You heard my conversation with Gregory, I take it.”

      “I was eavesdropping, so yes.”

      “Your thoughts?”

      “That I need to be in London and not waiting here to again be murdered by a ghost.”

      “You were not murdered.”

      “It was a near thing.”

      “Granted.  And… I agree about a return to London.  Mostly.”

      “With what do you disagree.”

      “Your failure to pluralize your declaration.”

      “Meaning?”

      “We need to be in London.”

      “I would laugh at that but it would be a stupendous waste of useful energy so I shall simply respond thusly - hah.“

      “There is not an individual alive with a greater understanding of Mummy than myself.  My expertise is required to fully explore this new development.”

      “You are not alive.”

      “That is debatable.”

      “What is not debatable is your inability to leave this house.”

      “I agree.  I most certainly can leave this house so the point is entirely without avenue for debate.”

      “You shrivel to some form of mummified crab with but a single step across the threshold.”

      “A mummified crab that has some mobility and complete command of my faculties.”

      “You could not manage an hour on London’s streets.”

      “I beg to differ.  There is transport, is there not?  There is no rule that all visitors to the city proceed to every location on foot.”

      “The thought of you on a bus or the Tube is ludicrous.  Besides, have you ever ventured one step off your actual grounds?  You might immediately evaporate into a gaseous form and blow away in the breeze.”

      “Let us test your hypothesis.”

      “I am not taking the weeks and weeks it would require to walk you to the end of your drive.”

      “Mummified crabs have little weight, I suspect, so you can carry me.”

      “I would rather fall open-mouth into a cesspit.”

Mrs. Hudson leaned against the doorframe and continued to listen to the nonsense with half a measure of attention while she employed the remainder of her thoughts to consider the situation.  She, herself, suspected that her Mr. Holmes could travel beyond the confines of the grounds, but in no better physical condition than when he was simply enjoying a bit of night air in his gardens.  Sherlock was right about London, though.  It could be a rough city even for a fit, but slightly long-in-the-tooth woman like herself who wasn’t terribly familiar with the place and how it all worked.

However…

      “Sherlock, come with me.”

Both Holmes men startled, then turned to glare at Mrs. Hudson who glared back like a primary school teacher receiving the teeny wrath of her class that was just told snack time would be delayed.

      “Why?”

      “You’ll find out.  You.  The other one.  Find a hat.”

Both men considered simply saying no and continuing with their strategy of glaring, but their deliberations were cut short by Mrs. Hudson snorting, striding forward, grabbing Sherlock by the ear, and tugging him out of the room, pausing only to cut an even sharper glare at Mycroft.  Who immediately began looking for a hat.

__________

      “This is profoundly insulting!”

      “Shut it, Mycroft!  I am the one being insulted here.”

Mrs. Hudson smiled proudly at the two, who hadn’t stopped complaining since they left the house.  But, the test phase of her plan seemed to be working so far.

      “What even is this?  A vegetable cart?  It reeks of compost and rotted cabbages.”

      “That is your cologne.”

      “I do not wear cologne.”

      “Then you, as a mummified crab person, stink.”

Sherlock was more than capable of pulling Mycroft in a cart and the cart, with passenger, made it easily off the grounds for a nice evening stroll along the road without it’s occupant bursting into a gas or bats or whatever else the silly boys had in their minds.

      “Isn’t this nice?”

The in-chorus “No!’ made Mrs. Hudson giggle but firm her thoughts into a final plan which involved, first, making a quick call.

      “Lizzie?  What was the name of the hotel you and Roger stayed in last time you were in London?  The one you liked so much…  Perfect.  I’ve got a cousin who has similar needs and that sounds absolutely perfect…  Yes, next Wednesday unless Ruth changes it...  I have no doubt Sandra will, she’s that way...  Oh, she’ll make a mess of it all, but what’s new in that?  Thanks, dear.  See you next week.”

      “What on earth was that about?”

The crab speaks.

      “I know you, you evil thing.  You’ll be beastly unless you actually have the chance to, at the very least, see whatever property your mother had and look over what your young man has gathered on your little puzzle.  You’ve heard me talk about Lizzie and her husband, the one who had that accident and lost the use of his legs?  She did a bit of research and found a nice hotel in London that was recommended for people in his situation.  I thought we’d go for the day tomorrow, stay overnight and come back the next day.  We can take my car down, but you’ll need to sort out transportation within the city because bugger driving in all that traffic.  Anyway, that should give you time to see what you need to see and maybe have a nice dinner with Greg, too.  We’ll need a wheelchair for you but I suspect Sherlock can find one easily enough.  He seems the type.  I’d say Greg could do it, but I suspect you’d rather surprise him.”

Mycroft and Sherlock shared a look where a flurry of data was passed between them that a supercomputer would envy.

      “That… is not an entirely unmanageable idea.”

      “I’m going, too, because you’ll need help and, more importantly, because I can go off on my own for a bit of shopping and sightseeing.  Which you’ll pay for, of course.”

Another look was shared between the Holmes contingent and it lasted a long while, although Mrs. Hudson already knew what the ultimate verdict would be.  The brief flash of excitement in Mycroft’s eyes married with the brief flash of excitement in Sherlock’s nearly lit up the sky bright as day.  The reasons for their various excitement might be different but stubborn men with a goal in sight didn’t turn away from it without taking a plank to the head.

      “It… Sherlock, a feasibility assessment given the addition of a wheelchair?”

      “Still difficult, but not as much as waiting for you to scuttle across the pavement while leaning on someone’s arm.”

      “And it would somewhat contextualize my appearance to lessen, perhaps, the horror of onlookers.”

      “No, they will be equally horrified, but they will likely not pelt you with the rotten vegetables this cart normally carries.”

      “A small blessing.  Are cabs capable of managing a passenger in a wheelchair?”

      “Waving one down on the street?  They may be more or less willing to do so, however, you are not entirely wheelchair bound and that will make them more willing to accommodate us.  Besides, you have money.  Hire a car and driver.”

      “We have little time for such a thing.”

      “Not if we begin making arrangements now.”

      “That would simplify matters.”

Sherlock spun the cart around, though he did take care not to spill Mycroft onto the road, just roll him about a little, and started back towards the house, Mrs. Hudson skipping a few steps with happiness behind him.  An adventure!  Her deceased employer had found a gentleman for a bit of rough and tumble and was going to London for an adventure.  This was something she never thought she’d see.  Best make good use of the opportunity, all of them, because who knew if it would come about again.

And if that Greg Lestrade was a big fuddy-duddy about the whole business, he’d have her to answer to.  Hopefully, he was smart enough to know just how bad a thing that would be for him and would take great pains to avoid his terrible, tragic fate…

Chapter Text

      “Dear me… it’s even more ghastly than on the television.”

Mrs. Hudson reached back and made an on-principle slap at the man riding in the rear seat.  Neither she nor Sherlock would admit aloud that they’d both kept close watch on Mycroft, each half expecting that he’d worsen the further the got from home but that hadn’t occurred, so they tentatively breathed a relaxed breath that matters remained status quo and the plans they’d physically and mentally concocted for making this trip possible could continue unaltered.

      “London is a city rather overflowing with life.  It is not surprising, zombie, that you find it repugnant.”

      “Amusing, Sherlock.  I… it is simply far different than what I remember.  The splendor… the elegance…”

      “The workhouses and horse dung, you mean.”

      “Ever the pessimist.  In any case, how much longer until we reach the hotel? I find this contrivance absolutely wretched.”

Mrs. Hudson reached back and made a ‘keep a civil tongue in your head’ slap at the man riding in the rear seat.  This one earned her a sputtered hiss from her target.

      “Don’t insult my car, you horrid thing.  It’s a good girl and got your arse here in one piece, didn’t it?”

      “It was a terrifyingly near thing.  I felt my very life force draining away with every spin on the wheels.”

Yes, Mrs. Hudson’s and Sherlock’s eyes both cut to the mirror again to double check that wasn’t true but, no, neither felt the need to make mention of it to Mycroft, no matter how tetchy he was being.  To be fair, he might not be feeling the agonizing pain of his condition, but nothing was particularly comfortable in that form.  Certainly not several hours confined to the rear seat of a smallish car.

      “Oh, you look fine, dear.  At least, as fine as you always do like that.  In any case, the hotel’s not far and you can have a little rest there before we go rambling.  Sherlock, will the wheelchair be ready for us?”

      “Yes.  A friend works at the morgue and she is borrowing one for our use.  It was to be delivered first thing this morning.”

      “The morgue?  I absolutely refuse to be confined to a chair normally relegated to porting corpses through a morgue.”

      “You are corpse, so I see absolutely no reason for your refusal.  But, if it soothes your irrational fears, they do not use wheelchairs to move corpses, only individuals in various stages of moving towards corpsehood or moving away from it.  The morgue is associated with a hospital.”

      “Ah, I understand.  That is a far more agreeable condition for my miniscule private cab.

Mrs. Hudson tapped Sherlock on the shoulder and pointed towards a building a few blocks ahead of them.

      “That’s the one, dear.  Do… should we phone Mr. Lestrade and tell him we’re here or…”

Hoping for a quick decision by either of the car’s other occupants turned out to be a hope dashed as both remained silent, though they made a similar “I’m thinking’ face that was remarkable given the state of Mycroft’s face, at present.

      “Oh, you two…  Well, we can leave that for after we check in and have a chance to stretch our legs a bit.  There’s a lad who parks the car, Sherlock, so just pull up to the front and they’ll handle things from there.  I’ll have him bring it around when I want to take it for my own bit of fun.  And, before you say anything, Mr. Holmes, yes, I have your shopping list and I’ll make certain to get your things, too.

And it wasn’t a small list, either.  Her employer had been very happy to fill a sheet of paper with things he wanted that were readily available in London and could be had without associated shipping charges or needed a watchful eye for picking out individual specimens to check that the highest quality example made its way to his hands.

      “Good, for if we make no progress with the investigation, some benefit should come from my suffering.  The mental discombobulation alone is tortuous.”

This reach towards the rear seat was to make a there-there motion that neatly accompanied Sherlock drawing the car alongside the curb in front of their hotel where, as expected, the wheelchair had been delivered and was quickly brought out for the there-there recipient once the car was stopped and their names given to the young man who darted out to take the keys and provide help with any associated luggage.  And who, to his credit, didn’t gape in horror at the figure slowly being extracted from the rear of the vehicle and deposited in the waiting wheelchair.

      “Hmmm… not entirely uncomfortable.  For the short term, it is an acceptable mode of transport, though I bemoan its aesthetic bankruptcy.”

Mrs. Hudson waved a warning finger at Sherlock, then used it to point him towards the door which was being held open for them and to the front desk where she checked in and got their keys.

      “I still maintain I should not be imprisoned in a room with Mycroft like a common criminal.”

      “Hush, Sherlock, or not one of my special chocolate biscuits are going to make it to your mouth.  That’ll just leave more for me and Mr. Holmes and I do enjoy a nice biscuit after a long ride in a car.”

The rude noise that carried them into the elevator was absolutely adorable in the housekeeper’s opinion and it signaled the end of the discussion.  To be fair, Mycroft hadn’t been too keen on having Sherlock share a room with him either, but recognized the practicality of having someone there for those pesky little things like a middle-of-the-night wee.  There had been some discussion about Mr. Lestrade being the one to provide the caregiving, but Mycroft had quickly vetoed it and for more than one reason, not the least of which being the DI falling into a frothing rage over the whole situation and booting Mycroft’s arse back home on first sight.

And that first sight was fast approaching as it was short work to get into their rooms, freshen up a bit, give Mycroft a chance to lose some of the additional kinks and stiffness from his journey and be ready to make a start on the reason for that journey.

      “Ooh, that’s a nice car.  Want to trade?”

Mrs. Hudson gave an appreciative smile both to the car Mycroft had hired and to its driver, then giggled at being smacked on the leg by a twisted, withered hand.

      “You have suitable transportation for the day’s activities.  I, however, require something more accommodating.  Be off with you.”

Mrs. Hudson giggled again at the weak, imperious wave and gave Sherlock’s arm a small squeeze of support before taking her keys from the waiting valet.

      “Be good, boys.  Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do?”

Mrs. Hudson hopped into her car and pulled away from the curb while grinning at the thought of her day on the town.  She was always frugal with her employer’s money, but not today!  Today was for indulgence and entertainment.  And how nice that she had a friend or two living in London that were already lined up to join her for the day.  And the evening.  If things went well, her Mr. Holmes should be having a nice evening himself and wouldn’t miss an old lady one single bit.

Though, Sherlock had her mobile number in case the day, or evening, went horribly wrong for any reason whatsoever.  A day of indulgence and entertainment was one thing, but her dear Mr. Holmes was another thing altogether…

__________

      “Much better.  Would you not agree, Sherlock?”

      “This car is the size of Wales.”

      “Your point being?”

      “It is enormous.”

      “Oh, nothing deeper, then.  I had hoped for something clever and erudite.”

      “You are in a foul temper.”

Mycroft did his best to give a wry smile and make an expansive gesture with his arms to indicate his head-to-toe state of being, but his failed attempt sold his point more forcefully than successfully completing the tasks.

      “A temporary inconvenience.  Stop your whinging.”

That got a frown from the driver, but the man wisely decided to leave family business to family.  Even if the family seemed to be somewhat of a prat.

      “I shall whinge if I choose to.  Now, how much longer until we reach to Gregory’s place of work?”

      “Depends on traffic, but not terribly long.”

      “Is he present?”

      “I am not a psychic.”

      “Ring him, then, and make a determination.”

      “Why do we not simply begin the investigation of the property ourselves?”

      “Have you the address?”

      “I… be quiet and conserve your strength.”

Mycroft smirked but complied mostly because the strength he needed to conserve was mental in nature.  How best to manage an enraged Gregory?  Sexual favors were momentarily out of the question.  Cash?  No, too crass.  A gift!  The only thing on hand, though, was Sherlock and that was not a gift one gave to place the recipient in a welcoming mood.  Oh well… he would simply have to be his most charming, ingratiating self.  It would be helpful if he could smile provocatively or ensure Gregory had a long look at his luscious arse, but c’est la vie.

Perhaps they would pass one of those money-dispensing machines before they reached Scotland Yard.  Might be wise to put a few extra pounds in his pocket, just in case. There were times that crass was precisely the solution for a vexing problem…

__________

      “Sherlock – let go of me!”

Greg swatted off Sherlock’s grip on his coat and made a face back at the one Sherlock was making him.

      “You are entirely too slow donning your coat and I have had more than enough glacial slowness for the day.”

      “Well, lah de dah, Captain Speed.  Give me a moment.  It’s not as if there’s a fire or anything.  Anderson, are you set for now?”

      “Yep.  I’ll let you know if I learn anything on this end.”

      “Thanks.  Alright, Sherlock.  If you can stop tugging on me like a child wanting a lolly, we can make a start of it.  Newspaper offices first, I think.  I phoned to say I’d be popping in today, so they should have pulled whatever records they have on hand by now.”

      “Ugh… if we must.”

      “Sorry that an investigation actually requires police work but you’re welcome to toddle off for one of your loony schemes while I’m working.”

      “Not possible.”

There was a sharpness to the tone that had Greg and Anderson sharing a look but, given it was Sherlock, there was no use trying to fathom things out.  It would either become clear in its own time or was something that didn’t concern them anyway.

      “Ok… then prepare for all the boring bits of police work.  Anderson, I’ll check in.”

Greg nodded Sherlock towards the lift and wasn’t surprised that Sherlock stormed off ahead of him, waiting impatiently and wearing the impatient look all the way down to the ground floor before, surprisingly, staying in step with Greg while they left the building.

      “I have a car.”

      “What?”

      “Those were all single-syllable words.  How could you not grasp my meaning?”

      “You don’t have a car, you nutter.”

      “I do today.”

Sherlock motioned Greg over to the large, dark sedan and ignored Greg’s narrowed eyes as they approached the vehicle.

      “What is this?”

      “A car.”

      “Funny.  Why do you have a car?  This car, especially.”

      “We have work to do, Lestrade.  Stop your prattling.”

Sherlock didn’t wait for the driver to open the door and, instead, hurled it open himself and flung himself inside, pointing Greg towards the other side which was opened by the driver who waited patiently while Greg gave him a suspicious glare before entering the car.

      “YOU!”

Yes, maybe the driver hesitated a moment before entering the car himself, but given they seemed to be collecting a policeman, the likelihood of outright mayhem following that angry shriek was fairly slim.

      “Ah, Gregory.  How good to see you.”

      “What the fuck are you doing here, Mycroft?  I… how even are you here?  This is… I… I don’t even know what this is but’s it’s something and that something’s not good!”

      “Au contraire…”

      “Nope!  None of that, you bastard.  You keep your contraire-ing to yourself.  What are you doing here?  What possessed you to come to London?  You… you have no idea what this will do to you.  What it’s doing to you right fucking now!  Are you ok?  What hurts?  Anything… falling off or…”

Mycroft hissed at Greg who was quickly and sequentially lifting each of his limbs and checking his ears for continued attachment.

      “I am fully functional… in a sense… so kindly stop manhandling me like a show dog.”

      “You… this is madness!  And you, Sherlock… what the fuck is wrong with you to let him do this?  You have no idea what this is doing to him.  We’ve got to get Mycroft home.  Now.”

      “Absolutely not!  Gregory Lestrade, you have no right, none at all, to commandeer my life.”

      “I do when you’re throwing it away like rubbish!”

      “I am doing no such thing!”

      “You could be moments from death!”

      “I survived Sherlock’s driving, so I suspect nothing can kill me!”

      “I am not part of your lover’s spat!”

The driver was beginning to reconsider the likelihood of mayhem.

      “This isn’t a spat, you bastard.  I wouldn’t be contemplating kidnapping and walling this one in his attic if this was a spat.”

      “I am a free person, Gregory, and have dominion over my own life.  I have decided to help with this matter and you cannot overrule my decision.”

      “I can keep you from doing a bloody thing, though.  Sherlock go… let him ride about the city for an hour or two.  Show him the sights.  Then show him the fuck home.”

      “Sherlock, ignore this domineering barbarian and let us continue on to whatever destination is first on the barbarian’s list of objectives.”

      “Sherlock… you will ignore the suicidal nincompoop and see him home.”

      “Sherlock… you will not ignore the astoundingly cogent and brilliant man who is master of his own existence. You will ignore the brutish thug that is attempting to control his life!”

      “Sherlock…”

Was out of the car, shutting the door behind him and standing outside, joined by the driver so the combatants could rage and wail until they worked things out on their own.

      “Oh, very good, Gregory.  You have scared the child.”

      “Me!  I’m not the one braying like a mule!”

      “No, you are simply the one who looks like a mule and sports the animal’s brain inside his thick head.”

      “I’m not mule-headed!”

      “What was that?  Who let a mule loose in here to bray its nonsense?”

      “I’m going to throttle you.”

      “Do your worst.  I doubt your hooves will be terribly effective at throttling, but good for you trying to show willing.”

Greg’s hands lifted and made strangling motions at Mycroft who was evilly leaning forward to make said throat more accessible.

      “You’re impossible!”

      “But I have won.”

Now Mycroft was grinning evilly and feeling very self-satisfied at Greg’s agonized writhing and pulling at his hair.

      “Yes, I thought so.  And it is clear you need me here, Gregory.  Your eyes, Sherlock’s eyes… they could easily see something and know it not for what it was.  This situation is coming to a head and I suspect neither you nor Sherlock is safe until it is resolved.  At the very least you shall not be able to visit my home without your life being at risk.  The only other option is I come here and we are back again in this same debate.”

      “I hate you.”

      “No, I wager not.  Though, if you do, the sex will only be exponentially more intense.”

Greg held his snarly pout for a full 0.5 seconds longer, then burst out laughing.

      “You fucker.”

      “Precisely.  Now, where are we going?  And when is lunch?  I am existing solely on biscuits and that is not nearly enough to satisfy a traveler such as myself.”

Greg still wanted to throttle some sense into Mycroft but he couldn’t, ultimately, best the argument that Mycroft’s life was his own.  This idea was still a terrible one but Mycroft’s choices were his to make when it concerned his health and welfare.  And he had brought a car…

      “Newspaper offices are first on the list.  Then a spot of lunch.  Then, we can check out your mother’s property.”

      “Are these offices able to be reached by wheelchair?”

      “You have a wheelchair?”

      “In the boot.”

      “That was a smart idea.”

      “It was mine.”

      “You said that too fast.”

      “It was Martha’s.”

      “She is smarter than us, so it stands to reason.”

      “True.  But do not admit that to her.”

      “God no.  She’s cocky enough as it is.”

      “You have no idea.”

__________

Greg had to concede that none of the horrible things running rampant in his mind happened on their ride to the news offices, so he didn’t feel quite so uneasy getting Mycroft into his wheelchair and pushing the wheelchair up the ramp helpfully placed to reach the main door.  The only dark note was how hesitant the staff was discussing matters in their presence.  Though, to be fair, it was as much because Sherlock was being a berk as Mycroft’s rather unique condition.

      “This is all?  Their records keeping is decidedly disappointing.”

      “It’s been a long time, Sherlock.  Some things just aren’t that important for a business.  But… Mycroft, what do you think?”

      “Despite Sherlock’s disparagement, I find the records most revealing.  For example…”

Mycroft tapped a page in the file he’d been studying and Greg picked it up for a closer look.

      “A contract.  Nice.”

      “The name is utterly false, of course, however that is Mummy’s handwriting behind the signature.  She did not even bother to hide the fact.”

      “So they’d have known she was a woman.”

      “No, not necessarily.  Knowing Mummy, she would have wanted her solicitor to examine the document before she appended even a false name to it.  Likely it was delivered to the gentlemen for review and she signed the document at their offices to dispatch back to the newspaper.  There is some chance this paper knew fully of her identity but… given her connection to me I have difficulty believing they would not leverage that in some manner and I saw no undue pressure by this publication for interviews or the like.  And, she could easily have brokered a greater fee, by dangling access to me, whether she intended to carry through with that or not.  Mummy was that devious when she chose to be.  The figures in the ledger, they do correspond to certain records I see here.  Certainly not princely sums.”

      “Alright, then.  I’ll get us copies of all of this but it certainly looks as if our instincts were right.  I checked the name you gave me of her solicitors.  The firm doesn’t exist anymore, per se, though it’s been sold or passed to those who worked for the firm as it moved through the years.  They’ve got some poor clerk rooting through their files for whatever they can find on your mother and her dealings.  We’ll stop in today to see if they’ve found anything and remind them that we’re interested.  It’s not an official inquiry, so I can’t really hold feet to the fire, but solicitors know the value of having good relationships with the police, as long as legal lines aren’t crossed.  I can’t imagine anything I requested crossed any lines, but Sherlock here can act as family representative if they need a signature or something to release any information.”

Greg wasn’t blind to the wistful shift of Mycroft’s eyes to his young relative and it made his heart ache.  This was Mycroft Holmes.  This was his mother and her life, neither of which he could openly acknowledge anymore than his own identity.

      “I think we have time to pay our respects there, then have a bite to eat before continuing on.  Somewhere near your mum’s property, if you like, so you can get a feel for the neighborhood.  Maybe you remember it.”

      “Where?”

      “The Baker Street area.”

      “Oh… I do, actually.  Respectable, though rather unremarkable.  Little there to inspire the creative mind unless one brings inspiration with them in their own manner.  Strange that Mummy would choose to invest in anything in such a banal section of the city.”

      “Well, maybe we can find out what she wanted it for.  Ok, I’ll see about getting all of this copied and then we can be off.  Sherlock, you want to start Mycroft towards the car?  Maybe see if there’s a place to get a bottle of water or something, too?”

Mycroft made to object to being coddled, then realized that he was rather thirsty and that the way back through the various corridors to the lift and into the car would take a few minutes that could be multitasked with Greg’s work at the copier.

      “Nor really, however, it is the only way to move us forward with this investigation.  Which, I hope, will involve more than poring over desiccated scraps of paper.”

      “Police work is mostly desiccated scraps of paper, so I think you’re going to be disheartened.  But who knows?  Maybe we’ll bump into another ghost to throw you out of a window.  That sounded exciting.”

Sherlock snorted, ignored Mycroft’s low sniggering and only crashed the wheelchair once into the doorframe while pushing the sniggerer out of the room because he was a good-hearted man of honor who would never stoop to petty revenge.  Even if was well and truly deserved.

Chapter Text

      “Yes, well…”

The young man sitting opposite the large desk smiled hesitantly and the hesitation didn’t abate as Mycroft and Sherlock continued to glare murderously at him.  Mycroft was murderous because the lad had shrieked when he was wheeled into the room and Sherlock was murderous because it wasn’t fair that Mycroft was getting all the attention.  Greg wisely decided that he’d best take charge or they’d be sitting like this all day.

      “How about hand this off to one of your superiors, lad.  It’s clear you weren’t expecting our little visit and have other things to do.”

      “Oh… yes, that’s probably a good idea.  I didn’t do any of the work on your… case… anyway, so I’ll get…ummm… someone who did.  Just a moment.”

Greg almost checked to see if the young man’s pants were on fire as he fled the room, but spared the poor thing a bit of sympathy, regardless.  He’d been young once and facing members of the public when he had no real connection to what was going on besides he wore a uniform and people in uniforms seemed to be involved somehow in the whole business.

      “If that is an indicator of the current status of the law profession in this country, I feel no surprise that society has fallen into ruin.”

      “I agree with Mycroft.  Now I must cut out my tongue for having said it.  I hope you are happy, Lestrade.”

      “Calm down, you two.  And do not give the evil eye to the next clerk they toss our way.  This isn’t a priority for then, not an active client, so they’re not going to waste a senior staff member on handing over some files and answering a few questions.  Behave or I’ll send you back to the hotel and finish up our inquiries myself.”

While Sherlock and Mycroft made very clear their opinion on that subject, Greg imagined himself sipping a delicious pint at his local, with the match on the telly and not a care in the world besides losing five quid to DI Dimmock who occasionally made a good pick in the weekly wagering.

      “I do not do domestic arguments.”

Three male heads turn at the sound of the female voice, one head doing a much less noticeable job of it than the other two, and each man started to feel sheepish at the glare they were being given, one which was equally as murderous as the ones Sherlock and Mycroft could muster, but the power of properly chosen and applied eye shadow could not be underestimated in enhancing the glare’s lethal potency.

      “Sorry about that.  These two just had a bit of a disagreement with a point I was making.  Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade, though I’m not here in any official capacity.”

Greg rose and extended his hand to shake, feeling a bit impressed by the firm grip he received in return.

      “Anthea.”

      “Oh… just Anthea.”

      “Are you paying my fee?”

      “Ummmm… no.”

      “There you have it.  And you scared David.  He’ll be useless the rest of the day, so thanks for that.  In any case…”

Anthea walked around the desk and looked at the files spread out on the desktop.

      “Oh… I see why he came and hid behind my skirts.  The Adelia Holmes matter.  Alright, that bought you some goodwill in my books.  This was an interesting situation…”

      “Pray tell why?”

Anthea glanced up at Mycroft and Mycroft grudgingly admired that the look she gave him was equal in weary ‘why are you like this’ to the one she gave Greg.

      “I was getting to it.”

      “If we are to spend the day weathering pregnant pauses peppered by pointed remarks then I will require tea and a book to help pass the time.”

Now it was Anthea bestowing some grudging admiration because she wasn’t entirely sure she could muster that level of vinegar if she was as terribly bedeviled as the man with the diamond glint in his one good eye.

      “I like you.  And because I do, I won’t offer tea since the one who makes it is the one who just ran out of here like a ninny, so you can imagine how dreadful it is.  But, back to business, the reason this is interesting, well one of them, is that we actually thought Adelia Holmes née Arliss and Addison Harliss were two different clients.  The files were separate and if there were any documents linking the two, they were in a ledger or letter somewhere that vanished over time.  And, given we do have to maintain the records, that’s a bit of tidying I appreciate.  In any case, here’s what we have and… I believe you said you had a descendent of Mrs. Holmes with you?”

Anthea correctly fixed Sherlock with her gaze and answered his nod with one of her own.

      “We don’t have to do it today, but you will want to get the paperwork started on clearing up inheritance issues.  Both Mrs. Holmes and Mr. Harliss left assets that will need to be properly transferred.  That could get thorny depending on the number of living descendants that exist given there isn’t a will…”

      “Adelia Holmes did leave a will.”

Now Anthea was looking back at Mycroft who had said that a bit more sharply than he intended.

      “Alright.  It’s not filed with us or the courts that I could find, so we’ll need a copy to examine.  We’ll need to definitively connect her identity with that of Addison Harliss, also, so those assets can be handled accordingly.  How many family members remain, do you know?”

      “Immaterial, since only those related directly by blood may inherit.”

      “You seem to know a lot about the situation, Mr…”

      “Sigerson.  Michael Sigerson.”

Mycroft ignored the puzzled looks given him by Greg and Sherlock and remained focused on Anthea.

      “Alright, Mr. Sigerson, might I ask why you seem so informed on this matter?”

      “Because I am a music historian and have made an intensive study of Mycroft Holmes and his family.”

      “Oh.  Writing a book are you?”

      “What I choose to do with the knowledge I acquire is my business.”

      “Perhaps.  In any case, the will mandates direct blood descent?”

      “It does.  Adelia had two sons, one of whom had three children with only one surviving beyond the age of three.  That was Sherlock’s grandfather.   William fathered a daughter who died without issue and a son who graced the world with Sherlock’s presence.  Not a terribly fecund family, one might say, however that does simplify the matter of inheritance.”

      “What about her other son?”

      “There are no children of record for Mycroft Holmes.  He was a bit too… busy… for the burden of procreation.”

      “And too gay.”

Greg rolled his eyes at Sherlock’s quip, but it seemed to amuse Mycroft to no end.

      “Sherlock… there are no definitive reports on Mycroft Holmes’s sexuality.  Though, I admit, the rumors are somewhat… delicious.”

Sherlock’s look of repulsion, Mycroft’s look of satisfaction and Greg’s look of pride made Anthea glad she’d researched this DI after they received the information request.  If he hadn’t checked out to be a well-respected man known for his decency and honesty, she’d be suspecting a prank was in the works and planning her highly entertaining revenge.

      “We did run a quick check of living relatives, and had a preliminary list, but not with the angle of direct blood descent.  Of course, we’ll check again and see if Mycroft Holmes was as bereft of heirs as you claim but if your story checks, then yes, it does simplify matters.”

      “That…ummm… that sounds like a lot of work.  What’s it going to cost us?”

Mycroft and Sherlock both gave Greg a ‘you peasant’ flick of the wrist, but Anthea credited his practicality.  Her time was NOT cheap.

      “Normally, loads.  However, Adelia Holmes and Addison Harliss were smart people.  They effectively put the firm on retainer and our fees are paid from profits from their various investments, which we also oversee.  Those profits have been steady over the years and young Mr. Holmes here does stand to inherit a tidy sum, in addition to the real estate, even taking into account what will go into finalizing his inheritance and transferring deeds and such over to him.”

      “I have no interest in being a landlord!”

Something, Anthea suspected the tenants would be very happy to hear.

      “We can discuss the matter of property management later, Mr. Holmes.  In any case, I’ll need your signatures on a few papers to set things in motion…”

Sherlock turned wary eyes towards Mycroft and Greg who held a silent conference that resulted in their deciding they might as well make a start on this now as it would have to be done anyway and the more done sooner than later the closer they’d get to solving their mystery.  Maybe.

As Sherlock signed the various papers Anthea pushed towards him after presenting his driving license, Greg ran an eye over Mycroft and wished more than anything he could simply take the man in his arms, carry him to bed and give him every reason in the world to forget the condition of the body he was inhabiting, because it was clear that Mycroft’s tolerance for that condition was wearing thin.  Of course, that could also be because he’d heard Mycroft’s stomach growl and that came with its own set of perils.

      “Thank you.  I’ll start in on verifying the information you’ve given and… do you think you can get me a copy of the will?”

This was directed to Sherlock, but Mycroft offered the answer.

      “When I return home, I can see a copy sent to you.  Gregory or Sherlock can do their… technology thing… to see it happen swiftly, I have no doubt.”

      “That’ll be fine for now.  And before anyone asks, no, there’s no legal magic wand to make all of this happen overnight.  It should proceed fairly smoothly, but too many get their hopes up that they’ll see a check in the mail by morning once these papers are signed.  There will be many more papers to sign and details to pin down before all is said and done.  But, it won’t take forever, either, so if you have a nice holiday you’ve been contemplating, Mr. Holmes, I’d say you can start planning.”

Sherlock’s face made his opinion of a common person’s holiday clearer than words ever could and Greg decided to shift the focus to more important matters.

      “Thank you, we appreciate the help.  Is there any way we could get a look at the property today?  Nothing to bother anyone, of course, but a peek inside to have an idea of what Sherlock’s getting into?”

      “Ummmm…. I can’t give you a key, but I do have business in that vicinity and could give you a quick tour.”

      “That’d be great.”

      “Let me pass these to my clerk and get the property keys.  I’d offer to share a cab, but…”

This time, Anthea’s eyes looked at Mycroft with something that acknowledged his condition, but not in a way that held any pity, which the composer greatly appreciated.

      “We have a car, Anthea.  You may ride with us, if you choose.  I do not bite.  Usually.”

The solicitor was not going to expend one iota of thought on the grin Mycroft cut to Greg or Greg’s smothered laugh, instead choosing to favor them with a generic disapproving stare that she reserved for the barista at her coffee spot when he tried to entice her with whatever new and ghastly flavor they were inflicting on their customers that week instead of her standard order.

      “Fine.  I’ll join you in a moment.”

Anthea strode out the door with Greg quickly following, pushing Mycroft’s chair towards the rear of the building where the delivery/wheelchair ramp was located, stopping only to keep Sherlock from pocketing a handful of the firm’s stationary and business cards.

      “Well, that was easy.  Sort of.”

      “I am most intrigued, Gregory.  I wonder if it was mere incompetence that had Mummy’s affairs in two separate files or did she specify such a thing.”

      “Anthea would probably have a better idea about that, just please don’t use the word incompetence if you ask?  I’d rather not see you thrown out of the car while its moving.”

      “She would do it, too, I suspect.  I knew a number like her in my day and they were ever ready to make good on any actual or implied threat they delivered and did not suffer offense or fools easily.  A laudable combination.”

      “You know, someone will have to keep an eye on these properties unless you and Sherlock decide to sell them.  Maybe it’d be easier all around to just leave things in her hands as much as possible to save you the effort.”

      “Hmmmm… that certainly is a possibility.  I despise all the… minutiae… of mundane matters and am always content to leave them in other hands.  Besides, it will give Sherlock someone else to whom to complain about whatever vexes him at the moment.”

Sherlock stuck out his foot so Greg stumbled at the bottom of the ramp, allowing Mycroft’s wheelchair to glide forward and into a rubbish bin.

      “I will exact revenge at the earliest possible opportunity, Sherlock, you fiend!”

      “Pfft.  What revenge shall it be?  You will be hard pressed to lift a fork at lunch, let alone engage me in combat.”

      “Given you undoubtedly expect me to fund your lunch, do enjoy a heart repast of air while Gregory and I enjoy something more substantial.”

      “Are you three done?”

The Three Investigators scowled at Anthea who was standing on the pavement glaring into the small alley with a look of someone who had much better things to do with her time than listen to people bickering next to garbage.

      “Mycr… Michael started it!”

Mycroft’s kicking ability was nearly zero, but he made a good try at it, anyway.

      “I don’t care who started it, I’m finishing it.  Now, let’s go.  If you are thinking lunch, then you’re in luck.  Sherlock here owns a café.  Or, I should say, owns the lease for a café, so they’ll likely give you a nice discount to get in good with the new landlord.  In fact, I haven’t had lunch yet myself, so we can grab a nibble before we inspect the premises.  Members of the firm eat there a lot since we represent said landlord, in whatever form they did or didn’t exist, so I can attest it’s rather good.  Where’s the car?”

Greg gave Sherlock a small pat on the shoulder because, despite his snarly behavior, it was clear the young man was a little taken aback by all of this. Yes, he’d groused about his inheritance being stolen by Mycroft Holmes’s housekeeper, but the reality of gaining genuine means in this world was having a hard time fitting into his brain.  As should be expected, perhaps, given Sherlock’s somewhat unmoored life to date…

      “Sherlock, escort your solicitor to the car.  Gregory and I will follow.”

A small hissing contest occurred, with each Holmes expressing their opinion about being ordered about/being defied in the ordering about but Sherlock finally stalked away, swooping past Anthea who shook her head and followed after the dark figure at her own pace.

      “And the reason you wanted a moment alone, Mycroft?”

      “Do I need a reason to wish time alone with you?”

Greg smirked and leaned in, softly kissing Mycroft on his thin and twisted lips, then laying another on his temple before squatting and smiling at a job well done, as evidenced by the twinkle in Mycroft’s eye.

      “No, not at all.  But, I suspect you have one this time.”

      “True.  I simply wanted to confirm that you agree Sherlock will need guidance in his new situation.”

      “Oh, there’s no doubt about it.  His parents weren’t poor, but he’s done a good job of making that his reality since he came to London.  But, Mycroft… all that property is yours, by right.  Do give a thought to your own welfare, too, as well as his.”

      “I am.  Once we have a better idea of what is involved, I will negotiate a fair settlement with Sherlock.  In truth, I have little interest in adding more to my accounts, but I am also not blind to advantages of resources when one lives a life as restricted as mine.  However… I do not wish to see him as impoverished as you and he describe, Gregory.  I cannot bear that thought.  I would see him provided for sufficiently that he can lead the live he chooses and this is a marvelous opportunity to accomplish that goal.  I feel, too, that you want the same for him.”

      “I do, no question there.  I suspect he has no idea how to manage any actual money, though, so he’ll definitely need help in that area.”

      “I am certain that between the two of us, we can provide what assistance he requires.”

Mycroft raised a gnarled hand and ran it across Greg’s cheek before Greg took it and applied a kiss before returning it to its owner.

      “I’m certain we can, too.  Now, ready for a spot of lunch and a view of your riches?”

      “I am.  I do admit, Gregory, this is rather fun, all things considered.”

      “And the day’s still young!  Well, youngish.”

      “What other shenanigans shall offer themselves for us to sample, I wonder.”

      “No clue. But, if none present themselves, I have full faith we can create a few of our own.”

      “I do enjoy a spot of impromptu creativity.”

      “Oh no, the devil woman was right.”

Greg and Mycroft turned towards Sherlock who was practically quivering with agitation.

      “Sherlock, your new solicitor should be treated with greater respect.  Our family has standards, you know.”

      “They are punishingly low ones, apparently, as she bet me ten pounds that I would find the two of you engaged in… intimacy.  I am now blinded by your lecherous leers and Lestrade owes the harpy ten quid.  I hope you are happy, Mycroft.  You have brought this day thoroughly into disarray.”

Actually, Mycroft was happy.  Apparently, his carnal nature was evident even through the grotesque fancy dress he was forced to wear.  He was even a more potent sensual force than he had realized!

      “Shut it, Sherlock.  And I’m not paying your lost wager.  Stupid of you thinking Mycroft and me wouldn’t take the opportunity for a bit of affection.  But, I guess we’ll have to curtail that for now, so you don’t get arthritis from clutching your pearls and then I have to listen to you moan about that, too.  Off we go, Mr. Holmes.  Lunch, then see what new clues we might gain for ourselves.  After that, the sky’s the limit.”

      “Do you not have work to return to later, Gregory?”

      “Uhh… yeah, but Anderson will let me know if he needs me back and I’ll be notified if we catch a case.  Besides, I came in especially early so I could get ahead of things and leave time for stopping in and tending to these inquiries myself.”

      “Most diligent.  Then I shall not feel too guilty if I entice you into some unrepentant debauchery after we conclude today’s business.”

      “I have officially died.”

Sherlock slumped against the wall and Greg decided to take a little pity on him by setting Mycroft’s wheelchair in motion.  But not before leaning in and whispering something in Mycroft’s ear that earned him a low, dark chuckle from the person he was chauffeuring.  No matter the body he was wearing, Mycroft Holmes was a brilliant, sexy man and he was lucky to have found someone like him.  Now, it was simply a question of fathoming out a way to gaining Mycroft greater freedom so they both could enjoy that brilliance and sexiness to the fullest, no matter where they happened to be when the mood struck…

Chapter Text

      “I’m going to remember this place for a bite when I’m in the area.  It’s good.”

And what was better in Greg’s mind had been watching Mycroft glare the snooty couple at the adjacent table into cowering masses of human regret when they made a meant-to-be-overheard rude comment about his appearance.  He’d even handed over one of his chips to the pianist as a token of his respect.  And they were top quality chips, too.

      “One of the reasons members of the firm are regulars here, in addition to a little discount now and again in exchange for some on the sly legal advice.  What do you think, Sherlock?”

      “Fd is irrelvnt.”

Said through a mouthful of irrelevant food that was large enough to choke a horse.

      “Right.  Mr. Sigerson?  Enjoying your meal?”

Which, honestly, Anthea wasn’t sure he’d be able to eat without help and, though she hadn’t been entirely wrong, only a minor bit of assistance had been needed and DI Lestrade had taken the job in a completely offhand manner.  How he was involved in this whole business, and with the man in the wheelchair, was something she’d dearly love to know…

      “It is most pleasing, to my surprise.  The eateries in this area have never been known for particularly palatable fare, leaning more towards filling than any other quality of preparation, but I am satisfied with what I have sampled so far.”

      “You dine in the city often, Mr. Sigerson?”

      “No.  Once upon a time it was a different matter altogether, but I choose to remain closer to home now, for reasons I am certain you understand.”

Not really, in Anthea’s mind.  The man was terribly debilitated, but seemed to manage it well with appropriate assistance and didn’t suffer bastards easily, which she always scored as a point in someone’s favor.  That being said, she didn’t have to live his life.  Suffering the bastards, as well as the other hardships associated with navigating the city, likely became more than slightly tiresome very, very quickly.

      “It’s certainly cheaper that way.  Everything in London is expensive.  Of course, that also means properties and rents, so whatever is the decision about the various properties we’re concerned with, it’ll mean a tidy sum in pocket.”

      “Most heartening.  Do you hear, Sherlock?  A tidy sum.  Let us hope you establish appropriate management strategies to grow your wealth and main a steady flow of capital into your coffers.”

      “Money, also, is irrelevant.”

      “Then you will not mind if your share is donated to a school of music.”

      “The talentless masses can fund their kazoo lessons from selling newspapers and matches.”

      “As I suspected.  We shall, therefore, ensure appropriate individuals are tasked with overseeing these affairs so that their profitability is maintained.  Gregory, what know you of the crime in this area?”

Greg dabbed his mouth and ran his brain through the various complaints and comments he’d heard from colleagues, which were always more telling than official reports for any situation.

      “Nothing out of the ordinary in frequency or type.  Even a respectable neighborhood has its share of incidents, but there’s no special attention to this area compared to others of a similar type.”

      “Little has changed, then.  Good.  This café appears successful… are there residential properties in Sherlock’s new portfolio, as well, or are all commercial in nature?”

Now it was Anthea dabbing her lips and she began to rummage in her handbag for the set of keys she’d tossed in before leaving the office.

      “There are residential units, though they have been used on an off in semi-commercial enterprises.  There’s residential space on the two floors above here but the top level is being used as both a residence and husband-and-wife accountancy firm.  The building next door and the one adjacent to it are purely residential or residential/home business in nature now, though that hasn’t always been the case and it doesn’t have to be the case in the future.”

Greg’s eyes bugged slightly because there was no doubt in his mind as to the value of three building units in this part of London.  It wasn’t the most fashionable, but certainly desirable and… there was a lot of money in play here.  But, what the condition of those buildings was when they were purchased might not be what it was now.  People looking to invest sniffed about for that sort of thing, didn’t they?  Mycroft seemed happy about it, though…

      “A diverse rental profile.  Requiring, of course, an exceptional head for business to properly manage for continued revenue.  Your firm seems to have the requisite skill set, Anthea.  I would see little reason for changing to a different set of hands if there is still interest on your part in the properties.”

      “Isn’t that Sherlock’s decision?”

      “But of course!  Sherlock, your thoughts on the matter?”

      “I am bored.”

      “And there we have it!  Perhaps a song or two, Madam Solicitor, will enliven young Mr. Holmes.”

Greg chuckled softly, then louder as Sherlock budged closer to him in response to Anthea’s glare.

      “I blame you for this, Mr. Sigerson.”

      “I find myself profoundly unsurprised by that statement.  However, given I doubt you shall punctuate your declaration with fisticuffs, for fear of damaging your manicure, I am also profoundly unmoved by it.”

Anthea turned her glare on Mycroft and, with point-making slowness, stole a chip off of his plate and ate it while continuing to glare daggers into his eye.

      “By the stars, I am struck to the quick by the blow.  Gregory!  My death shall be a torturous one, but weep not as it will leave you rather red-faced and soggy for the photographs documenting my funeral, a thought I cannot take with me to the grave.”

Greg shifted a chip from his own plate onto Mycroft’s and grinned at the evil cackle that resulted.

      “Part of your ‘serving the public façade,’ Detective Inspector?”

Greg grinned at Anthea’s words, though his eyes didn’t leave the sight of Mycroft gleefully consuming his crispy chip.

      “Basically.  It’s a broad job description.  In any case, are we almost done here?  I’m rather anxious to see what else Sherlock’s got in his grip now that he can be bored over.”

Anthea stole the remaining two chips on Sherlock’s plate and deposited them on Mycroft’s plate, then nodded while the young man sputtered in outrage.

      “Looks like it.  Mr. Sigerson, eat your police-sanctioned potatoes and we can be on our way.  Put your wallet away, Mr. Lestrade.  I’ll put this lunch down as a business expense and bill the Harliss estate.  Sherlock here can get his first experience with the wonderful world of billable hours.  Something to write about in his diary tonight.”

Anthea rose and moved to both pay for lunch and have another word with the manager to reassure him that the situation with a potential new owner wasn’t as worrying as the tableau at their table presented.  As she strolled away, Mycroft took a long look at Greg, who patiently waited for whatever was percolating in his mind to bubble out of his mouth.

            “So confounding, Gregory.  I never viewed Mummy as particularly interested in investment beyond what her various money minders suggested.  I cannot conceive what might possess her to take on such a block of property, especially given the pseudonymous name on at least one of the deeds.”

      “Hiding funds is the usual reason, from a police standpoint.  You don’t want someone or someones finding your money when you’re going through a divorce or when the tax man comes to call.”

      “Both are well within the parameters of Mummy’s sensibilities.  Sherlock?  Your thoughts?”

      “Perhaps.  Once we see the purchase date on the deeds in question.”

      “Ah, a salient point.  Let us ensure we receive copies of all relevant paperwork pursuant to their purchase.  I suppose that is a normal part of transferring ownership, but I have paid so little attention to the arena of law that I could be mistaken.  Such tedious work… my soul would rot like a broken tooth if I was forced to bend all day over a ledger and sheaf of papers, scratching with a pen and losing my vision to the miniscule and unfathomable typescript adorning each document.”

Greg smirked and earned a moue of scorn from his lover when Mycroft’s sole remaining chip was stolen by a perfectly manicured pair of fingers as Anthea rejoined them at the table.

      “As opposed to bending all day over musical scores, news clippings and dusty old history books, Mr. Sigerson?”

      “The vitality of a quality score is a gift from the gods.  The vitality of legal documents is scarcely a gift from a greengrocer.”

Rising from his seat to start them moving towards the door, Greg found himself hopeful that Anthea would accept the reins of this new, for them, London situation.  Despite all expectations, his Mycroft was enjoying her company and it would be another person he might occasionally chat with, under the auspices of legal or business dealings.  Chat on the phone, of course, because now that she’d seen this version of Mycroft, the other version might be a tad difficult to explain.

      “Have you seen the price of fresh vegetables lately?  I’d happily take a bouquet of broccoli for free.  In any case… we now have a small problem.”

Three sets of male eyes turned towards Anthea who professionally ignored them as she walked past them out of the café and onto the pavement.

      “None of these buildings has anything that might remotely be mistaken for a lift.  I’m afraid, Mr. Sigerson, that your inspections will be limited to the ground floor.”

      “Nonsense.  Gregory will carry me.”

Now it was two sets of male eyes and one set of female eyes turning towards Greg who simply rolled his own eyes in response.  Mycroft was a very prideful man except, apparently, when he wasn’t.

      “Fine, but don’t shout at me if I smack your head against a doorframe or something.”

      “I will shout.  And loudly, too.”

      “Marvelous.  Alright, then… that side door?”

Anthea nodded and the group moved into the small entrance where there was nothing to see, but did offer space to put Mycroft’s chair after Greg carefully lifted him out of it to start the somewhat perilous trip up the stairs.  Maybe it was his imagination, but Mycroft seemed a lot lighter in this condition than he did at other times, say, when he was pressing this old DI’s body into a soft mattress for some amazing and pleasurable purposes.

The tour of the space went fairly swiftly as it was a fairly simple layout of rooms and none offered any particular points of interest besides their rental fees, which Anthea was happy to disclose.  Given there was what appeared to be a cleaning crew leaving the next building over, the group trooped to the third along and gave it a similar inspection, Mycroft having a greater appreciation of this one, from an artistic standpoint, as it had some internal architectural features that had been left intact from days gone by.  Then it was time to view the middle building and it was clear that, first, though it could be used for business purposes, it was more suited to residences and, second, Sherlock found it the most interesting of the three.

      “Hmmm… there is easily sufficient room here for a laboratory.”

Anthea was in no manner certain how to address that comment, so settled for directness.

      “Why would you want a laboratory?”

      “To conduct experiments, of course.”

      “Alright, that’s an answer.  Not one I particularly understand given you’ve not mentioned being a scientist, but that’s not my concern, ultimately.  There’s a second bedroom on the floor above that makes it a nice space for a small family, though, which typically rent for a good price, so keep that in mind.”

But Sherlock’s mind was already elsewhere, as was Mycroft’s and Greg’s.  Whereas money was a good thing to have, a reliable place to live also was good and it seemed that Sherlock might be gravitating towards making part of his new windfall into a nest for himself.  Which had the heartfelt approval of both older men.

      “And above that?”

      “Well… that’s a bit of a mystery.”

If Anthea thought her statement would be shrugged off, she was sadly mistaken.  But, since she hadn’t thought anything that ridiculous, she simply wore her most bored face when she waited for Mycroft and Sherlock to leap in with questions.

      “Explain.”

      “MYSTERY?”

      “It’s like this…”

Crooking a finger to get the flotilla of men following in her wake, Anthea cut a ‘sorry about this’ glance at Greg, who had to ascend another set of stairs where the 2nd bedroom was located, along with a nice space for a chair and lamp to make a small sitting room on the landing.  Because that was the only thing for which the landing could be used given the tidy wall that blocked off what was obviously going to be a set of stairs ascending even higher in the structure.

      “… in the papers for these properties there is a notation, properly witnessed and signed, that if the firm was formally or informally, as with a newspaper mention or some such, about the death of Adelia Holmes, the top floor was to be made inaccessible by any who might rent or reside in the property.  Further, no inventory was to be taken and recorded of its contents though, to satisfy conscience, the poor chap who had to enact this stipulation did make certain there wasn’t any living person being walled in to die.  We know this wall was erected and no accounting recorded of anything that lies behind it, but the reason for any of this remains a mystery.  And, before you ask, no, we have never considered violating our client’s wishes.  It’s not as uncommon as you might imagine that an in-limbo bit of property or bank/investment account suddenly finds a beneficiary after decades of being in caretaker hands.  Nobody wants to find themselves subject to a lawsuit because something they thought was a smart idea that wouldn’t be noticed anyway turned out to be wrong on both fronts.”

      “Tear it down.”

Anthea shook her head at Mycroft’s words, which earned her a snarl that she waved off with effortless aplomb.

      “No.  Until we firmly establish Sherlock’s right to inherit and have everything properly signed and filed with the courts, there will be no altering the property in any manner.  I’m sorry, but I have no idea at this point if some other heir is going to appear at our doorstep with a valid claim.  If what you say is true, that’s not likely to happen, but not likely doesn’t mean impossible.”

Mycroft snarled again and it was underscored by a ferocious one from Sherlock but Greg understood fully.

      “Of course, you have a duty to perform and it’s not something you take lightly.  Could… you said this place was seeking a new tenant, right?  Could Sherlock rent the flat below and, at least, live here while all that is being sorted.  His money is as good as anyone’s, right?”

Mycroft patted Greg’s chest with one claw-like hand to indicate his views on the subject.  Which were uniformly positive.

      “Oh… that’s a good question.  He’d be subject to the general leasing guidelines we’ve established and pay a fair price…”

      “Deduct the rent from the income the properties generate as a whole.”

      “No, Mr. Sigerson, that’s not possible since those profits are part of the estate which, as I stated, are not legally Mr. Holmes’s.”

      “Yet they paid for lunch.”

      “Fine, I’ll take that cash from you or Mr. Lestrade before we’re done here.  In any case, if things are not handled legally, and without a whiff of impropriety floating about, it could damage his claim when its presented to the court or lose him sympathy if another heir does surface at a later time.  I have done this sort of thing before.”

      “Very well.  I shall fund his lease until such time as his claim is established, when the expended monies shall be refunded to me from the estate.”

      “I can draw up the papers for that easily enough.  Sherlock, is this something you agree to, or is Mr. Sigerson being a bit of a meddler yet again?”

The in-stereo glare/hiss session between Mycroft and Anthea made Greg smile and it bought Sherlock a moment to think over the offer.

      “Are the furnishings included with the flat?”

That Sherlock’s thoughts were actually practical startled everyone, but no looking a gift horse in the mouth when they were as rare as honest politicians.

      “Ummmm… sure.  They were left behind and we were going to have them hauled away since they’re a bit tatty but, if you want them, I don’t see a reason to not include them, at no additional cost, with the lease.”

      “Then, yes, I will take the flat.  It is conveniently located and offers sufficient space for my needs.”

Anthea didn’t miss the relieved smiles on both Greg’s face and that of his passenger.  And, if she was truthful with herself, she had noticed that Sherlock’s clothes seemed a bit threadbare and his shoes showed signs of a minor repair, as if the owner either didn’t believe in spending good money on new when the old could be fixed or money for new was not something easy to come by.  Sherlock didn’t appear to be sleeping rough, but that didn’t mean he was living somewhere particularly safe, warm or guaranteed day to day.

      “Alright, I’ll start work on things this afternoon.  But, and let me be very clear about this, you are not to use your tenancy to make any structural changes to the building.  Do not look at me like you don’t know why I would bother to say that, either.  We have to do a full inventory and have an appraisal done before you’d gain ownership rights to any of this and if there are problems, say, an enormous hole in the wall where there wasn’t one before, it’ll be noted.  Again, that can work against you in the future and it’s something that can be avoided if you just show a little patience.”

Three ‘Curses!  Foiled again!’ expressions greeted Anthea’s words and she knew that, barring stationing an armed guard where she was standing, there was no real way to stop this trio of miscreants doing what they wanted.  Except…

      “Detective Inspector, I’m sure I can count on you to prevent any destruction of private property until the owner of said property can be duly designated by the courts.”

Heh… look at the poor man feel the weight of his job land squarely on his shoulders.  Perfect.

      “Yes, you can.  It’s not an eternity to wait, though I know these two are rabid to have a little explore, but nobody is going to knock down this wall until they’re legally cleared to do so.”

The hissing, shouting and spewing of terms that hadn’t been in common use for nearly a century was Greg’s reward for upholding the law and he patiently let the in-stereo abuse flow with the stoicism and detachment he’d developed from years of dealing with the irate citizens of London when they were feeling outraged, oppressed or hungry.

      “Good.  I’m glad to see that one of you has sense.  I have an appointment to make, so if there’s nothing else, I’ll lock up and… do I have a contact number for any of you?”

Greg nodded and felt a great deal of relief they’d arrived at the end of their tour since his arms were about to show the world how long it had been since he’d done any appreciable manual labor and Mycroft ended as a heap on the floor.

      “Your office has my mobile number.”

      “Alright, then.  I’ll phone when the lease agreement is drawn up and we can arrange a time for Sherlock there to pop in and sign it.  I don’t necessarily need your signature on anything, Mr. Sigerson, but if you want a guaranteed return of your rent money, then I can draw up a contract between you and Sherlock to see that happens.”

Waving off the offer Mycroft simply sighed and resisted the urge to lay his head on Greg’s shoulder.  The day was catching up quickly with him and he was more than ready for a chance to truly rest and let matters swim through his mind so they found their proper current and flowed to their intended destination.  Which was comprehension.  So very much to contemplate and he sadly suspected that the understanding he’d hoped to find in London might continue to elude him.

      “Not a problem.  That simply means if he defaults in paying you, you have no easy recourse to recoup your expenditure, but it’s fully your choice to accept that risk.  Detective Inspector, why don’t you get Mr. Sigerson to the car while I let Sherlock have one more look through the flat.  If there is anything he doesn’t want, there’s time to have it taken away before he takes up residence and he can also see what’s there for things like tableware and linens to tide him over until he buys new.”

With that dismissal, which Greg honestly appreciated, the slow progression down the stairs began, with Sherlock and Anthea peeling off on the floor below while the other two continued towards the car.

      “Alright, Sherlock… what’s going on?”

Sherlock was very aware that Anthea had not laid a finger on him, but it felt as if she’d slammed him against the wall and was threateningly muttering into his ear while she decided whether or not to terminate their association in a bloody and violent manner.

      “I… I am standing here waiting to be shown my flat.”

      “Funny.   Because that Detective Inspector fellow is well-regarded and I couldn’t find a whiff of shadiness floating about under his name, I’m giving a lot of benefit of the doubt here, however, if there is something that is going to come back to bite me or other members of the firm in the arse, you are well advised to tell me now and save yourself a punishing lawsuit later.  Or worse.  Likely worse.  Most likely a lawsuit plus worse.  You don’t want that.  You don’t even want to imagine that could exist in your world.  Believe me.  I don’t lie about lawsuits and worse.”

      “All I am doing is renting a flat!”

      “No, that Sigerson fellow is renting it, if money is to be believed.  Why is he so concerned about you?  For that matter, why is the DI?”

      “Lestrade’s interest is self-preservation.  Without my assistance most of the cases on which he works would remain unsolved.”

      “That’s a lie.”

      “Perhaps a tiny exaggeration, but you can confirm with him that I assist with cases on a regular basis and my help is invaluable.”

      “Ok… and Sigerson?”

      “He resides in Mycroft Holmes’s house, which is not something I inherited.  Because I have wanted a greater understanding of Mycroft Holmes’s music and my own family history, it was necessary to become acquainted with him, odious as he is.”

      “And… that’s how he and Greg met?”

Sherlock began to feel an itch in his brain and decided that plausible explanation was far better than anything approaching the truth or another form of lie.

      “As you say.”

      “Hmmmm… and… what sort of relationship do they have?”

      “Why?”

      “Curiosity.”

      “Then draw your own conclusions.  Lestrade carried the meddlesome oaf up the stairs and cut his food into manageable pieces.”

Anthea was absolutely certain it was shamefully ableist of her to wonder how in the world the two of them could be shagging when she had a highly difficult time imagining Michael Sigerson being able to shag, but solid relationships could be built on a lot of wonderful things besides wild monkey sex, so…

      “Ok, just wanted to be certain of the connections between the players before we went forward.  This is an unusual situation, for a variety of reasons, and that’s not always something that sits well with those in the legal profession.”

      “I don’t really care what does or does not sit well as long as the paperwork proceeds without needless interruption.”

      “Fingers itching for all that cash?”

      “Fingers itching to have the aforementioned ‘players,’ with fewer excuses to stick their noses into my life.”

      “Fair enough.  Take a quick look about, then, and tell me if there’s anything…”

      “No.”

      “Why not?”

      “I am bored.”

      “That concerns me how?”

      “I tend to find things to explode when I am bored.”

      “That is not a thing to say to a solicitor.”

      “It is if the solicitor wishes to avoid being caught in the blast radius.”

      “You win this one, Sherlock.  Enjoy it while you can.”

__________

      “Gregory, wheel me to the rear of the building.”

Greg looked down at Mycroft who sounded even more wretched than normal and shook his head.

      “Enough property tours for now, I think.  You need some water and a chance to…”

      “Quickly!  Before the she-devil returns.”

It took little in the way of detective skills for Greg to know who the she-devil in question was, but given Mycroft didn’t want her to know about his little scheme…

      “Around the block we go, then.  Mind letting me know for what purpose?”

      “To determine if there is a rear entrance that would allow us to gain entry to the hidden floor.

      “No, we are not committing breaking and entering.”

      “I am hoping it simply shall be entering and the breaking will be unnecessary, but I discount no possibilities lest I be caught unprepared.”

Greg stopped walking, turned the chair around and started back towards the car.

      “I do not want to be in a position to arrest you, Mycroft.”

      “You are an utter spoilsport!”

      “First, I’ll wager a tidy sum that there aren’t any doors left open for you to simply traipse through, so the breaking bit is somewhat guaranteed.  Second, if your mum wanted that space sealed off, do you think she’d be stupid enough not to ensure that all access was blocked?”

Mycroft made a sound that was a good mimic of someone spitting out lots of small crumbs that were found to be completely not to his taste.

      “I’ll take that as your rather dramatic agreement.”

      “I must know what she concealed, Gregory!  I simply must.  I… I cannot explain it, but I sense that it is important.  Something I must discover if I am to make any progress with this horrible conundrum.”

      “You will, just not this very moment. “

      “When, then?  I am not so unknowing of things that I anticipate the legal finaglings will be so swiftly accomplished that we are seeing satisfaction by sunrise.”

      “That would be a silly anticipation, but it might only be a few weeks.”

      “Weeks! Weeks where the sharpened daggers ignorance slash at my mind.”

      “Weeks where you can make some plans for what to do with all of this and work other angles for the case.”

      “Angles?  What angles?  We are bereft of paths to trod besides this single lonely lane.”

Moving the chair to the side of the pavement and squatting so he could look Mycroft in the eye, Greg found that eye so filled with plotting, scheming, confusion, anxiety and other miserable things that he leapt into a fistfight with his brain to beat out some form of compromise between his integrity, not to mention professional sensibilities, and desire to bring this man some ease.  Further, to be fair, to satisfy his own curiosity about what was so horrid or secret or whatever that it needed to be bricked up like the unlucky chap in The Cask of Amontillado.

      “I may have an idea, but we will have to wait until Sherlock actually is living here.”

      “Easily arranged.  Perhaps.  Behold…”

Anthea was stepping out of the building with Sherlock on her heels, seemingly already being rather pestiferous if her continued head shaking was any indication.

      “Ah, Anthea!  Excellent, we had a final question if you have an additional moment.”

      “Can you get him to shut his gob?”

      “Absolutely.  Sherlock, kindly shut your gob.  I have a rather important matter to discuss with your solicitor.”

Sherlock immediately opened his mouth to perform the precise opposite of what he was being asked to do, but a quick head shake, this time on Greg’s part, had him holding his tongue.  For now.

      “Thank you.  I believe you stated that you could have the rental agreement scripted in rather short order?”

      “It’s a standard form we use, in line with what the various estate agents we service have on hand, so it’s already scripted, per se.  I just need to fill in the details and collect a cheque for the tenancy deposit and…”

      “Have you the form in… Gregory, what is the term for having such a thing on your phone?”

      “A digital copy?”

      “If you say so.  Do you have a digital copy so we could tend to that now?”

Anthea’s eyes narrowed and even Mycroft had to admit that this was continuing to sound somewhat shady.  More than somewhat shady, actually.  Positively nefarious.  Which was normally something that would delight him, but this time it might not be to their advantage.

      “It is simply that I hope to return home tomorrow and would see this business concluded today, if possible, in case there are further needs on my part that must be handled prior to my departure.  It is not an easy thing to affect a return if I am required again.”

      “Well…  our agreement with the previous tenants included utilities and council tax, so…”

      “As I thought, no reason to wait.  Sherlock, provide whatever personal information is required and Gregory, have you a cheque to present for the deposit?”

Greg actually looked about to see who it was that Mycroft knew, coincidentally also named Gregory, who had joined them for a chat.

      “Me?”

      “Martha has my various cheques and bank cards.  I will, of course, reimburse you immediately upon taking personal possession of them.”

      “Deposit and first month’s rent.”

Anthea really didn’t care from whom the monies flowed, as long as they flowed in her firm’s direction and in the proper quantity.

      “Immaterial.  A pittance compared to young Sherlock’s happiness.”

Greg realized he had a startlingly different idea about the concept of pittance than Mycroft, but his accounts could take an extremely short-term monetary blow, given the circumstances.  Besides, he’d be charging sexual interest on this loan by the minute, starting now, so he’d come out the better for it in the end.

      “I can do that, but let’s make certain that whatever Sherlock needs for his first few days here a bit on the cheap side, what say?”

      “Groceries and the like?  Yes, the basics should suffice for now.  Correct, Sherlock?”

Sherlock scowled at Mycroft as he continued to pointedly ignore Anthea’s explanation of the tenancy agreement, but privately admitted that the idea of something in the refrigerator besides air would be a welcome thing.  He was getting very tired of tea with no milk and there should still be ample room for the mold experiments he was planning.  He also needed to buy bread for the mold experiments.  And toast.  A toaster would be helpful, too.

      “Your silence stands as agreement.  Anthea conduct your business with Sherlock and Gregory while… well, I was going to say while I wait in the car, but I believe I shall wait here and take some sun.”

Which may or may not have been a manipulative way to short-circuit any further conversation and her objections, but Anthea couldn’t deny that the man had no mechanism to get to the car parked a block and a half away besides hailing a charitable passerby and requesting a push.

And with that bit of maybe-manipulation in play, it was quick work to have Sherlock finger sign the lease and snatch Greg’s cheque out of his fingers before getting both his and Sherlock’s email addresses to send them copies of the paperwork and to keep another method of contact open while they worked through the larger business in which they were engaged.

      “There we have it.  Here… these are the keys to the main door and the door to your flat.   I have another set in the office.  Do not start playing lord of the manor and changing the locks.”

Sherlock ignored the words and turned back to check the key worked in the door, then disappeared inside.

      “AND do not start playing lord of the manor and knocking through that wall.”

      “Gregory has already given his word, what more would you have of him?  His blood?  His soul?  The final breaths of life from his expiring body?”

      “You have problems, Mr. Sigerson.  Detective Inspector… good luck.  I have no doubt you’ll need it.”

Anthea spun on her heel and started down the street, looking for a convenient cab.  As she walked, Greg took a moment to mentally thank her for treating Mycroft exactly as she did Sherlock and him, then turned to Mycroft and cocked an eyebrow.

      “Why are you raising an eyebrow?  I am the one who is unknowing of the next steps of your plan.”

      “It’s an on-principle eyebrow raise.  Want to toddle off for a pint first or…”

      “I shall throttle you if we do not learn what is hidden in the house!”

      “Moving on, then!  I have to make a call.”

      “The pubs deliver?”

      “For the police, they probably would, but no.  This isn’t for a beer.  Let’s get you inside, though, and a bit more comfortable.  It’ll be a wait before… we can do anything.”

      “How long?”

      “As long as it takes.”

      “Then I desire a brandy.  My nerves are absolutely on edge.”

      “Oh, no pint for me, but brandy for you?”

      “You also may have a glass if you desire.”

Greg heard something and grinned upwards to the sight of Sherlock throwing open the window of his new home.

      “Sherlock!  Any glasses in there?”

      “I believe so.”

      “Then run down and I’ll give you cash for a celebratory drink.  I suspect there’s an off-license close by and we can toast your new digs.”

      “And milk.”

      “Ok, you can also buy milk.”

      “And bread.”

      “Fine.”

      “And a toaster.”

      “Later.”

      “A Bluetooth speaker, then.”

      “Wrong.”

      “I counter with right.”

      “Booze, bread and milk.  That’s it.”

      “You are a petty, Scrooge-like creature, Lestrade.”

      “One of my best qualities.”

__________

Mycroft was seething with annoyance that Greg wouldn’t give him even the slightest hint as to his plan and seeing the necessary supplies did little to lessen the annoyance since he had no earthly idea what he was looking at.

      “What in the name of the Muses is this?”

Greg smiled proudly, especially with the memory of Anderson dropping it off and refusing to tell him what it was needed for.  That was three people he had stewing in annoyed curiosity, though Sherlock had been far better at hiding it, and that was something of a record for him.

      “Well, it’s like this.  We can’t knock through the wall, so a full-on demolition assault isn’t in play.  I considered the walls between this structure and the other two, but one has that nice couple living on the top two floors and the other has that accounting service, so it’s out as a contender, too.  In any case, I then remembered our pesky wall has a baseboard…”

Sherlock hmmmmm’d loudly and began nodding, which infuriated Mycroft even further.

      “What are you planning!”

      “Come and see.  Sherlock, bring the baby?”

Greg picked up the toolbox he also had Anderson bring and left the more delicate item to Sherlock who darted with it up the stairs.  Then Greg darted up afterwards and quickly returned to dart back again, this time carrying Mycroft instead of the toolbox.

      “Alright, let’s see if I can get this off…”

With a little careful work, Greg got the baseboard off of the wall and began tapping about on the wall behind it.

      “There… that’s definitely a hollow spot.  I suspected they didn’t brick over the space and I was right.  Quick wood and plaster thing that I can excavate easily enough and don’t have to worry about what it looks like on the other side.”

Which Greg started in on immediately, using a keyhole saw to cut space through their side of the wall, then through the wall on the other side, large enough for his hand to reach through.

      “Ok, when we’re done, I can simply put the baseboard back in place and none’s the wiser.  Hopefully.  Sherlock, hand me our little friend…”

Mycroft sat on the floor with the other two, though his arse was not entirely content about that fact, and continued to try and fathom out the small mechanical contraption that Greg was reaching through the hole in the wall to deposit on the floor on the other side.

      “Ok, now the controls…”

      “Gregory, will you please tell me…”

      “Hold on.  Sherlock, get on the tablet and start the app.  And show Mycroft, so he doesn’t have a stroke.”

Sherlock snorted, but did as he was told, anxious himself to see what they would find.

      “Gregory, what am I seeing?”

      “Not much now, but hold on…”

Greg refreshed his memory on his two-day training session with his little toy and set it in motion.

      “… it’s a camera drone.  Can’t use a simple borescope since there are stairs to navigate but this will fly about and send a video feed to the tablet.  I just can’t crash the bloody thing because we won’t be able to get it back out, meaning I need to be able to see what’s going on, too, Sherlock.  Get the tablet positioned and I’ll start this moving forward.”

Mycroft’s eye had gone as wide as it could while he listened and his mouth twisted into what for him was a delighted grin.

      “Inspired!  Truly an inspired idea, Gregory.  I wish I could say the same for that wallpaper.”

Greg had the tiny drone aloft and decided to start at the top and work his way down.  Slowly guiding the drone up the stairs, he took note not only of the unappealing wallpaper, but the framed paintings on the walls and Mycroft’s small gasp.

      “Mycroft?”

      “Those are portraits of Mummy’s mother and father.  I…”

      “Yeah?”

      “Continue on.”

Greg cut eyes at Sherlock who only shrugged, so Greg piloted the drone to the top of the stairs which opened into not a small landing, but a large, open space.  Apparently, the top floor had been modified from a series of rooms to a single large one that occupied all the available floorspace.

With a music stand.

      “Oh my…”

Mycroft peered at the image on the tablet and took in the music stand and handsome desk in front of one of the room’s two windows which were covered by lacy curtains that allowed in just enough light for the drone to form clear images without using the night-vision feature.

      “… there, Gregory… to the right.   Can you move closer?”

Greg nodded and steered the drone to the right side of the desk and found his own breath catching.

      “A trunk.  Looks like leather.  Mycroft…”

      “In my dream I saw a brown leather trunk.  I saw… oh dear.”

Greg quickly landed the drone and set the controls aside, seeing what seemed a look of fear on Mycroft’s face, which made a worrying scene with the shaking that had overtaken the composer’s body.

      “Mycroft?  What’s wrong?”

      “I… Gregory, I recognize it.”

      “The trunk?”

      “And the room.  I have been here before.”

Chapter Text

      “What?”

      “I have a memory… memories.  They are not dreams, Gregory.  Memories.  Memories delivered to me as a phantasmagoria through the realm of visions while I slumber.  Only now do I know them for what they really are.”

      “Ok… ok.  I… have no idea what to say about that but it’s new information and that’s what we’re here to accomplish.”

      “I know not the meaning, either, but we must get inside to investigate!”

      “No, no we don’t.  We agreed not to do that and aren’t going to break that agreement.  Let’s think about this…”

Greg was, for the first and he very much hoped last time, happy that Mycroft wasn’t himself right now because the fervency in the composer’s eyes said the physical alteration that would have ensued from his words may very well not gone in this DI’s favor.

      “I require a hammer.”

Nothing, it seemed, was going in the DI’s favor.

      “That is not the direction of my thinking, Sherlock, but thanks for contributing.  Mycroft… the fact that this is coming to you now… from your accident onward, how is your memory?”

      “Excellent, as ever.”

      “The ‘as ever’ bit meaning you’ve got a good memory for things in your life before the accident, too?”

      “I do.  Which is why this vexes me!”

      “Ok.  A toy bear, a tin whistle… those are a child’s toys.”

      “You… you believe this is a childhood memory.  But my childhood was not spent in London.  Rarely did we venture into the city.”

      “You didn’t even know your mum owned this house, Mycroft, so I wonder how much happened that you don’t remember.  Maybe from when you were very small.  Memories from very young ages are often lost, muddled, made up from stories heard or read, pictures seen… anytime we have a case that involves someone having to remember something from a young age, it’s always the evidence of last resort because it’s so bloody unreliable.  Even questioning little tykes about something they’ve seen or heard is rough and it takes training to get information from them you can even somewhat trust.  I’m going to assume, barring evidence to the contrary, that you were here when you were a small child and maybe even spent a bit of time in this house though you don’t know why.  But… now I have to wonder about the whole haunting business.  If you weren’t being sent messages, then why the kerfuffle with your ghosts?”

Mycroft’s shoulders gave as best a shrug as they were able, but Sherlock had thought ahead to this point and had some semblance of answer to offer.

      “Who is to say the ghost or ghosts were not trying to stimulate Mycroft’s memory so as to prompt this investigation?  With both you and me now in active contact with him, the probability of following this line of inquiry rose precipitously, potentially gladdening one spirit and enraging the other.”

      “The dreams started long before Mycroft met me, Sherlock.”

      “Then I posit that one spirit was hopeful he would follow such a tangent on his own, but Mycroft’s lethargy and extreme tedium made such impossible.”

Mycroft snarled and tried to land a kick on Sherlock’s thigh, snarling more fiercely when he couldn’t persuade his leg to accomplish the task from his current position.

      “Leaving that aside, you bastard… you may have some degree of point, though not for your evil reasons.  Mycroft wasn’t really in a position to do any investigation on his own, even if he realized that was the direction he was being nudged in.  I suppose, though, that if his lifespan was enormous, he’d either get curious enough or have other reasons to look into matters.  Maybe use his little story of being a historian, doing a book on Mycroft Holmes to dig into things.  I have no idea if the ghosts knew he could manage to a degree in his… altered… condition, but he can and I don’t doubt that even without our help Mycroft could have found a way to dig into the situation here in London.  The lack of police connections might have been a small problem, but they don’t always open as many doors as people would imagine.”

      “He could have threatened them with sex and his potential victims would throw whatever information he wanted in his direction, along with cash to go away and leave them unmolested.”

Greg reached out to smack Sherlock’s head, but the detective nimbly dodged the oncoming fingers.

      “That’s it!  Have fun with Anderson and the other lads turning over your new flat every week for the next few years for a drugs search.”

      “That is abuse of power!”

      “Yep.  What are you going to do about it?”

      “Fill my flat with drugs for them to find and then laugh as Mycroft harangues you into seeing the investigation quashed.”

      “He wouldn’t do that.  He’d let you rot like a bad apple while we had an insane amount of amazing sex to celebrate the peace and quiet.  Isn’t that… where’d he go?”

Sherlock and Greg both looked around and it was only the quiet cursing that gave them an idea where to find the third member of their party.

      “Have you completely lost your mind?”

Greg stared in disbelief at the figure crawling slowly and wretchedly through the lone inhabitable room on that floor of the house.

      “I have found it, actually.  Though…”

Mycroft stopped and even with his hunched posture, it was clear that he slumped in defeat.

      “… I have not found sufficient energy after this rather unusual day to properly carry out my plan.”

      “Which was?”

      “A minor bit of pettifoggery.”

      “How minor?”

      “Our agreement was not to demolish one particular wall.  We did not make any agreement pursuant to other walls in the structure.”

Mycroft’s head nodded towards what would be a wall adjoining the section of corridor that had been blocked for reasons still unknown.  Sighing softly Greg took a seat on the floor next to his Holmes and ran a comforting hand through Mycroft’s hair.

      “I admit I can’t know what’s going on in your mind right now but I recognize how important it is for you to get answers.  Remember, though, you’ll be arguing with a solicitor and…”

      “Paint.”

There were times Greg wondered if he was the only sane person left in the world.  Now was one of those times.

      “What, Sherlock?”

      “This wall is painted.”

      “Ok, thanks for sharing.”

      “The other is covered in wallpaper.”

      “Are you having brain problems?”

      “It is doubtful we could easily match the wallpaper if we damaged the wall in the corridor, short of having it custom crafted as it does not seem to be of a recent design.  That would be both a time-consuming and unsure process.  Fresh wallpaper would certainly incite suspicion in the most suspicious person known to the legal profession, however, this wall seems somewhat recently painted and not with an unusual color.  Having a builder restore the wall to current condition would not be difficult.”

      “Gregory!  Begin the deconstruction immediately!”

Greg blew out a long breath and ran through Sherlock’s words again and again in his mind, looking for the fatal flaw that would doom them to death by kick with a very tasteful pair of business heels.  None, however, were leaping to mind.

      “Ok… that’s not the worst idea possible, but I have no idea how to knock out a wall.  There’s all that supporting wall business and electrical things and are there pipes… I should have paid more attention to my dad when he nattered on about things like this instead of reading car mags and sneaking out for a smoke.”

      “You are useless, Lestrade.”

      “No, I’m just not a builder.  I can assure you we’ll be in the thick of it if I swing a hammer through something important and the roof comes down on us or I get electrocuted because I hit a live electrical cable.”

      “Then summon your father here to coordinate the operation.”

Greg marveled at how Mycroft, who had viciously guarded his existence for a century was now thrilled to put a Welcome! sign on the door and invite in anyone who might be of use solving this mystery.

      “No.  Dad would laugh at me if I said to hop a train and get to London today and, further, he wouldn’t rest until he had the story of who you were and why we want to knock through a wall in a nice London building that none of us actually own.”

      “Yet!”

      “Yet.  Thank you, Sherlock.  Your continued input is helpful.  So… ummmm…. let me think…”

      “Oh dear heavens...  Sherlock, your phone.”

That Mycroft continued to fix Greg with a disgusted glare as he slowly input a number on the phone was an act of sorcery Greg didn’t want to contemplate and was glad the call was to a known ally rather than ninja assassins hoping for a dead DI to put on their resume.

      “Why are you giggling?  Oh dear lord… I require the name of a builder here in the city.  Ask one of your lady friends if they have a name to offer.  Yes… what else would I term them?  Very well, I have no time for your nonsense, I will never again say ‘lady friends’ if you will gain for me the name of a builder.  And it must be of one who can make haste to my current location.  No, I will not tell you.  Consider it a penalty for chiding my word choices.  That was astoundingly vulgar.  Yes, I am impressed, actually.  I will wait….”

Greg admired the sheer level of ennui Mycroft could muster while waiting for Mrs. Hudson to go about her task.  It was a palpable thing.

      “… yes?  Ah, good.  Will he have tools on his person?  Because they might be required for a task I need see performed.  I have no idea.  Why is aught in this world predicated on the grasp for money? Unamusing.  I care not about the proletarian mindset of the working class.  Jot down this address to pass along and set about making the arrangements.”

Sherlock and Greg silently agreed that Mycroft was likely to find some unpleasant surprise in his underpants at a point not too far in the future.

      “Well, there we have it.  Martha was most vexatious, as always, however, one of her companions will dispatch her son who toils the trade.  A few shillings in his pocket for rough drink and a new cap to doff at his betters will surely be appreciated.”

Wondering if Mycroft’s continued descent into pure Edwardian dialogue was a symptom of his fatigue or his brain’s extreme level of distraction.  Either way, it was adorable.  If a bit snooty.

      “Good.  But, let’s not rush into things.  Just let the chap do a bit of… whatever they do to decide if what you’re suggesting is a safe idea.  Then we can decide how to proceed. AND, before you let whatever it is you’re poised to say fly out of your mouth, remember that if he does go smashing through the wall, he’ll share what he sees with his mates at the pub and a story like that – hidden room, mysterious figure in a wheelchair… Sherlock…. all of that will keep tongues wagging.  Not something to our benefit, perhaps.”

Growling in unison, Mycroft and Sherlock both refused to give Greg’s words any credence, but also offered no actual protest, so the DI scored it as a victory.

Of course, the victory tasted cold and bitter in his mouth after their builder arrived, certified the wall as safe for demolition, then took a hefty cheque for his consultation which he was told was a preliminary step towards a larger renovation project.  Then it was another quantity of funds to Sherlock to dart out for some additional tools that now sat waiting for Greg’s tender ministrations.

      “Why do I have to swing the sledge?”

The next seventy hours of excuses, complaints and comments on his unhelpful attitude would have been pleasanter with a drink in his hand, but Greg bore it with grace while he rolled up his sleeves and winced at the twinge in his back when he took a small practice swing with the heavy hammer.

      “Alright, you helpful pixies.  Stay well away while I do this.  Hate to have you get a dust speck on your or something.”

Hoping his purposefully-vague questions about the demolition process were clear enough that he now had some idea what to do, Greg hefted the sledgehammer and took a hearty swing, hopefully between two studs, and felt a swell of pride when his aim didn’t fail him and a large whole appeared through to the other side of the wall. Several more swings and some tidying hits with a much smaller hammer opened a space large enough for him to squeeze through with a bit of gut sucking and arse clenching so he could breathe in a few lungsful of stagnant air and be eyeball certain there were no monsters waiting to prey upon loony cops and the wilting violets who were peering through the space with widened eyes.

      “Seems safe.”

      “Were you expecting a murderous specter?”

      “Yes, Mycroft, in point of fact, I was.”

      “Then you were foolish to step inside unprotected.”

      “I can always count on you for a thoughtful analysis. Sherlock, anything to add?”

      “You are ludicrous.”

      “And the comments feature is now disabled.  Moving along to more important things… care to join me?”

It took some doing to maneuver Mycroft though the narrow space since his body lacked much ability to change it’s configuration no matter how much he snarled at its bent and crooked shape, but Greg utilized all the skills he’d learned moving furniture up narrow stairs and into tiny flats for himself and a seemingly endless supply of equally-impoverished friends in his youth so Mycroft finally entered the new space, with Sherlock only a second behind.

      “The wallpaper is no less appalling with closer inspection.”

      “The appallingness isn’t as important, Mycroft, as whether you remember anything more after seeing it up close.”

Frowning at Greg’s question, which was a valid one and, therefore, a petulant inquiry for which the DI should be grossly ashamed, in Mycroft’s opinion, the composer cast an eye around the space and sought some recollection from his memory that might be sparked by a sight, sound or smell.  Unfortunately, nothing was willing to stand up and be counted.

      “No.  Nothing ignites in my mind even the slightest memory but let us look further here before we traverse to the upper story.”

This time, Mycroft swatted off Greg’s attempts to carry him and only took an arm for support so he could slowly move through the remainder of the space which consisted of an expanse under the stairs that abutted a large window where a table and chairs had been set and a room next to the bedroom that appeared to have served for storage, though its shelves were currently empty save for a thin, unbroken layer of dust.

      “Anything?”

Mycroft didn’t respond, at first, to Greg’s question, but slowly began to move his head in a way that wasn’t quite a nod or a shake.

      “Perhaps.  More a sense than a memory.  The very notion of déjà vu, to be honest.”

      “Ok, then we don’t put any importance on it until we know more.  This is a ridiculous question on my part, so kindly don’t notify me of that fact, but… Sherlock?  Anything you… notice?”

Sherlock truly wanted to say something scathing, but held back considering he had noticed something though he had no idea if held any relevance.

      “This story of the structure has a small bedroom, storage and room open for… play.”

      “You’re thinking a kid’s space.”

      “Perhaps.  Given the inability of builders to remove the obstructing wall, I doubt any renovation of this floor has been performed and, taken in sum, this level stands much as it did when it was originally modified to block to the upper floor.  It would be an appropriate space for a child or children to use as their own.”

      “Not a bad thought.  Mycroft, ready to go upstairs?”

      “Yes, though…”

      “Hop up.”

Greg scooped up the withered man and slowly walked him towards the stairs so Mycroft could continue to observe every inch of the opened space for clues to inspire his memory.  He did stop, though, in front of the portraits of Mycroft’s grandparents before being inevitably asked to do so.

      “Do you recognize the paintings or the people?”

Mycroft shook his head, again, in a maddeningly noncommittal manner.

      “The people, though, for the paintings themselves… again I feel a sense they are familiar, though I have no memory of them hanging in our family home or mine when it specifically was Mummy’s.”

      “Your grandfather there looks a good bit like Sherlock around the eyes, but they’d need to be half-hidden by uncombed hair for me to be certain.”

      “Do not mock my hair, Lestrade!  And… yes, there is certainly resemblance there.  It is not surprising as it was remarked upon how greatly both my grandfather and me resembled that side of the overall family.”

      “Proof positive, then.  Mycroft here must have looked more like his dad.”

      “Mycroft is a mutant bearing only a pauper’s share of family genetics.”

Mycroft might not be able to mount much of a kick, but his legs happily served as clubs to knock Sherlock into the wall if properly swung by a man with very recent experience in swinging things for hitting purposes.

      “Assault!”

      “Well spotted, Sherlock.  Gregory, ascend.”

Sherlock snarled at Mycroft who returned only a smug smile then gazed up the stairs that Greg was cautiously climbing.

      “Mind Mycroft’s fat head on the railing.”

Greg ignored the new verbal battle that erupted because he was taking pains to ensure Mycroft didn’t slip from his grip or he missed a step and took all three of them careening down the stairs because if there was a music hall comedy routine poised to occur in London at this moment in time, it would certainly decide this was the perfect place to find its stage.  The small sigh of relief when he reached the top without incident was genuinely heartfelt.

      “Ok, here we are.”

Setting Mycroft down slowly so he could get himself firmly planted on his own feet, Greg then kept his arm raised slightly so Mycroft could take hold and keep that firmly planted business going for awhile.

      “Yes…”

Mycroft began shambling forward towards the music stand and ran a finger across the top when he arrived, as if checking that what he was seeing was more than an insubstantial hallucination.

      “There is… look on the base, Gregory.  Shift the dust to see the wood itself.”

Greg waited until Mycroft had both hands on the stand for support, then got on his knees to buff the legs of the stand’s base, smirking when he noticed something on the second one he cleaned.

      “It’s magnificent.  Should be in a museum.”

Mycroft cackled with glee while Sherlock hurled himself on the floor next to Greg to see what was going on, snorting loudly when he did.

      “It is a cat.”

      “A magnificent one.”

      “The only reason I know it is a cat is the presence of whiskers.”

      “Which are magnificent.”

It was clearly a child’s stick-figure-like drawing of a roundish cat, the sort you thought artistic masterpieces when you were three years old with a pencil in your hand.

      “It is Bastet.  Our cat, not the goddess.”

Smiling up at Mycroft, Greg took a moment to simply savor the contented glow on the man’s face.

      “Your cat is as fat as you.”

The glow of contentment had a lesser effect on Sherlock.

      “Bastet was a sleek, ebony beauty who nonetheless had a rather voracious craving for Cook’s roasted fowl and Sherrinford’s shirt cuffs.  She routinely violated his garments in a savagely vindictive manner, much to my great delight.”

      “You were definitely here as a child, Mycroft.  Unless this music stand traveled from your home here.”

Mycroft let out a breath and waved a hand at Greg’s question as if to dispel the fog that clouded his memory on the subject.

      “No… no, not that I can recall.  It is but a flash of memory I have of it, in any case, perhaps only because I anointed it with the fruits of my artistic labor.  The trunk, Gregory.  I must see inside the trunk.”

Greg dusted himself off, then offered his arm again, escorting Mycroft to the trunk which was locked, much to Mycroft’s discontent.

      “Retrieve your weapon of destruction!”

      “Let’s make that a last resort issue.  Sherlock, you said you had a key at your flat?”

      “Yes.  Hold a moment…”

Scuttling from his position on the floor near the music stand to the floor in front of the trunk, Sherlock inspected the lock and nodded.

      “It is a type suitable for this lock, though I cannot guarantee it is the correct one to open it.”

      “Let’s try it first, though, before other options.”

      “Gregory!”

      “Mycroft… first, I want to see if the key does fit the trunk…”

      “That can be done after the fact.”

      “True, but…”

      “Open...”

Greg sighed at the sound of a click and felt no surprise that Sherlock had used the distraction to pick the lock.  Though he had to admit the lad was getting quicker about it, which was impressive.  Practice was a laudable thing, even for nefarious skills.

      “… toys.  It contains only toys.”

Mycroft smacked Greg’s arm to help lower him to the ground so he could look inside and he carefully lifted up the plush bear, which was well-used but didn’t seem to have suffered insect or other damage since it had been set aside to wait for hands to hold it again.

      “This was mine.  I… the feel of it in my hands is…”

The bear was pulled close and Greg laid a kiss on Mycroft’s temple while Mycroft indulged in a moment of memory and comfort from a time long gone by.

      “What else is in there, Sherlock?”

      “A… here is the tin whistle.  Or a tin whistle.  A ball, a top, blocks, carved wooden animals, several books…”

      “A child’s toybox.  So… the child could play while an adult or adults did something up here?  Play music, maybe, since there’s a stand.  Anything else?”

      “No.  However…”

Sherlock nodded to the desk and Greg got the message.

      “Yeah, that would be our next bit of burglary.  In for a penny…”

Greg motioned Sherlock over to the desk, correctly anticipating that it would be as locked as the toy chest.  Interestingly, in this case, it took much longer for Sherlock to have the lock picked.

      “This lock… hmmmmm….”

      “Problem?”

      “No, it simply is a non-standard locking apparatus.”

      “Something they didn’t want other people to open.  Let’s see why.”

Greg gently helped Mycroft up, not commenting on the fact that the pianist had yet to set down the plush bear, and walked him over to the desk.

      “This is… interesting.”

Sherlock carefully extended a photograph towards Mycroft, holding it so he could see the image of a seated woman holding a child with a man standing behind her, one hand on her shoulder.

      “That is Mummy.  And… dear lord, is that me?”

Greg smiled widely at the toddler sitting in his mother’s lap with a familiar plush bear in his small, chubby hands.  Photos of that era weren’t common and finding one of his Mycroft was a treasure that made this bit of literal housebreaking worth the effort.

      “I’d say so.  Your dad isn’t how I imagined him, though.”

Mycroft’s enraptured expression shifted into something Greg couldn’t define.

      “That is not Father.”

      “Really?”

      “No.  I… I have no idea who that is.”

      “He seems to know you and your mum, though.”

Mycroft peered closely at the photograph, desperately searching his memory for some glimmer of recognition but nothing at all came to mind.

      “I cannot find him in my memory, Gregory.  Not in any manner.”

Sherlock rummaged in the drawer he’d opened and took out several other photos, these of toddler Mycroft posed with an older boy.  To Sherlock’s eyes, at least, the older boy had features that he seemed to recall from other family photos, though the man in them was older.  And in uniform.

      “Is this Sherrinford Holmes?”

Mycroft ran an eye over the photo and nodded.

      “Yes, that is my brother.”

Greg glanced at Sherlock who had remained silent and saw in Sherlock’s face a surprising reluctance to voice aloud what they both were thinking, based on the first photo’s overall tone, feel and composition.  That left the weight on Greg’s shoulders, which seemed to be a theme for the day.

      “He doesn’t have your cute little nose.”

      “No, Sherrinford very much had Father’s nose structure.”

Greg put the original photo back into Mycroft’s hands and pointed to the man in the picture which, after a moment, had Mycroft gasping softly at the familiar nose the man sported on his face.  One he saw every morning when he shaved.

      “That’s… that’s not the sort of photograph you take with a brother or cousin, Mycroft.”

      “Gregory… what does this all mean?”

      “I don’t even want to speculate right now, but…”

Greg turned the photo over where “Langdale, Mycroft and me’ was inscribed, along with the date.

      “Langdale… that ring any bells, Mycroft?”

      “I… no.  The only Langdale of which I am aware is… was… Langdale Pike.”

      “Who’s that when he’s at home?”

      “An enthusiastic gossipmonger, by reputation.  I heard tell of him often during my travels, though he was deceased by that point.  Not the most sociable individual, oddly, but with sharp ears and an unlimited memory for what he heard in his club and the select other places he frequented.  He posted his prattle in a diversity of the more sordid newspapers though, to be fair, I never heard of anything particularly damaging or hurtful.  Silly, embarrassing, salacious… foolish nonsense, but nothing to bring a reputation to ruin.”

Sherlock had been exploring the drawer’s contents with greater intensity and started handing over newspaper clippings he found inside.  The byline on the clippings was Langdale Pike.

      “Ok… looks like that’s our man.  Mycroft, I could be very, very wrong but… I think we may have found your dad.  Your real one.”

The frozen features on Mycroft’s face didn’t melt in the slightest as Sherlock took all the photos and set them on the desk so Greg could hold the composer in a gentle, yet firm hug.

      “We’ll get to the bottom of it all, love.  I promise you.”

While Mycroft nestled in his arms, Greg ran through his mind for any glimmer of an idea how he’d make good on that promise.  And whether or not it would be a good idea to try.  Sometimes, the past was happier staying hidden and this very well could be one of those times.  Though, knowing Mycroft, he wouldn’t be satisfied until they’d laid all mysteries and secrets bare, whether they tore his life apart or not.

No matter what, though, he’d be there to help pick up the pieces.  Whatever Mycroft needed, he’d have.  Support, care, a willing ear to listen… Mycroft may be on the edge of a cliff right now, but there were hands on him, keeping him from spilling over into the sea.  And those hands were not going to let go…

Chapter Text

      “Ok… yeah, that’s definitely interesting.  I’ll let you know.  I have no idea!  Ok, fine, that would actually be helpful.  I will.  Oh, fuck you.  That would be pretty funny.  Yeah, ok.”

Greg shoved his mobile back into his pocket and sighed a moment before turning to fact the pair of eyes staring at him from the heads of the people sitting on Sherlock’s new-for-him sofa.

      “From the quick records search Anderson did, Langdale Pike died not too long after that photo was taken of you, Mycroft.  And… the circumstances…”

      “Yes?”

      “The official ruling was death by heart failure, but there was a notation by the chap who did the medical examination that things looked… suspicious.”

      “In what manner?”

      “Some of the things he noted weren’t in line with a simple heart attack.  And there wasn’t any history of problems, general signs of ill health or a lifestyle that would make a heart attack more likely.  From what Anderson read, the fellow didn’t want to go on record and call it murder, but he didn’t want to be in the line of fire if something later gave the police reason to believe it was.”

      “Oh.  I see.”

Mycroft seemed to fade at the news, which was extremely troubling given the amount he’d faded hearing the first bit of news of his new family dynamic.  Not actually fading, thankfully, which was an honest worry given his maybe-undead situation, but more like someone who was gradually detaching from reality because it was being particularly horrid and difficult to bear.

      “He’s going to keep researching, though.  I’ll tell him we found some old news clippings at the back of a closet here or something because he will ask what the hell is going on when he’s got me alone.  I… I don’t know what to tell you besides the facts, Mycroft, but…”

Greg took a seat on the sofa next to Mycroft and put an arm around him, gently squeezing and laying a kiss against his temple.

      “How are you, love?  What can I do to help?”

Mycroft leaned a little further into Greg’s embrace hearing the small endearment, then wilted because he had no answer for either question.

      “I am adrift.  A battered boat on a becalmed sea.”

      “And I wouldn’t expect anything else.  Truly I have no idea what to do for you, but whatever you need I’m here.”

Sherlock sat watching the two and struggled with the information that was rolling about in his mind.  Mycroft Holmes was not the son of Siger Holmes, but he was the son of Adelia Holmes and Langdale Pike.  At the very least, it confirmed who in the family held the true musical talent.  Perhaps that was part of the reason the female ghost was anxious to see the matter resolved.  Divulge both the true parentage of her son and ensure, at least with those who mattered, the truth of her musical ability compared to her blackguard husband.  Who…

      “The question must be posed… did Siger Holmes murder Langdale Pike?”

Greg frowned at Sherlock, but only for raising the obvious question at this particular moment when Mycroft might benefit from a little respite from additional dark thoughts.

      “He’d be on the suspect list, along with half of London given this Pike was known for the gossip he published.  But, yeah, if I’d been on the case at the time and leaning towards murder that would be my first thought.  But, no, I can’t say that, because there doesn’t seem to have been any awareness that Pike and Mycroft’s mum were… together at the time.  We’d have stumbled across that information if there was, probably in the case notes or in newspaper reports and this came as a complete shock to me and Anderson both.”

      “We need to investigate Langdale Pike.”

      “That’s not going to be easy, Sherlock, since he died when Mycroft was a toddler.”

      “Immaterial.  We will begin with the Dark Witch of Legal Ledgers.”

      “Because?”

      “Adelia Holmes or Addison Harliss purchased a quantity of property that is suspiciously robust for a woman of the time.  It is possible she intended to move her life to London and conjoin that life with Pike.  If so, they may have purchased investments or residences together or Pike may have left a will or other papers documenting their relationship.  It does not seem he legally claimed Mycroft as his heir or that issue would have arisen upon his death, but that does not mean he failed completely to acknowledge his potential family.”

      “Hmmm… that’s possible, but I’d rather not set Anthea’s radar pinging if we don’t have to.  She’s already suspicious about what’s happening and I don’t doubt that if she chooses to dig, we’d have a hard time throwing enough dirt into the hole to keep her from finding treasure.”

      “The photograph and newspaper clippings.  There is no reason for her to believe differently if we claim they were in Mycroft Holmes’s effects and we are now curious about a potential avenue for further inheritance.”

      “Ok, that’s not bad.  That’s not bad, at all.  We came here to pursue one set of leads but are now wondering if another set might tie in a bit more tightly than we predicted.  Happens all the time in my line of work, so I can likely sell the story fairly well.  I’ll get started on that tomorrow and keep you both apprised as to…”

Greg wasn’t sure why he expected his words to be met with anything but indignation, but he had, which proved he either needed more whisky or less whisky in his life.  Right now, more was winning by a nose.

      “Look you two, Mycroft needs to go home and you, Sherlock, need to… get settled in your home.  I’ll handle the inquiries and…”

More whisky was definitely the correct option when you had two professional-grade complainers in the same room as you.  Loud ones, too.

      “Listen, you both stay in your lane, alright.  This is precisely the sort of thing that my lane is all about and I’m the best one to handle it.”

      “Lane?  Have you gone mad, Gregory?”

      “Are you attempting to be… hip… Lestrade?  Stop.  The only hip associated with you is the artificial one waiting in some warehouse for your inevitable stumble over your shoelaces whereupon you fully embrace your status as a pitiful pensioner.”

It had been a risk to go modern.  Risks come with the possibility of failure.  The possibility had been discovered and grabbed with both hands.

      “That was, perhaps!, a verbal misstep on my part, but the point stands.  We’ve now got two possible murders on our hands and it’s going to be a careful, tedious… for you two… plod through files to sort out connections and craft a theory that fits the evidence.”

Ooh, Mycroft didn’t look happy about that.  And he was trying to be considerate!

      “We would not have gotten this far without Sherlock and my assistance, you pompous bluebottle.  I am not scurrying home like a frightened child when my input is vital for progress!”

      “And I am not scurrying home like a frightened child because… in truth, I am home, so the point is a ridiculous one, but I refuse to do so nonetheless.”

Not a whit of happiness to be found about his being considerate.  Greg took a breath, then a few more, then pulled out his mobile and tapped a number, while rising and walking to the kitchen where the whisky was currently performing its most provocative dance for his entertainment.

      “Oh… hello.  I actually suspected I’d be leaving a message but good evening, Anthea.”

      “That was awkward.”

      “Yeah, that’s the theme of my day, apparently.  Look, Sherlock was prowling about some of his family things that we brought over and there’s something that has us curious.  Did you come across any references to a Langdale Pike when you looked over the Adelia Holmes or Addison Harliss files?”

      “Why?”

      “He found some newspaper clippings and other things that… it’s got us wondering if there was a connection between her and this Pike character.”

      “I can’t discuss other clients with you.”

Verifying he was a client.

      “He died even before Adelia Holmes so I don’t see him protesting a great deal.”

      “Not relevant.  I agreed to share as much information as I did for the Holmes situation because a potential relative was involved and to confirm connections between two separate files.”

      “Did Pike have any relatives that might pop up to make a claim?”

      “Why do you ask?”

      “We might… some of Sherlock’s information indicates that there could be a descendent.  If we agreed to share that information would that buy us a bit of goodwill?”

      “Goodwill and legal matters aren’t necessarily cordial, as you well know.”

      “True, but if you can actually divest your firm of another bit of business, wouldn’t that be preferable to leaving it sit open?”

      “What I’ll say right now is that I did find a few notations or memos about certain Holmes or Harliss matters along the lines of ‘confirm with Pike’ or ‘ask LP for details.’  I checked our records and we did, or do, have a client named Langdale Pike and… there may be reason to believe he was connected in some manner to Adelia Holmes.”

      “Why didn’t you tell us that earlier?”

      “Because, as I have emphasized enough times to make it through most thick skulls, though your three seem thicker than most, Sherlock is not yet established as the heir to Adelia Holmes’s estate.  For all I know he’s a very talented and well-prepared imposter that I’ll reveal only after I have the situation investigated more thoroughly.  As such, he absolutely isn’t entitled to have information about someone not even theoretically in his family.  Once we established his identity and claim to the asset portfolio, then I would have raised the issue and asked if he wanted me to look into it further.”

      “Though I can’t make it official this very instant, how does a Detective Inspector uncovering evidence of a possible murder tilt the scales.”

      “Who was murdered?”

      “Pike, potentially.  I had a quick check run and it seems our Mr. Pike may not have died the natural death that was reported.”

      “That… that might give me a tiny bit of legal wiggle room to, at least in a general sense, discuss the situation.  You said you have information about Pike’s connection with Holmes?”

      “Yeah, we do.”

      “My schedule is overfilled already tomorrow but… is it just me and you hoping to chat?”

      “I’d prefer it that way, but I have two cranky barnacles attached to me that seem to feel otherwise.”

      “Lovely.  Breakfast, then?”

      “That sounds good.  Maybe at the place we had lunch today?  That seems convenient.”

      “Alright, I’ll meet you at seven and we can compare notes.  Again, I will not divulge specifics about a client but if there’s a murder involved, it would not be in my client’s best interests to, at the very least, explore whether or not we should take the situation to a higher level of formality.”

      “Seven, then.  And, thank you.”

Greg congratulated himself on a job well done then turned to receive the complete lack of congratulations he’d expected from the two men glaring at him from the sofa.

      “Ta dah!”

      “We know nothing now than we did before, Lestrade.  All you did was push about several boluses of hot air.”

      “Incorrect, Sherlock Holmes.  I had quite a few boluses pushed my way, too, and these gained us the information that Pike was mentioned in some of Adelia Holmes’s papers, at least in a roundabout way, and Anthea is prepared to do a bit of information sharing over breakfast, though she won’t go into specifics about the man.  Save your applause, gentlemen, your kind smiles are all I need for thanks.”

But, since I’m not getting that, either, bugger you both.

      “Gregory, how was Pike mentioned in Mummy’s affairs?”

      “Not in a way that will satisfy you, I suspect.  Anthea said there was a note here and there to clarify or confirm thinks with Pike or LP.  She did confirm they had Langdale Pike has a client and she seems to think that’s the chap being referred to.  No details beyond that, though.  At least, none she chose to share at this point.”

      “Leaving us to dangle like worms on her blasted hook.”

      “I do think she probably views us a bit like worms and she’s the robin, but that she’s meeting with us at all is encouraging.  And not required of her, either.  All in all, despite being a bit peevish, Anthea’s been fairly accommodating, so… be nice.”

      “I refuse.”

      “Joyful.  Sherlock, want to join in on the refusal.”

      “Yes.”

      “Then you’re both staying far away from this meeting and I’m all the way back to the start of this whole conversation and am likely going to pay for breakfast because of it.  Thanks.  Thanks a lot.”

Mycroft scowled but cut his eye towards Sherlock who returned the scowl and added a rueful nod of understanding to show they were of like mind.

      “Shut it, Lestrade!”

      “Whinging like a toddler, Gregory.  How unseemly.”

      “I hate you both.”

      “I shall rectify that in a variety of decadent ways, Gregory, once I am freed from this shriveled form, however, for the present, let us content ourselves with the anticipation of our hedonism and focus, instead, on how we shall approach wresting information from the Kraken of the Magna Carta.”

Greg’s reply was lost in the mental rush of hedonistic anticipation because Mycroft had said it with… tone… and what Mycroft could do when he moved beyond tone was indescribable.  Besides, the bleak emptiness that had gripped the poor man after he found the photo had been pushed aside to make room for his current bout of pushiness and there was a lot of good in that.

      “You evil… fine.”

      “It is rather fine, isn’t it.  In any case, we should study the papers we discovered so as to present the most compelling case tomorrow.  I need to view them again, but I believe there was sufficient architectural detail in several of the photographs to connect them to this structure without revealing our small escapade on the upper floor.”

The demolition debris that still littered the rug argued against the term ‘small escapade’ but a semantic battle was nowhere to be found on Greg’s current agenda.

      “Smart idea and it probably would help convince Anthea that we’re not simply larking about.  Eyes on the clock, though, because you need rest, especially with such an early breakfast facing you.”

      “Pish tosh.  I will remain here so we all can engage in what information gathering is possible using your resources and that of the computer.  Which we will need an example of, it seems.  Sherlock, what have you at your former flat?”

      “A laptop.”

      “It will do.”

      “A better one would do far more effectively.”

      “Yes, a valid point.  Gregory, obtain a better model of laptop for Sherlock to assist with our work.  Why are you offering me your hand?”

      “I’m waiting for money to be dropped into it.”

      “Ah.  The ability of money to poison the soul is without compare.  It is a sorrowful thing and certainly nothing to inspire… stop shaking your hand at me!”

      “As soon as you cross it with silver.  Or a bank card or cheque or pieces of eight or whatever you’ve got on you because I already got the lad set up here and it’s time you stood a round of funding since you are in the middle of this and you’re richer than I am.  By a lot.”

      “Very well… phone Martha and make my request to her.”

      “She’s going to be three gin and tonics into the evening and will probably make me cry.  You do it.”

      “I will do it.”

Sherlock dug in Lestrade’s pocket for his mobile and proceeded to make the call, pulling the phone away from his ear when Mrs. Hudson answered because the music was loud and her voice was louder still.

      “I am not deaf!”

      “Oh, it’s you, Sherlock.  I know you’re not, dear.  It’s a bit of a bustle here and I wanted to be certain I was heard.  What’s His Nibs want now?”

      “A laptop.  State of the art.”

      “When?”

      “Tonight.”

      “You don’t half ask for a miracle, do you?  Hold on… Viv!  Ooh, that one’s got a nice arse I do agree.  What?  Oh, does your sister’s daughter still do computers?  Good ones?  That sounds perfect.  Tell her my nephew wants the best laptop she’s got.  We’ll put it on his card but someone has to drop it by tonight.  I’d think that if she wanted the sale, she’d be happy to take herself there even if it is her night for her book club.  Tell her she can add in a few fussy things like a soundbar and battery backup.  I do, don’t I?  Maybe I should work for her instead of minding house.  More chance to meet a tasty young gentleman like that one over there.  I do like them in leather trousers…”

      “WHEN will my laptop arrive?”

      “Oh!  Give the poor girl an hour or so but you’ll have something nice, I don’t doubt that in the least.  What time are you bringing him back to the hotel?”

      “I… that is somewhat under discussion at the moment.”

      “Well, if it’s going to be late, or not at all, phone the desk and let them know so they don’t worry.  I’ll be in rather late myself so don’t hurry on my account.”

Sherlock was preparing a treatise on why that was never a possibility in the first place when the call was disconnected.

      “The computer is on its way.  Perhaps an hour.”

      “Excellent.  Mrs. Hudson can be most fractious, but she is terribly effective when the moment calls for it.  And… is there Internet here, also?”

      “Yes, it is part of the lease.”

      “Then let us begin with what we can while we wait for suitable technology.  Or… Sherlock, return to your flat and gather what belongings you require for the night’s work and fresh clothing.  There is no reason you should not situate yourself fully here and we have an opportune window for that to occur.”

      “Very well.  Is there…”

Sherlock paused a moment as if unsure what to say.

      “… something you might require for the evening?  From the hotel or elsewhere?”

Mycroft took great pains to hide the smile he felt breaking out on his lips and substituted a thoughtful pursing of his lips to save Sherlock further embarrassment.

      “I do not seem to require a razor but fresh garments would not be amiss, given the low probability of returning to the hotel tonight.  I would not wish to meet Anthea in the same clothing as I wore today for she would surely comment and not in a positive manner.”

      “Very well.”

Now it was Sherlock sticking out his hand to Lestrade who narrowed his eyes, then sighed and dug in his wallet for appropriate cab fare.  With that in his pocket, Sherlock was out the door, leaving Mycroft to let his smile free, as much as he was able.

      “He is born of stinging nettles and vinegar, however, the caustic miasma swirls around an island where lies a good heart.”

The smile turned towards Greg and faltered slightly which prompted the DI to join Mycroft on the sofa.

      “Gregory… I wish to apologize.  I have been beastly to you and you do not warrant my hectoring and incessant complaints.  I am frustrated, frightened, confused, flailing at phantoms but none of that should be revenged upon you.  Can you forgive me?”

Wrapping his arms around Mycroft, Greg gave the pianist a long hug, taking in Mycroft’s scent and reveling in the fact that it was exactly the same in this form as it was in the other.

      “Absolutely.  I can’t imagine how hard this is for you and I’d be lashing out, too, most likely, if I was in your position.  Once Sherlock is back, we can see about putting something into your stomach and that should help, too.  Is there something I can do now to make you more comfortable, though?  We’ll wait on a shower until your clothes come, but…”

      “The sensation of your naked flesh pressed against me, whether in a shower or not, would make me worlds more comfortable, however, as I am not in fit state to reciprocate in the manner I would desire, we shall have to seek an alternative solution.  Perhaps, yes, I have just the thing.  Dance for me.”

      “Dance?”

      “Yes.”

      “Uh… no, you don’t want to see that.”

      “I beg to differ.”

      “It’s not a sight for human eyes.  Or animal eyes.  Maybe the eyes of a potato wouldn’t be blinded, but…”

      “Given you shall be naked, no eyes but mine shall bear witness to it and I assure you, I shall not be blinded by the sight.”

      “N… naked?”

      “But of course!  Your body is enthralling, Gregory, and I know well that you use it in positively scandalous ways in the bedroom.  It should be a minor thing to… shift perspectives.”

Greg stared dumbfounded, but the few functional parts of his brain held an unofficial conference and rummaged through some mice-nibbled boxes of old memories to find a happy assortment of a much younger Greg Lestrade who did dance.  Yes, it was unbridled and wild and to the sort of music that sometimes made his older self’s head ache when he played it at the volume he used to prefer, but…

… it was primal and sensual and lust-laced and all sorts of things a carefree and fun-loving young man would show when he let his body move to the beat.  And it had won him some hot, filthy and mind-shattering sex on more than a few occasions.  Given they did have an hour to fill…

Closing and locking the door to that section of the flat, just in case a certain detective decided he forgot his scarf or something, Greg thanked selected regions of his brain for the assistance and began unbuttoning his shirt.  Slowly.

      “Oh, Gregory… your eyes.  What a tale they tell.”

      “A good one?”

      “One of seduction.  Of perfect male beauty.  Of the pure, undiluted ideal of erotic pleasure.”

Greg ran his hand down his chest and belly, fingertips tucking just slightly beneath the waistband of his trousers.

      “Will my story have an attentive audience?”

      “Not a second shall pass that my gaze will not fully be owned by you.”

      “Alright, then.”

Greg’s fingers made short work of the button for his trousers and let his mind return to his 23-year-old self and the electric brashness that stupid bastard had in unlimited supply.  Maybe he wasn’t as lean and his hair certainly didn’t advertise ‘will fuck for beer’ but that didn’t mean the fire was completely out in his furnace.  In fact, with Mycroft in his life it was burning hotter than ever.  Funny it took a member of the undead to light that fire, but not every undead being was this gorgeous and sexy.  The vampires were a close second, but Mycroft was winning the race and he was an extremely lucky man to be the trophy who’d get stroked and kissed when the race was won…

__________

Sherlock sat staring at his mobile, frowning thoughtfully at the search results before calling out a new address to the cab driver.  Fifteen minutes later the cab came to a halt in front of a large, elegant building with ‘Diogenes Club’ emblazoned in tasteful script on an equally-tasteful brass plaque.

      “Wait here.”

Out of the cab in an instant, Sherlock strode up to the door and announced his presence with a knock one of the members might commit if they were as impatient and unimpressed by the ostentation as Sherlock was by his surroundings.  When the door was answered by someone who was not only the picture-perfect image of a butler, but one who gave off every sign of having neither the time nor the patience for the sort of rabble who would pound like a barbarian on a door as well-polished as his, Sherlock decided a different tactic might be warranted.

      “My name is Sherlock Holmes.  I am investigating the death of Langdale Pike and its connection to certain matters involving my family.  I seek information about the man, specifically details of his personal life and business matters that might shed light on my lines of inquiry.”

The direct approach met with success more often than it failed, in Sherlock’s experience, if only because the victim was too taken aback to offer much in the way of resistance to him barging forward with his intentions.  In this case, that meant to step inside and immediately be overcome by the silence.

      “Why is it…”

The gentle ‘shhhhh’ from the butler actually accomplished its goal as it was accompanied by a crooked finger that led Sherlock to a well-appointed room for which the heavy door was securely closed behind them.

      “There.  Conversation is only permitted in this room, sir.  Those are club rules.”

      “Any conversation or simply conversation with visitors?”

      “Any and all, I’m afraid.  Now, you were saying…”

      “Langdale Pike.  What do you know of him?  This was his club, correct?”

      “It was, actually.  Mr. Pike’s father was a founding member and Mr. Pike himself took possession of it upon his father’s passing.  It was not quite so… quiet in his day, of course.  Quite the location for the well-heeled to relax after a day’s labor, whether it be in government, publishing, theatre, finance… a very diverse group assembled here from what I gather from various accounts.”

      “And they… I cannot for an instant imagine that group of interests remaining silent for a single instant.  They are far too full of themselves for that to ever happen.”

      “I… yes, that is true.  The new rules were implemented after Mr. Pike’s death.  It began, oddly, as a tribute to him.  He died here, did you know?  A three-day period of silence for the man who made his living on the gossip and stories of others.  Then… it simply became the norm.  It seems a certain portion of the membership, despite their occasional protestations, were members solely for the opportunity to hear the various bits of gossip people freely dropped, hoping for inclusion in Mr. Pike’s column or because they hoped to be included themselves by relaying a story.  For the affected scandal of such a thing, it was seen as something of a social coup to gain a mention in the newspaper for Pike did not waste his time writing about anyone but the current cream of the social cake.  Those who remained after his death were not concerned about such things and… let us say that the cream of the social cake would not exist without the cake itself, not its platter, and these individuals were very content with a place for utter quiet and freedom from any social interaction whatsoever for they had to suffer more than their share outside our walls.  But… you say Mr. Pike’s death may not have been a heart attack?”

      “It may have been, however, not one brought about through natural causes.  The police… have reason to give the case another inspection owing to certain inquiries I and my family have made pursuant to other issues.  I can have the Detective Inspector on the case meet us here to…”

      “Good heavens, no.  The members will smell a policeman the moment he steps across the threshold and not even the Chief Superintendent is particularly welcome.  Not cut from their cloth, you understand.”

      “Gold tweed?”

      “Not far off the mark.  I have no idea how we might be of service, however.  That occurred so very long ago.”

      “Who took over after Pike died?”

      “That would be Mr. Harliss, though he remained much the silent partner he was when Mr. Pike was alive.  He joined Mr. Pike as a co-owner several years before Mr. Pike’s demise and left the running of the club to management and their solicitors.  He, himself, only visited occasionally.  I take it he moved his residence to the country once Mr. Pike died and had little direct hand in things here from that point onward.”

Sherlock blinked, then blinked again.  It wasn’t often he was surprised, but this was certainly one of those times.”

      “Do you… do you, by any chance, have a picture of this Mr. Harliss?”

      “If you mean a photograph, no.  But, there is a portrait in the music room if you would care to see it.”

      “Music room?”

      “Oh yes.  It is not used for that purpose anymore, but it had a rather heady reputation at one point for hosting various musical talents.  Mr. Harliss himself played according to our records.  The violin.  He was a theatre and music critic, however, it seems he was a rather talented musician himself, unlike most of that sort.  If you would follow me.  Quietly.”

Sherlock frowned, but did as instructed, following the man through the building, past an unexpected quantity of men sitting silently in chairs, reading a newspaper, other periodical or book.  Not a single phone was anywhere to be seen and not a single sound was to be heard.

Again reminding Sherlock to remain silent, using the universal signal of a finger pressed to his lips, the butler escorted him through a large set of doors to an expansive room with what appeared to be a substantial collection of musical scores housed in glass-fronted bookcases along one wall and various framed concert announcements and portraits on another.  Walking forward towards a newly-familiar face, Sherlock stood looking up at Adelia Holmes wearing a period tuxedo, hat and holding a violin and bow.  Below and to the right was another, smaller portrait, of a child though there was no plaque bearing the child’s name.  For the record, it would have been Mycroft, however someone decided, apparently, not to make that clear to those who might see it.

On a hunch, Sherlock then moved to the bookcases and nodded a question, nodding again in thanks when the butler removed his keyring and opened the case in front of them, waiting while Sherlock removed random scores before moving to each subsequent case in turn where he repeated the process then motioned towards the door to end their tour and return to where he could ask a few remaining questions.

      “The child.  Who is it?”

      “A bit of a mystery, I’m afraid.   Pike recorded receiving the completed portrait in his diary, merely saying that the portrait of his dearest M had arrived, but going no further.  There are a few other similarly cryptic entries involving this child and we assume it was a son, likely illegitimate, but there is no further documentation to support that assumption.”

      “Did Pike leave a will?”

      “He did, but we do not possess a copy here.  I assume it was in the possession of his solicitor and there it remains.  The firm remains in business, in a fashion, so you might make inquiries there.  They still oversee the club’s affairs and I have their contact information if you wish it.”

      “Yes… yes, if you could get it for me, that would be helpful.”

      “Of course.  One moment.”

Sherlock waited until the butler was gone, then made a mad dash back to the music room to quickly take photographs of the portraits then, on a whim, made very quick work of a bookcase lock and snatched two musical scores that he hid in his coat before relocking the case and nearly breaking a sweat running back to the receiving room, arriving just seconds before the butler returned with a crisp card that Sherlock immediately recognized.

      “Th… thank you.”

      “Oh dear, is something wrong?”

      “No… I… simply remembered an errand I promised to run and the current time.”

      “That is always bothersome, I can attest.  What other information can I provide, sir?  I am most happy to be of service.  Few ask anymore about Mr. Pike and it is nice to hear someone is taking an interest, even if it is for a somewhat troubling purpose.”

      “Not at the moment, but I have little doubt I will return soon with further questions.”

      “Excellent.  Let me show you out.”

Sherlock smiled blandly and tried to keep his raging brain quiet before words just came spilling out to see his invitation to return rescinded.  The scores in his coat… Mycroft Holmes was somewhat expected, but Addison Harliss… it seems his great-great-grandmother did more composing than even Mycroft knew and it was stored, at minimum, here.  There were scads of pieces there that he knew he’d never heard whisper of in all his time searching for anything to do with Mycroft Holmes or for pieces for the violin that were other than the standard fare offered up in the dreary music shops in London.

And there was the matter of the will.  The club was still under the eye of the solicitors, so no heir had presented themselves.  Baby M had his own bit of good fortune waiting if only he could prove his relationship without divulging his own unique nature to the world.  Mycroft was the son of Langdale Pike and Adelia Holmes, that much was certain.  Two people with colorful lives in London and one possessing an extraordinary musical talent.  If what he knew of Siger Homes from Mycroft, and other family rumours, was true, then it was easy to see why he might resort to murder to both save his reputation and satisfy his ego.

And none of that would remain accomplished if the whole sordid story was revealed to the world now.  Could a care for ego and standing persist after death?  A very shattered window said it could and as they grew closer to definitive proof more might be shattered along the way.  Maybe it wasn’t the best idea his new flat was on something other than the ground floor…

Chapter Text

      “I never dreamed…”

Mycroft moved his finger across the line of notes while Greg calmingly rubbed his back, keeping a close eye on how the composer responded to the information dump that had landed on his head.

      “… and you said there was a case filled with scores?”

      “Yes.  It seemed a repository for your mother’s works, though I cannot attest to what might be stored elsewhere on or off premises.”

      “I knew Mummy was skilled, but this… this is a truly masterful level of work.  Sherlock, I must hear it.”

      “We do not have the Stradivarius.”

      “Your instrument, then.”

      “No.”

      “Why not?”

      “It is wretched.”

      “I doubt that.  You would not abide playing a wretched instrument.”

      “It is wretched compared to the Stradivarius.”

      “Most would be, now exhume your wretched specimen and let me hear this piece.”

      “The piece is too small for me to see.”

      “You have already memorized it, so begin.”

Sherlock’s heavy sigh and rolled eyes would have earned a round of applause from a group of 13-year-olds but he did as he was told, taking a moment to check the tuning, then began to play a soaring song that had Mycroft utterly transfixed through the last note lingering in the air after Sherlock lifted his bow from the strings.

      “Mesmerizing.  Intoxicating.  You did rush several passages, however…”

      “I did not!”

      “You did, but it did not detract unduly from the beauty of the piece.  I must see the rest of the scores.  I simply must…”

Greg was happy Mycroft couldn’t race out of the flat and hail a cab because he suspected that would be the immediate course of action had not the rushing bit been problematic at the moment.

      “And you will, Mycroft.  You will.  They let in Sherlock, so I suspect they’ll let you in, also.  Besides, seems our dear Anthea or, at least, her law firm may have some knowledge of all this and that might translate into influence.  More reason be play nice tomorrow at breakfast.”

Mycroft’s fingers were twitching and Greg wished beyond wishing they were in Mycroft’s home so the man could play the piano he was desperate to feel beneath those fingers.

      “If I must.”

      “It’ll be agony for you, I know.   Besides… we have no idea what it may take to actually give you claim to your inheritance from your father, your real father, and the kindlier Anthea’s disposed to us the more helpful she will be.”

      “Beyond the scores, I have little use for an inheritance.”

      “Don’t be so hasty, Mycroft, because you have no idea what’s involved.  Let’s hear what Anthea has to say, then you can decide what you want to do.  I mean, you couldn’t forsake that cute little baby, could you?”

Greg flipped through Sherlock’s photos to Mycroft’s portrait and beamed brightly at the baby who, though it shouldn’t be possible, looked as smug and superior as the adult version of himself.  It was the most adorable thing ever and that included meerkats in elf caps.

      “I was a handsome child, was I not?”

      “Your corpulence and pallid pallor made you indistinguishable from a mealworm.”

      “Thank you, Sherlock.  Do you not have some bit of nonsense or other to occupy your attention?”

      “I have many things that would be better uses of my time than gazing at your flabby infant self.  For example, someone has to more deeply research Langdale Pike and neither of you is suited for the task.  It requires intellect and keen perception, something an artist and policeman have in scant supply.”

Sherlock commandeered the high-end laptop they’d acquired and perched in the armchair he seemed to have claimed as his own.

      “Well, Gregory, the child is distracted.  What now shall we do?”

      “Can I convince you to get some rest?”

      “Perrrrrrrrrrrrrr… haps.”

      “That was sexual!”

      “Thank you, Sherlock.  Your input is both unnecessary and misapplied.  I was simply voicing my potential willingness for a small nap.”

      “With Lestrade.”

      “If he wishes.”

      “For sex.”

      “If he chooses to take advantage of the situation and ravish me, I will brave the experience as best as I am able.”

      “Disgusting.  Before you descend into debauchery, what further do you remember about Langdale Pike?”

      “Nothing!  As I stated, I had heard of his reputation, but nothing more.”

      “And you have no memory, perhaps just reawakened, about your mother’s history in London?”

      “No, though I desperately wish I had.  It seems Mummy was even more a singular individual than I surmised.  I always admired her independent spirit however… the lengths to which she capitalized on that spirit are positively delightful.  The thought of her, mingling among the patrons of her and Langdale’s club, performing, living the life a woman of the time was never offered… a life that seemed to end once Langdale died.  It makes sense, however, why she seemed poised to move household to London and not only because of her love affair.  What an astonishing opportunity for liberty and to pursue her creative urges.”

      “You are useless.”

      “And you linger overlong on melancholy passages when playing, racing through the more jubilant ones as if they were chasing you with a tax demand.”

      “Untrue!”

      “Accept criticism, Sherlock, and use it for improvement.  Now, get on with your computer tapping and leave Gregory and I to converse.”

The impact of Mycroft’s shooing motion was only slightly diminished by the state of his arms and hands and Greg smothered a snort at Sherlock’s loud huff before turning attention back to the laptop.

      “Tell me truthfully, Mycroft… how are you doing?  With all of his news, I mean?”

      “Oh… my thoughts are a maelstrom of chaos, however, I cannot claim that it is overly unpleasant, on balance.  In some ways, I am rather happy to know the man I found utterly despicable is not my actual sire.  His is not a heritage I carry within me and I find nothing objectionable about that.  I do mourn that I was unable to know my true father.  He seemed an interesting figure and I suspect what little I know of him, the various stories and claims, do not paint a terribly complete picture of the man.  For him to give Mummy such a vivacious life… few at the time would have done it and, for that that, he has my gratitude, though she was able to enjoy her freedom for a pitifully short amount of time.”

      “Let’s do what we can, then, to learn as much as possible about the chap.  Continuing with the honesty… think you can sleep a little?”

      “Possibly.”

      “If I sleep with you?”

      “Definitely.”

      Sherlock, your brother and I are getting a bit of sleep.  If you find something important, come and wake me, alright?”

Sherlock’s dismissive wave was all the answer Greg was expecting, so he merely shook his head, rose from the sofa and scooped up Mycroft to carry into the bedroom.  He could feel the exhaustion radiating off the man in his arms and suspected Mycroft would quickly fall to sleep once he was quiet and nestled against a certain solid body who would be keeping an ear open for Sherlock interruptions or calls involving his actual job.  Ghostly mysteries were well and good but his duty to his job wasn’t something to take lightly.  Fortunately, his team was supremely capable of managing without him looking over their shoulders every minute or two, so if tomorrow went much like today, being connected by phone, maybe a quick trip in to look over details for a few matters, would suffice.  Not for every day, but another day of being a bit slack wouldn’t be the end of the world.  It might be the end of his bank account after he paid for all the pints and lunches his team would demand for his sluggardly ways, but sacrifices must be made during times of war…

__________

      “Ok, that’s not entirely what I expected to hear this morning, but nothing with you lot has gone to plan, so I have no idea why I’m surprised by any of it.”

Anthea chased her words with a long sip of tea and mulled how much information she could give to the three expectant faces currently staring her as if they were waiting for a pronouncement by the Oracle of Delphi.

      “I stopped in the office early and did a quick rummage through the non-digitized files, not much of a rummage, mind you, but a cursory check, and my memory was right about the occasional reference to who I suppose to be Langdale Pike in various of Adelia Holmes-related files.  I thumbed through Pike’s records and found… more.”

      “How much more?”

      “Did you think I wouldn’t tell you, Mr. Sigerson?”

      “It is very possible, given your love of drama.”

      “Fair.  Quite a bit more, truth be told, and very much in line with what you’ve told me this morning.  Addison Harliss was a partner in the Diogenes Club, but only on the decision-making front.  He… she… didn’t own a stake in it, per se, but the papers reflect that Harliss was to be considered equal in word and judgement to Pike for business matters.”

      “And a will?”

Anthea narrowed her eyes at Mycroft, who narrowed his in return and the situation was scored an unsatisfying draw.

      “The various properties Pike owned were, in some cases, sold as directed in his will with the funds held in trust.  Those were mostly small lots in the city and a few buildings in some of the… seedier… areas at the time.  Not terribly income-generating.  However, the club, his private residence and several other more lucrative properties are held by us as trustees until an heir to the estate presents themselves.  It seems Pike had a son, that’s not stated officially, but there are a few notes here and there about ‘his boy’ and a painting he had commissioned of a male child, although we can’t find a birth record with Pike listed as father or any definitive confirmation that he fathered a child legitimately or illegitimately.  The wording of the will does indicate he did but there has ever been a claim to his properties.  At least none for which any records exist.”

Mycroft nodded slowly and cut his functional eye towards Greg as if seeking agreement with his unspoken thoughts.  Given Greg had no wish to predict what might be going on in Mycroft’s mind, he decided it was simply best to ask.

      “Your thoughts, Michael?”

      “That Pike may have been protecting someone.  At least for a certain duration of time.  Sherlock, the photographs…”

Sherlock pulled out the photos of Mycroft, his mother and Pike and passed them over to Anthea.

      “And this is?”

Anthea fixed Mycroft with a suspicious look because she already had a bad feeling about the answer.

      “Adelia Holmes, Langdale Pike and Mycroft Holmes.  See the back of the photographs for names.

      “Oh shit.”

      “Vulgar, but true.”

      “Ok… so Adelia Holmes, as Harliss, was tied in with Pike both professionally and personally.  And that baby is the one in the portrait in the Diogenes Club.  I had to supervise a clearing of on-premises files recently and saw that face often enough to be certain.”

      “From the date, Adelia Holmes was still married at the time.  Pike’s failure to mention his son by name…”

      “Was to protect her, most likely.  If she was going to leave her husband for Pike, it made sense to wait until after the divorce to claim Mycroft Holmes as his son or not claim him formally at all.  You can bequeath your property to anyone, though it’s sticky if family does exist and aren’t the primary benefactors.  Well… things are definitely making a lot more sense now.  Two of the properties in Pike’s name are the other buildings in this block.  That’d be five adjacent structures under their ownership and there’s nothing to say a little remodeling wouldn’t make a nice, large home for a family, with property to spare to generate income.”

Greg whistled softly and gave a thought to the row of buildings in which is café was set and realized that between Sherlock and Mycroft they owned them all.  With more besides!  That was a lot of money…

      “The potential of an heir is now more of an issue than before, though, that shouldn’t impact you directly, Sherlock, since your percentage of this particular bit of real estate is free and clear in Adelia Holmes’s name.  The other two are wholly in Pike’s.  Are you certain, Mr. Sigerson, Mycroft Holmes was as… unlikely to reproduce… as you implied?”

Sherlock and Greg both cut looks at Mycroft who seemed highly amused by the question.

      “The man was something of a… he did delight in dabbling with hedonism on occasion.”

      “Is that a yes or no?”

      “It is a… let us say this trip has made the matter a far more interesting one to me than might be expected of a simple historian’s curiosity.”

Mycroft tapped his nose which, despite its somewhat mangled appearance, was not entirely unrecognizable.  Which Anthea noticed after a moment of debating whether she should reach across the table and pinch that nose as penance for Mycroft being cheeky.

      “And you couldn’t have said anything before now?”

      “I was not convinced there was anything to say.  Sherlock’s claim to Adelia Holmes’s resources is far more secure than mine and I genuinely have little interest in the fuddery-duddery that accompanies property management.  I hoped, merely, to satisfy my own curiosity and to see him achieve a more stable financial situation than he had at the time.  Little thought have I given to any familial connection to the Holmes family though there are a few offhand mentions in my family’s history of Mycroft Holmes being somewhat… familiar… with his housekeeper, however, never has there been a definitive claim of anything that may have stemmed from that relationship. Family gossip… such a tawdry thing and most often naught but fantasy.”

      “You think you’re Pike’s heir.”

      “I did not say that.  I know not one way or the other.  However, I more intrigued now than before given the extra deliciousness delivered by the thought Mycroft Holmes was birthed via a love affair between a highly-talented musician and renown gossipmonger. Such a delightful bit of scandal… the perfect morsel of decadence to add to one’s personal history.  That does not, though, detract or distract from my desire to sort out the various elements of Adelia Holmes’s time in London.  Her story seems far different and more consequential than what is generally known.  Look again at the photograph and recall the paintings at the Diogenes Club…”

Anthea gave the photographs another glance and felt a second lightbulb of revelation switch on in her mind.

      “Oh shit.”

      “Repetition signals creative bankruptcy.”

      “If there wasn’t a Detective Inspector here, I’d tie you to the back of a cab and go for an extended drive through London.  Don’t think the citizens would care, either.  They have more important things on their minds than a prat shouting about creativity while bouncing along the road.”

      “Brutality signals creative and intellectual bankruptcy.”

Greg had to hand it to Anthea.  Her reaching over to steal a piece of toast off Mycroft’s plate was precisely timed to give him a moment to grab it so the ensuing fight didn’t end too humiliatingly for him.  It was kind, in a strange way…

      “Evil people don’t deserve toast.  Ok… yes, I’ve seen that painting often enough, too, that I can now put this photograph and it in proper perspective.  Adelia Holmes was badass.  I admire that.  And I have to give Pike a nod for not standing in the way of that badassness.  Ok… we’ll need to establish as firmly as possible the relationship between you and Langdale Pike and implement the standard protocols for locating any additional missing heirs to Pike’s holdings.  AND continue working towards Adelia Holmes and her properties passing to Sherlock.  If you want me to handle this, Mr. Sigerson, I’ll have the papers drawn up for you to sign and…”

      “Unnecessary.”

      “Very necessary if you want me or my firm doing the work.  If you have someone else in mind that you’d prefer to handle things…”

      “Must everything in this wretched world exist cloaked in paper and the artifices of the transitory ‘official?’ “

      “Yes, so deal with it.  I take it, Detective Inspector, you are pursuing the murder issue?”

      “Well… as much as it can be pursued.  This is about as cold a case as one could find, but every victim deserves the attention of the police, no matter how little there remains to investigate.”

      “Ok, if you make it an official investigation that does free a few legal levers for me, and you, to pull for information on this case.  What I have already revealed, that Pike’s estate is a client and that the estate does own various property-based assets is fairly the extent of what we do know about the situation barring contents of certain personal papers, which are making more sense now that I’ve spoken to you, and the exact conditions of his will which, again, are becoming more comprehensible.  I need to study our files more thoroughly before I have a detailed perspective of Pike’s affairs and what needs to be done to begin settling them.  Give me a few days and I’ll have a better idea of how to move forward.”

Mycroft’s face twisted slightly into what Greg now recognized as a scowl, but he didn’t seem to object outright to being made to wait.  Which begged the question…

      “Anthea, could Mycr… Michael return home?  I mean, will you need him for anything beyond his signature on a few papers now?”

      “I don’t see why not.  There’s little he can do to facilitate matters.  And, I believe you mentioned, Mr. Sigerson, Adelia Holmes’s will was in your possession?  Getting a copy of that and any other relevant papers you may have for either her, Langdale Pike or Mycroft Holmes would be very helpful.  Far more productive than waiting here for me to pick through a mountain of documents.”

Mycroft’s scowl deepened, but he nodded, realizing that there was some merit to Anthea’s words.  In truth, it had been some time since he had truly looked through either his own or his mother’s papers with any eye beyond the perfunctory and, given these new revelations, a more intensive, and focused scrutiny was warranted.

      “Very well.  My lungs are decaying from the air in this blasted city.  However, I assume I will be needed in some physical form as part of the ongoing process, correct?”

      “It depends, actually.  If all goes smoothly, then perhaps not.  The tricky bit is establishing a line, if it actually does exist and you’re not loony, between you, Mycroft Holmes and Langdale Pike.  As I said, I’ll know more in a few days.”

      “Then I shall depart soon.  I do have a few matters of my own to attend to in London, so it shall certainly not be today.  Is it… Sherlock indicated there was a repository of Adelia Holmes’s compositions at the Diogenes Club.  I would like to study them before I leave – might you arrange that?”

      “Actually, yes.  There are certain manuscripts and paintings that scholars occasionally want to view and our firm makes the arrangements.  You’ll need to adhere to club rules while you’re there, but I’ll alert the staff that you will be paying an academic visit with specific interest in the conservatory and the musical scores.”

      “Excellent.”

      “I notice you didn’t ask about Mycroft Holmes’s works.”

      “Pfft.  Those I know as well as my own name.  Though, I will, of course, browse to see if any of the rarer printings of them are on premises.  A few members of the Habits of Mind series saw little in the way of dissemination in printed form and it would be of interest to know if copies are held there for examination.”

      “Are you hoping to visit today or…”

      “Today, if possible.  If not, tomorrow will suffice.”

      “I’ll set it up for you and let you know when you’re expected.  Now, anything else, gentlemen?”

Greg felt he had a thousand questions yet not one actually sprung to attention on his tongue.  From the silence of his tablemates, he suspected they were experiencing much the same.

      “Not at the moment, I think, but I wager that will change about four seconds after you leave.”

      “Typical.  You have my number.”

Anthea dabbed her lips, then rose and Mycroft would swear strutted out with an infuriating confidence.  Which he found positively applaudable.

      “I am heartened we have Lady Scourge of the Cataclysm acting on our behalf.  If I must sully myself with mundanities, I would prefer it be alongside someone who will make them brief and tilted in my favor.”

      “That’s what a good solicitor is for and I’d say she’ll make this as painless as possible, though…”

      “Gregory?”

      “How on Earth are you going to prove any connection to Mycroft Holmes?  That’s… there are more snakes in that particular bag than in that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where there are loads of snakes.  I got a bit of a creepy-crawly feeling over that I’m not ashamed to admit.”

      “I have no idea what you are blathering on about.”

      “Fair.  But we’re watching that film together and when you start to creep and crawl, then it’ll make sense.  Now, back to my original point…”

      “It is a matter long before predicted and managed.”

Greg cut eyes at Sherlock to see if he had any better idea what that meant this he did and was oddly gratified that his own lack of understanding was a shared one.

      “Want to… expand on that?”

      “I have lived a very long time and always with the knowledge that my identity was something I must safeguard.  However, given I reside in Mycroft Holmes’s house and possess similar talents… look the same, though the chance of that being discovered was laughably small…”

      “Though not impossible.”

      “As you say.  In any case, not only was I required to have an independent identity, I felt it prudent to maintain certain… safeguards… that if questioned, I could reveal a familial relationship with Mycroft Holmes.  Once used, however, I was most worried it would garner scrutiny for such an outstanding musical talent is ever a target for the press and public eye, therefore it has been considered something of an emergency measure.  I feel we have achieved that status.”

      “You’re saying you have evidence ready to hand over?”

      “I do.”

      “That’s… that’s very forward thinking of you.  Is it good enough to withstand legal scrutiny?”

      “I believe it will.  Some is in the form of letters documenting a brief experiment with, shall we say, the other side of the coin that resulted in Mycroft Holmes fathering a child by his housekeeper.  Then, when I hastily was required to script a will after my incident, I added a few phrases that opened the door for a line of descent to be recognized, should they manifest to claim their due.  It has then been a matter of seeing certain birth and death records managed for the various identities I have assumed that maintain the connection to Mrs. Hudson’s family though only those directly associated with me ever knew of their existence.  It has not been terribly difficult as my little hamlet is rather fond of its quaint and traditional ways and methods of doing business.”

      “That’s convenient.”

      “Without question.  My claim for our present predicament is as I told Medusa.  I found family claims of connection to Mycroft Holmes, at best, amusing, however, this new business has me of a mind to pursue matters in a more serious fashion.”

      “That’s… ok, I’m actually getting scared here because, thinking through things, that’s going to be a LOT of exposure.  If your connection was only to Mycroft Holmes, I’d still be worried, but tying into Pike… I did a bit of phoning about the Diogenes Club and the people there are… people.”

      “Compared to what?  Ducks?”

      “No, as in people of influence who may want to know more about this chap who suddenly owns their club.  And a good bit of extra property to go with it.  It’s a massive risk.  Are you certain you want to follow through?  It’d be easy enough to simply say you’ve decided you don’t want to pursue this now because you’re too busy with something else.  It’s not as if you can live in London to enjoy your inheritance, in any case.”

Oh, that was not a happy look on Mycroft’s face.  Greg did his best not to check to see if his foot was standing on a landmine, but wasn’t sure how well he succeeded hearing Sherlock’s sniggering laughter in his ear.

      “Perhaps that is true, Gregory, however… I have endured… surpassed expectations… in this single visit.  It has not been entirely a comfortable one, but I have succeeded.  Could I sit and enjoy a musical performance?  Yes.  Attend a cultural event?  Most certainly.  I have no intention of making for myself a reputation that is either openly known or about which anyone might care, but I have a chance, limited though it is, to do something more with my life than… nothing.  I might regain the most minuscule sliver of what I once had, if only for brief flashes of time.”

Greg carefully lifted his foot off the landmine, thanked the heavens that the explosion hadn’t been lethal, then reached out and gave Mycroft’s hand a small squeeze.  He still wasn’t convinced it was anything less than questionable to go forward with this, but he wasn’t the one that had to live trapped in one house, unable to interact openly with the outside world and enjoy the little things that interaction made possible.  For a century or so…

      “Ok, no argument from me.  Maybe Anthea will work with us keeping things as quiet as possible.  I honestly don’t know if the media would want to chase down a story about a dead composer’s estate finding an heir, but it could be something to spark interest that we don’t want.”

      “Pessimism drains creative spirit and taints what remains with the foulest of banality.”

      “Ok.  Those are definitely words.  Anyway, I need to check with my team and probably should pop in to see what’s happening with a few cases.  Can I trust you two not to do anything ridiculous if I leave you alone for a few hours?”

From the twin death glares he received, Greg assumed the answer was no.  Even though that was not the message the glare pair intended to send.

      “Can you try, at least, not to do something ridiculous.  You’ve got your car and… the only worry is getting up and down stairs since I have perfect certainty that you, Sherlock, aren’t going to tote Mycroft in your arms, but you should be able to find loads of stair-avoiding things to fil the time today.  Maybe Mrs. Hudson knows a hefty lad to take my place as Royal Mule until I can check in on you later.”

Mycroft’s dismissive snort was wholly expected and Greg was ready to capitalize on the expectation by stealing the final piece of toast on Mycroft’s plate.

      “Blackguard.  And, for your information, Martha has better things to do today than fulfill your nonsensical demands.”

      “Such as?”

      “My shopping.”

      “Marvelous.  Sherlock, if any police are called out because of something you two have done, don’t expect me to step in and sort things out.  A night in jail might be what you both need.”

The in-stereo sputtering and indignant snorts accompanied Greg from the table and out the door of the café where he paused and wondered if he’d just made a monumental blunder.  Either of those two on their own was a crisis waiting to happen but the two of them together… how they made if from Mycroft’s hotel to his office without bringing ruin and destruction to half the city was still something of a mystery.  But… they had a solicitor now, so Anthea could manage any legal trouble they found their way into.  The fact she’d make him pay the price for it would neither be surprising nor particularly unfair.  He did have handcuffs and could have put them to good use but that little detail slipped his mind until this final, tragic moment…

__________

      “Oh… well, hello again.  And… hello to you, too… sir?”

Mycroft debated being cordial and being petulant and decided a morning in Sherlock’s company more than entitled him to be petulant so hissed menacingly at the gentleman standing in the doorway at the Diogenes Club.

      “If you are deciding between male and female, congratulations.  You were correct on the first attempt.”

      “Shut it, Mycr… Michael.  We are here to examine your inventory of musical compositions.”

      “Oh, yes, we were informed we would have a visit today.  I have made all the arrangements.  If you will follow me and… do remember to be silent.”

Sherlock’s eyes rolled but he pushed Mycroft’s wheelchair after their escort who brought them to the room Sherlock recognized as the single one where conversation was permitted.  And where, now, there was a cleared space, apparently, for scholarly work to be conducted.

      “Most visitors who wish to study certain of our holdings appreciate a space where they both may work and converse about their thoughts.  I have unlocked the cases in the music room and you may remove what you like for study, however, please leave them here when you are done so I can replace them properly on the shelves.  If you require anything, the bell pull beside that bookcase will summon assistance.”

Both Mycroft and Sherlock had an encyclopedia of words to say concerning their ability to restore materials properly according to a cataloging structure and how unlikely it was that the Diogenes Club’s cataloging structure was in any manner efficiently crafted, however, the words’ intended recipient smiled and left the room before they fully had collated the pages of the verbal manifesto.

      “An officious pigeon-brain.  He is fortunate not to be on staff when Mummy was present for she had as little patience for the pigeon-brained as do I.”

      “If you are finished complaining, Mycroft, might we begin with the actual point of our visit?”

      “I see no point in waiting.  The décor of this room is positively ghastly and I would prefer to minimize my exposure time to its demoralizing humdrum.  Must we continue rival the grave as an exemplar of silence?”

      “Yes, whenever we are not in this room.”

      “Very well.  But if you use our short journey as another of the day’s opportunities to crash my wheelchair, I shall not be responsible for the resulting aria of invectives.”

Sherlock huffed loudly but pushed Mycroft towards the music room where, as he somewhat expected, the composer motioned him to stop in front of the portraits to gaze a moment at the large ones of his mother and father.  After a long moment, Mycroft nodded towards the case where the scores were held and Sherlock began moving through them, extracting one by one of Mycroft’s own pieces, laying on Mycroft’s lap the few either of them wished to examine more closely, them turned to Adelia Holmes’s collection where it became quickly evident that Mycroft’s lap was not large enough to act as a taxi for the growing stack of paper.  Without asking, Sherlock pushed the wheelchair back to their prepared space and closed the door behind them.

      “It is… beyond belief.  I… this is only a sample of Mummy’s endeavors and… already I am agog.  I… oh heavens…”

Sherlock stood silently a moment, then took a seat next to where he’d cleared a space for Mycroft’s chair and stayed quiet while he watched Mycroft grasp for words with a moist shine developing in his eye that eventually spilled down his cheek.

      “Nobody knew of her talent… she lived her shortened life with this miraculous ability and only a scant few had an inkling of how brightly that ability shined.  I did not know, Sherlock!  I had no idea…”

      “Perhaps she preferred to allow your own light shine without competition from hers.”

      “No… or maybe that is the case, but I would gladly have embraced the beauty of her gift.  And she did not know when I was an infant that I would manifest my own musical genius.  Not that a woman would have the option of attaining the highest heights of acclaim, not as greatly as a man, that is, but she could have gained some notice.  I would have relished the opportunity to perform her works! To regale an audience with the exquisite power of her talent.”

      “These pieces… the vast majority are dated before Langdale Pike’s death.”

      “Unsurprising.  Mummy lost her love.  The father of her child.  What that would do to the spirit, to the spark of inspiration…”

      “Would that happen to you?”

      “I… I do not know.  I have never loved.”

If Sherlock had been a tiny bit distracted, he might have missed the small cut of Mycroft’s eyes towards Sherlock’s jacket pocket where was nestled the mobile they had used to phone Greg just before entering the club to demand he tend to the citation their car had acquired while waiting in an illegal parking space for them to visit Sherlock’s favorite shop for sheet music and classical vinyl.

      “Your statement is as flat as the introduction to Leaves in Wind.”

      “How dare you.”

      “And equally as duplicitous, since that introduction completely misrepresents the remainder of the piece.”

      “That… very well, it was actually written for a different composition that I abandoned as it gave me a crippling case of ennui, though I believed the introduction worthy of salvaging.”

      “You were wrong.  In any case… he deserves to know.  And do not ask me who or I will throw you out of that window without the benefit of first opening it.”

      “I will not ask who, I shall merely state that only the most insipid romantic twaddle claims something as precious and soul-enriching as love can erupt to full flower in the brief amount of time I have known Gregory.”

      “Given you are a character from a Gothic romance it is, then, a scenario well-suited for you.  And I stand by my statement – he deserves to know.  It would be meaningful to him to know your feelings.”

      “Even if they existed, I would hesitate to make them known, given I am not a particularly commendable candidate for a prolonged, heartfelt relationship.”

Sherlock privately conceded that to be true, but chose not to voice his agreement, first, to be contrary and, second, because he did harbor hope that the old meddlers would find some way to enjoy the happiness of romance.  And that, of course, could never be spoken aloud for his tongue would immediately leap from his mouth, find matches and petrol and set itself on fire.

      “I agree with that point, for a list of reasons longer than that for why I refuse to work in the hospitality industry, however, given you are only offering it as a hedge behind which your cowardice can hide, I reiterate that you are both flat and duplicitous.”

      “You are entitled to your opinion, irrespective of its degree of merit.”

      “Pfft.  Simply take care that you do not treat him cavalierly.  Lestrade deserves… better.”

Mycroft scowled, but knew well an impasse had been reached and, further… the impasse existed only because of his refusal to speak aloud what he knew, in his heart, to be true.

      “On that point, you have my agreement.  Gregory is a man deserving of respect, whether from me or any other.”

      “Very well.  Now, answer my original query – what would you do if you lost the person you loved?”

      “Grieve.  Grieve terribly.  Feel keenly the emptiness in my soul where their light had resided.”

      “Would you turn away from your music?”

      “I…”

      “Honesty, please.”

      “Demanding toddler.  For a time, I suspect I would turn away from my music for my music and my soul are too intimately intertwined for an injury to one not to be met by an injury to the other.  However… if I loved, I will assume as a corollary that I was loved in return and that person would not be one I could love if they would be content that I set aside my work and life’s passion to entomb myself eternally in a crypt of pain and desolation.  It would dishonor their memory to become a creature different than the person to whom they had entrusted their heart.  After I had mourned them, traveled the darkness of my despair back to the light of this world, I would return to work.  My music would be different, perhaps, than before, since I would be a different man, but different does not equate with lesser.”

      “Then where are your mother’s?  Where is her work from after Pike’s death?”

      “I have no idea.”

      “She retired from her London life and never again devoted herself to composing?”

      “It does not, I concede, seem the path Mummy would choose, however, in my imaginary scenario, I was a man unencumbered by other commitments.  Mummy had two sons and, surely, a resentful and petty husband to manage.”

      “Insurmountable, no doubt…”

Mycroft chuckled softly at Sherlock’s highly-skeptical tone and wished he continue debating as the devil’s advocate but he had well and truly reached his limit.

      “You say that with as much conviction as I feel.”

      “A woman with drive, ambition, artistic spirit… she would find a way.’

      “I agree.  But only to the point met by our current level of information, which may be incomplete.  What we now predict might not be matched by the true course of events.”

      “She is… us.  I believe we can predict with a high probability of success.”

Mycroft felt a sly grin dance on his lips as he let the idea dance in his mind.  True, they did not know the full body of information associated with these circumstances and what he recalled of his own life had, now, to be viewed through a different lens.  And, perhaps, doubted.  For nothing more than to regain the certainty of his own narrative he would persist.  But that was the most minor of reasons to continue forward…

      “It is an intriguing notion.  This collection exists, a breathtaking repository of musical splendor, but there could exist another.  Sherlock… my own renown is immutable, however, what we could give to Mummy.  The regard and recognition she was denied but for the meagerest quantity.  We must do this, Sherlock.  We simply must.”

      “It will require, potentially, more exposure for you, which exacerbates the risk of your nature being discovered.”

      “I care not.  Besides, Gregory is correct that legal representation can do much to keep the most vulturous of the chaunter-coves at bay.  Let us do what we can today to document Mummy’s scores and I shall begin searching for greater insight when I return home.”

      “Is there a set time we are expected to leave?”

      “Anthea did not say, so I am content to wait until the guards are summoned to evict us.”

      “Or Lestrade phones to say he misses you.”

      “Gregory is a fragile man, Sherlock.  It would be uncharitable to allow him to suffer.”

      “Which might make him withhold sex.”

      “That factored somewhat into my decision, I do admit.”

__________

Sherlock finished tying the scarf around his neck and checked for the final time they were not leaving behind any note they had taken during the long day’s efforts, but were leaving behind the two scores he had taken away with him on his first visit.

      “This has truly been a pleasure, gentlemen.  It is a rare thing that our music collection is the subject of such scholarly inspection.  It has been a highly enlightening experience.”

The periodic interruptions for questions about refreshments or additional resources had been bothersome, but Mycroft had been mollified by the butler’s genuine interest in their work and saw no reason not to reward that interest with a few mostly unknown stories about Mycroft Holmes and his music and various opinions of Addison Harliss’s contribution to their collection.  All of which had delighted the man to no end.

      “For us, as well, good sir.  My young assistant has been positively brimming with excitement since we arrived.”

Given the men who frequented the club, the butler was not surprised that Sherlock’s brimming excitement was scarcely indistinguishable from boredom.

      “I am happy we were able to provide a useful opportunity for you.  Shall you be returning again?”

      “Perhaps.  Not straight away, but I will likely seek additional time to examine your collection at a later date.”

      “Of course.  We will be honored to have you.  Are you gentlemen ready?”

Mycroft nodded and nodded again, this time at Sherlock, to begin pushing him towards the door.  In the various repositionings of bodies to form the caravan to the exit, nobody noticed the small piece of paper that seemingly blew off the desktop, landing in a convenient space between Mycroft’s shirt collar and his coat.  Both of which accompanied their owner as he left the premises only moments later…

Chapter Text

      “This was a delightful idea, Gregory.”

Greg grinned and poured more wine into Mycroft’s glass.

      “I may be a simple copper, but I can appreciate the finer things in life.”

Or, more precisely, Donovan’s cousin, who happened to be a chef, appreciated the things in life fine enough to please Mycroft’s lofty tastes and was happy to have a picnic hamper ready to grab by said simple copper while en route to meet his lofty-tasted lover.  And at the for-family price, too!  Which meant money saved to use to bribe Sherlock to take Mycroft’s hotel room for the night and let them stay in the flat alone because…

… because Mycroft seemed reluctant to leave the place where he had almost been part of a very unexpected family with a happier mother and a much different father.

      “The pâté is superb.”

      “I’ll make certain to have some on hand next time you’re in London.”

      “And there will be a next time.   I am more resolved than ever about that.”

      “Well, if we can sort out the inheritance piece, you’ll have a home to use.  Anthea said Pike had a residence in the city.  I did a little checking today and it’s being used by the Diogenes Club as a rental for friends or business guests of members who are visiting London.  It’s kept pristine, too, according to Anthea because the people it hosts are the sort who won’t tolerate less and because… wait for it…”

      “Why?”

      “It’s my pause for drama.  BECAUSE… Addison Harliss arranged for it to be maintained and under the direction of the club once Pike died.”

      “Dear Mummy… could not bear to see her love’s home fall to ruin.”

      “And, from what I know about your mum, recognized a valuable property and ensured it kept its value, hopefully for her little Mycroft to inherit someday.”

      “Perhaps.  That I never knew of my actual father argues against that.  However, time is a precious thing and to waste it attempting not only to act as a mind-reader but a spirit medium to draw forth the mind to read on the subject.”

      “I’m going to stay with my idea because your mum loved you dearly, that much is certain from what little I know.”

      “Adored.”

      “Exactly.”

      “Gregory?”

      “That’s me!”

Except Mycroft wasn’t listening, looking around the sitting room instead with a strange expression on his face.

      “Mycroft?”

      “Did you not hear that?”

      “Hear what?”

      “The voice.”

      “I… no.  Male or female?”

      “Male.”

      “What’d it say?  Could you make out the words?”

      “Word.  Adored.”

      “Wait… that wasn’t you?”

      “Of course not.”

      “It sounded just like you.”

      “It most certainly did not!”

      “It most certainly did.”

Yes

      “There!  Did you hear that!”

This time Greg did hear and also didn’t see Mycroft’s mouth say the word in question.

      “Ok… I’m flashing back to being at your house when your ghosts were having a go at us.”

      “No.  Surely not.”

The faint sound of music floated down from the upper level of the building and Greg’s eyes grew wide.  After a quick nod from Mycroft, he lifted up the pianist, climbed up the stairs to squeeze through the space they’d made in the wall and climb the final set of stairs to peer into the empty space where the soft melody was being accompanied by a humming in a pleasant male voice that gave Greg pause, especially when Mycroft began to hum the same tune in almost exactly the same voice.  The performance lasted a few minutes more before the music ended and the humming vanished, though a tiny glow manifested at a corner of the room where a bookcase stood.  Greg walked them over to investigate and wasn’t surprised to find a music box.

      ‘You knew that tune, Mycroft.”

      “A lullaby.  Mummy played or hummed for to me when I was a child.”

      “I’d say… maybe your dad did, too.”

Mycroft reached out a finger and ran it along the music box’s case, feeling a surge of emotion at both the feel of the wood under his fingers and the thoughts spinning in his brain.

      “My father is here?  With me?”

This new humming was fainter than before, but it made Mycroft smile, despite the emotions that were making his body tremble in Greg’s arms.

      “I don’t have another explanation for it.  It’s odd he didn’t pop out to say hello before, but…”

The high-pitched whistle of the wind echoed in the room with the wind itself choosing to slap Greg’s face with a piece of paper, plastering it there until Mycroft reached up to pull it away.

      “Funny.  Cheeky fucking ghost!  You’re as bad as… you’re as bad as his mum for being a pain in the arse.”

The manly chuckle that rewarded Greg was followed by another, gentler whisper of wind that blew through Mycroft’s hair, as if it was being ruffled playfully by a very fond set of fingers.

      “This… Gregory, what is this?”

      “I don’t… oh.  I found that on the floor while setting out our little picnic.  I supposed Sherlock dropped it or something.”

      “No… no, I saw this at the Diogenes Club.  It was nestled in the pages of one of Mummy’s scores.  It certainly is in her hand; I would recognize it were I blind in both eyes. I spared it little thought at the time since… well, I had a rather lot on my mind and a nonsensical scrap of parchment was insufficient to gain any prominence.”

Greg looked about, then moved them to the small sofa between the bookcase and a covered window and, after sighing over the dust, sat down with Mycroft in his lap.

      “So what’s on the paper?  I didn’t give it more than a glance when I picked it off the floor.”

      “I have no idea.  A string of numbers and a name.”

Greg took the paper from Mycroft’s fingers and, this time, gave it a closer examination.  A full explanation didn’t leap to mind, but something stirred in his memory that kept that memory looking through its files for more detail to make things more than a vague stirring.

      “I think I might… my brain is itching.”

      “Oh dear, that sounds rather… parasite infested.  You have not ventured to the more savage climes recently, have you?”

      “No, and it’s not parasites.  It’s a memory.  I think I… I need the laptop.”

      “I wish to remain here.”

      “It’s dusty…”

      “I care not.”

Greg smiled and laid a kiss on Mycroft’s forehead before setting him on the sofa and chuckling at the composer’s grimace when his ‘I care not’ failed him slightly.  Then, after a small pause, Greg turned to the music box, wound it and let it play before he started back to the sitting room to collect the laptop, as well as a few nibbles and a blanket, because Mycroft might not want to leave his aerie for some time.

With his survival kit packed, Greg moved back upstairs to where Mycroft was humming the lullaby melody and tapping his chin with the knuckle of one twisted hand.

      “What’s on your mind?”

      “The empty promises of mental clarity.”

      “No idea what that means, but it sounds posh, so I suspect you have a point.  In any case, here.  Have more of the pâté you like and more wine.  I want to check something.”

Setting the nibbles tray next to Mycroft, which left him no real room for himself, Greg took a seat on the floor and began reading through a set of files on the computer until his mental clarity was more than empty promises.

      “Thought so.  That number, it’s the case file for Langdale Pike’s death.”

      “Is that the file where my father’s death was posited as a murder?”

      “I’d stop short of saying posited, if that means what I’m fairly certain it means, and say vaguely insinuated, but yes.  You’re certain that’s your mum’s handwriting?”

      “As certain as I am that Adelina Patti was a trying individual, though her voice was most exquisite.”

      “That means yes, right?”

      “Oh dear heavens…”

      “Moving on!  So… your mother wrote down this case number, which has to mean she either saw the file or, at the very least knew it existed.  Maybe slipped a quid or two to someone to have a look herself or to get the case designation to pass to someone else who’d have a better chance of getting a look at it.  What about the name?  Mean anything to you?”

      “Tobias Sherman.  No.  Nothing. Though what that means after this entire imbroglio, I have no idea.”

      “Let’s ask Mr. Internet, then.  See if it knows.  Ok… Mr. Internet knows a lot about Tobias Sherman or, more accurately, knows a lot of Tobias Sherman’s.  Who mostly seem to be alive, which wouldn’t describe our chap.”

      “Look, then, for dead Tobias Sherman.”

      “That’s ummm… not really how this works.”

      “You are a policeman, are you not?  You have records.”

      “Ok, yes, I can search those, but I’m supposed to have a reason to do it.”

      “Which you do.”

      “Following my curiosity about a scrap of paper that a ghost shoved in my face doesn’t quite meet the standards of the police code.”

      “Murder!  My father was heinously murdered and that is reason enough or I shall know the reason why!”

Greg decided he did not hear a whispery ‘hear, hear!’ because that would indicate the continued descent into insanity and he was already close enough to the bottom of that mountain that the lodge was getting his hot toddy ready.

      “What else is there?  It might narrow my search before I start in on my soothing hot beverage.”

      “Have you gone mad?”

Yes, apparently.  While trying to avoid it entirely I skied directly into the arms of the Insanity Yeti.

      “Just tell me.”

      “A few numbers, 27, and GCS.”

      “Ok, that’s no help.  At least, no help that I immediately recognize.  And Mr. Internet says… nope, I don’t think we’re dealing with the Glasgow Coma Score, so going nowhere fast.”

      “It is a name.”

      “27 GCS?”

      “Gregory!”

      “My brain hurts, alright?”

      “Have some of the roasted vegetables with that delectable bread.  That should ease your distress.”

      “Food always helps.   Now, you were saying?”

      “Tobias Sherman is a name.  Above that is the case number for my father’s police file.  Sherman could be the individual from whom Mummy obtained her information or the one with whom she wished to discuss it.”

      “Possibly.  We don’t have evidence either way, so let’s assume there is a connection and go with that.”

      “Could it be some form of academic or professional designation?”

      “Those chaps do enjoy their letters, but nothing is coming to mind.  However, alright, if this fellow was involved in this whole business then… if it’s a constable or something then my looking into things isn’t really an ethical issue.”

      “Murder renders ethics superfluous.”

      “Ummmm… no.  But, anyway, it’s enough to justify me taking a peek and if I’m asked I’ve got a story to cover why I’m digging.  So, logging in and… Tobias Sherman, what connection do you have with London’s pol… oh.”

      “You found something.”

      “Maybe.  Likely.  There’s a T. Sherman here… hold on, let me open the actual document… yeah, there he is.  And… it’s our man.”

      “How do you know?”

      “His address was 27 Great Coram Street.”

      “Huzzah!  Why is he in the police files?”

      “Because this is a list of inquiry agents the lads either used for their own purposes or passed on to people who had matters that the police weren’t suited for or not empowered to investigate.”

      “Such as continuing to investigate the death of someone supposedly felled by natural causes?”

      “Such as that, yes.  We do see it, actually.  Family is convinced that foul deeds were involved in the death of their loved one and nothing we say can change their minds.  The reputable private detectives do a quick check, charge their basic fee and send the family on their way at least somewhat resigned to the notion that their old dad wasn’t murdered by Cousin Rose for his antique pocket watch or whatnot.  The unscrupulous drag things out and drain what they can from the family coffers.”

      “And this Tobias Sherman?”

      “No clue!  I’ll lean towards him being, at least, competent enough that the local lads didn’t worry about sending someone his way and having them come back to raise a fuss about being handed off to a charlatan.  Unfortunately, we also don’t know if your mum ever met with him.”

      “Make the relevant inquiries!”

      “Ummm… let’s step back to the fact that this person is rather dead, shall we?”

      “Then discover if his records remain extant.”

      “Ok, but the dead thing is still a bit of a thorn in my investigatory side.”

      “Mummy’s solicitors are long turned to dust, however, the firm remains as we well know.”

      “Alright, let me ask Mr. Internet about Tobias Sherman, inquiry agent.  Tobias Sherman, private investigator.  Tobias Sherman, private inquiries.  Tobias Sherman, detective.  My record of finding nothing useful remains unblemished.”

      “Your Internet is a ridiculous creature.”

      “True and, to be fair, sometimes it isn’t helpful.  At least not with a quick search.  This could take hours of sifting through information, trying different search phrases, checking specialized databases.”

      “Your own police records?”

      “Possibly, but that was the only result I got from my search, so there may not be anything more.  Or, worryingly, there *is* more, but it hasn’t been digitized, which means searching through original records or microfiche versions to see if there’s anything else.”

      “There may be further indication of association in Mummy’s files with her solicitor.  Phone Anthea and inquire.”

      “Given the time and the fact that I have little doubt she could successfully argue to a judge and jury that murdering me for disturbing her quiet evening was justifiable homicide, I’ll wait until tomorrow.  I will phone, though, I promise.”

The twin snorts made clear that Greg’s plan was being derided on two separate fronts.

      “Tomorrow.  Everything is tomorrow.  Inspiration, Gregory!  We have the vital spark and must pursue it!”

      “You phone, then!  She can murder you and you can join your ghost dad frolicking about the afterlife where I have no doubt you’ll haunt me mercilessly and spy on me when I’m showering.  You, that is, not your dad.  Hopefully.”

      “Fear not, Father.  This is Gregory’s standard patois before he recognizes the correctness of my position and takes proper action.”

The paper scrap again whooshed into Greg’s face with what the DI could only call a taunting smack.

      “You’re both bastards, you know that…”

Said while Greg was reaching for the mobile in his pocket and tapping on the contact for their handy solicitor.

      “HA!  That’s not for you, Anthea, that’s for the two bastards with me but when you have a chance, could you look to see if there’s a Tobias Sherman mentioned in any of Adelia Holmes or Addison Harliss’s papers?  He was an inquiry agent, apparently.  I’ll explain further when we have a chance to chat about it.  It’s Greg, by the way.  Greg Lestrade.  Probably should have said that straight away.  Ok, bye.”

How was he an adult?  Seriously, someone was going to take his adulting license away one day and nobody, not even him, would raise a complaint.

      “Voicemail.”

      “Botheration.  We need this information now.”

Greg stroked Mycroft’s leg in what he hoped was a calming manner, but suspected was coming nowhere close to the mark.

      “No, we don’t.  There’s nothing we could do with it this very second, in any case, so relax.  I have little doubt I’ll hear from Anthea tomorrow and she and I will go over what we’ve found and whatever insights she might have on it.”

      “I demand to be present.”

      “First, I suspect it won’t be an in-person conversation.  Second, all I’ll hear tomorrow, most likely, is that she’ll start looking into it.  Third, you’re going home.  And, no, don’t change those plans.  You need rest and the chance to… be.  Play your piano, read, enjoy a bit of peace and comfort.  You need that.  You can come to London whenever you like; you know that now, but there’s nothing more for you to do here at the moment, so go home and rest.”

Mycroft fumed as Greg reached up to push a bit of excellent cheddar between his lips and mentally ran through all the ways he hated the cheese-pusher, his words, his face, his voice and ridiculous hair.  However, since he didn’t actually hate any of that the reasons list was run through rather quickly.

      “Very well.  I will continue with my existing plans, but I insist on being kept informed on this matter.”

      “You know I will.  We can even do that video thing with the computer so we can see each other while we chat.”

      “That will have to do, I suppose.”

      “Besides, you have your own investigating to do.  If there’s any information in your personal papers that we can use, the sooner we know of it, the better.”

      “Yes… that is true.  I shall offer no further objection, then, as long as I am assured of continuous updates on the situation.”

      “You’ll get them.  Besides, I have very little doubt you and Sherlock are going to concoct your own set of schemes and that will keep you in the loop, also.”

      “An intriguing possibility.  We are far more vigorous and inspired in our quest for truth than the blancmange-brained drones of the police.”

      “Thank you.  Your support means a lot to me.”

Mycroft flicked his wrist with the imperious dismissiveness that made him the most adorable snob in all of Britain.

      “Focus on the problem, Gregory, not the plaintive wails of your ego.  I shall make a study of my and mummy’s papers the moment I return home.  This does, though, broach an additional conundrum.”

      “Empty larders?”

      “Nonsense.  Martha is most diligent about keeping my home well provided.  It is the Father situation.”

      “Which is?”

      “Well, he cannot travel home with me!”

      “Why not?”

      “The love triangle!  If, as I suspect, Mummy and… that man… are in residence, imagine the colossal storm of turmoil that would erupt should Father be added to the mix!  Nary a moment’s sleep or work would I gain, most likely.  Martha might serve notice!”

      “I… think you’re exaggerating a bit.”

Though the fork flying off the tray and embedding itself in the wall indicated otherwise.  Especially since neither he nor Mycroft was the one who threw it.

      “Mr. Pike, sir, murdering people with eating utensils, even if the one you’re trying to murder is already a ghost, is… maybe it’s not technically illegal for the ghost murdering bit, but try to be mature about things and…”

Greg dodged the bit of flung pâté and glared at Mycroft who found it marvelously amusing.

      “Your lecturing gains the response it deserves.  Though do wipe that bit off the drapes.  It would not do to encourage rodents to believe this their private grocery.  The conundrum remains, however, and we must solve it.”

      “For that bit of evil, he can live here with Sherlock.”

      “Oh good lord no.  Father, you may not realize that Sherlock is not, in point of fact, an escapee from Bedlam, but it is a near thing.  He would drag my sire into the jaws of insanity in but a handful of hours and I shall not bear the responsibility of presenting to Mummy her great love when he has been reduced to a gibbering capuchin.”

      “Fine!  I’ll pay a visit to the Diogenes Club and return this piece of paper which, accidentally, got mixed with your notes and… and that was not a real thunderclap, was it.”

      “No.  And well done, Father, making your objection clearly known.  Alone, Gregory!  It is clear now he has been alone these years and that cannot stand!”

      “It’s a club filled with people.”

      “The uncharitable and unsavory.”

      The rich and powerful.”

      “Synonymous.  Ah!  The very thing… he shall reside with you until such time as we can affect a more welcoming environment.”

      “No.”

      “I counter with yes.”

The slip of paper flew up again and, this time, landed in the pocket of Greg’s shirt.

      “And Father agrees with me.”

      “I am not a hotelier.  Especially not one for ghosts!”

      “Pish tosh.  The man cannot eat or soil bed linens, use soaps or make demands for laundry.  You cannot be so sluggardly as to complain about doing nothing whatsoever to tend to the comfort of a guest.”

      “I have an actual job, remember?  I can’t have a ghost following me about while I’m working a case.”

      “The specific arrangements are for you and my father to negotiate.  He does snore, Father, so be aware that when you… go wherever resting spirits go… make certain it is a rather soundproof construct.”

Greg felt his pocket wiggle and realized that his life had taken yet another turn for the strange and that was a lot of turns for someone as normal as him.  That was the way it always was, though.  Nice, normal chaps are the ones visited by ghosts, fall through interdimensional portals, are handed the magic sword or flung through time with only the clothes on their back.  Normal was a horrible condition, all things considered…

      “Alright… your dad can… haunt… my flat until such time as we get to the bottom of all this and… fathom out what it means for everyone involved, living or dead.  But I am not, let me be clear, I am not going to tolerate any silly buggers while I’m watching a film or trying to get some sleep.  No ghostly moaning or tossing things about, like forks!, or any other spirit nonsense.  That starts happening and I’ll chuck him out on spectral arse and he can kip in the bins.”

      “Gregory!  You will not toss out my father like an old potato!”

      “New potato or old, he’d best be decent and not all poltergeisty or it’s the bins for him and that’s that.”

      “Churlish… what a petty, churlish man you are.”

      “I’m alright with that.  I’m in good company.  Just look who I’m feeding an olive to.”

Greg waggled the fat olive in front of Mycroft’s face and grinned when Mycroft’s features scrunched up and he grabbed it with his teeth like a dog would a steak.

      “Now that we’ve sorted your dad, shall we continue with our lovely picnic?  I can put some music on my phone for us to hear.”

      “Yes, that would be most satisfactory.  Provided your musical selection is not horrid.”

      “What qualifies as horrid.”

      “Anything I do not enjoy.”

      “That’s a big area.”

      “Then choose wisely.”

Greg laughed and took out his mobile, scrolling through his music to the classical playlist he’d put together precisely for this sort of emergency.

      “I’ll do my best.  Oh and Mr. Pike, your opinion isn’t asked for so stop trying to influence my decision making.”

      “What did Father do?”

      “Gave my nipple a bit of a pinch.”

      “Father!  You terrible man.  Gregory’s incomparable body is for my pleasure only.  You are not even inclined to feed your lusts with the male form.”

      “Are you certain?  We don’t know a lot about your dad.  Could have some fairly broad tastes.”

      “Dear heavens!  You are correct.  Father!  Regardless of how you appreciate slaking your lusts, you shall not attempt any form of seduction on Gregory.  It is utterly unsporting of you and I will not allow it.”

      “He pinched me again.  I sort of liked it.”

      “I am undone.  Cuckolded by my own pater, who seems entirely unrepentant about the fact.”

      “Sounds a bit like you, actually.”

      “It does, doesn’t it?  Very well, you may entertain yourself with Gregory’s body, Father, up to the point where it distracts him from important matters, such as his police work or investigating my mystery.”

      “You’d let your dad ravish me like that?  You gave in fairly easily, I have to say.”

      “Oh, let him have his fun, Gregory.  Imprisoned in the Diogenes Club with only the pallid, saggy flesh of flaccid old men on offer… it is a terrible thought.”

      “Not as terrible as him doing something ghost-nasty to me.”

      “That sounds utterly tawdry.  Can I watch?”

      “Ok.  But only if I get some non-ghost-nasty afterwards as my reward.”

      “Without doubt.  I cannot resist acting upon my erotic urges no matter what bids them rise…”

Chapter Text

      “Are you certain, dear?”

      “For the very last time, Mrs. Hudson… I am not forgetting anything.”

Though, given the amount of shopping he’d directed her to do for him, that was an actual concern.  It was… rather a lot.  Getting it all properly packed and stowed, even with assistance by the hotel staff had been something of a chore and Mycroft found himself wishing that he could have convinced Greg to linger a little longer at breakfast before dropping him here and departing for work so that he could have avoided all the bother.  Horrid man… his ardor should easily stretch sufficiently to encompass the lingering at breakfast however Gregory’s heart had hardened like a stone, it seemed.

      “Alright, then.  But I don’t want to hear a word of complaint if you left behind a tin of shortbread or one of your books.”

Mycroft snorted but steadfastly refused to indulge the sudden impulse to inventory the car’s boot one final time.  Yes, he could return to London again, that had been proved, however, it was such a nuisance and should only be done for the most consequential of events.  Such as forgetting a tin of shortbread and one of his books.  Or lingering with Gregory at breakfast.  Naked.  Absolutely stone-hearted for Gregory not to acquiesce to breakfasting naked for his eyes to feast upon.  What did it matter if Father was somewhat of a scamp?  The prudery of some people was utterly burdensome, at times…

      “I shall complain if I desire it.  Sherlock, have you your various flotsam and jetsam?”

      “If you mean my valuable and interesting belongings, then yes.  Your assorted sacks are filled only with rubbish unfit for a soldier lost on a deserted island for several decades and now returned with a flat to furnish with only coconuts to pay the cost.”

      “Your opinion is noted.  And promptly discarded.  With that said, I declare us ready to depart.  How soon will you update me with your progress?”

      “When it has occurred.”

      “Unacceptable.  I require a specific timeline.”

      “Find a pencil and script one.  Then toss it in the bin.”

      “Unruly child.  Very well, I shall set Gregory upon the task.  And you will have to adhere to it, given I can have him arrest you if you fail.”

      “Your physical atrophy is now matched by mental collapse.  Woe is me.  Goodbye.”

Sherlock hefted the sacks of goods he’d added to Mrs. Hudson’s shopping list, on Mycroft’s bank card, of course, and walked off while waving for a cab.  To Mrs. Hudson’s eyes he looked like a little boy pretending to run away with a bundle of his prize possessions slung over his shoulders.  Quite a difference from the first impressions she’d made of him when he was just being a pest.  Now, he was their pest and that made worlds of difference.

      “Such a good boy, when he’s not trying to be… well, a touch silly.”

      “Sherlock personifies silly, however, he is both useful and family, therefore I must suffer his presence.  Oh… your telephone is ringing.”

      “Mobile, dear.  We’ll have your Greg get you one.  He surely knows enough criminals that he can lay hands on one of those untraceable burn phones I see on the telly, so we don’t have to worry about phone contracts and the like.  Ooh, that’s convenient…”

      “Hello, Greg.  We were just talking about you.”

      “All good things, I hope.”

      “Well, I would count your knowing some nasty criminals that can get Mycroft here an illegal mobile a good thing, so get on that straight away, will you?  A nice one, too.  He does appreciate nice things and would likely feel put out by something cheap and flimsy.”

      “I… let me work on that, what say.  Anyway, just making certain everything’s alright and you’re ready to leave.”

      “All under control, I think.  Hotel settled, car packed and we just sent Sherlock on his way.  Just have to toss His Majesty in the boot with the shopping and we’ll be off!”

And sounding like you’ve not had any recent revelations to shake matters up a bit.  Noted.  But, best be certain before dropping any revelation bombs…

      “Good… did you and Mycroft have the chance to chat about anything yet?”

      “The way you say that, I’m going to answer ‘no’ because there was tone in those words and we haven’t had any tone-worthy conversations since you dropped him here earlier.  Oh, and he’s looking shifty… I suppose we’ll have something interesting to discuss on the ride.”

      “I’d say so.  I’ll phone tonight and check who’s left alive.  Tell Mycroft to stop looking shifty and I’ll be thinking about him.”

      “Don’t want to do it yourself?”

      “Nope.  I have to go tend to some mess Anderson’s made and if I start talking to Mycroft, his gorgeous voice will have me forgetting everything else.”

Mrs. Hudson giggled and simply waved off Mycroft who kept trying to snatch the phone from her, which would have been something of a feat of superhuman ability since he was sitting in his wheelchair and she was standing a good two meters away.

      “Alright then, I’ll tell him you’ll ring him later.  Have a good day at work.”

It wasn’t precisely ladylike to stick out her tongue at Mycroft when she popped her mobile back in her purse, but that was not something she’d ever worried about in her life, so all was right in the world.

      “You denied me the opportunity to speak to Gregory!”

      “He was working and only phoned to check we were all set to leave.  He’ll phone you later when he actually has time to talk to you the way you’d like, which is endlessly.”

      “Pfft.  I am perfectly capable of engaging in a brief conversation.”

      “Not in my experience, but I’m always happy to be surprised.  In any case, it seems you and I have a conversation looming and, from what Greg hinted, it won’t be a brief one.”

Mycroft was far, far older than his housekeeper, however, she had the uncanny ability of fixing him with a look that made him feel like a very guilty six-years old.

      “Yes… we have a new development in my mystery.  One that is… consequential.”

      “Is it about your dad, dear?”

      “How… how in the name of Apollo did you… Sherlock.”

      “He showed me pictures on his phone of those snaps you found and what you learned at that poncy club.  How do you feel about it all, Mycroft?  It’s a lot to take in.”

More than you know, dear lady.

      “I am processing the information and it is not proceeding quite as cumbersomely as I might have expected.  But… there is more we should discuss.”

      “Oh.  Something juicy?”

      “Unquestionably.”

      “Then let’s be off!  Nice early start means we’ll be home with plenty of time for you to relax into your old skin before Greg phones.”

      “Do we have tomatoes and fresh herbs?  I desire a light pasta for dinner.”

      “Already you’re being demanding.  You’re getting a bowl of porridge and you’ll like it.”

      “I most certainly will not.”

      “Then be good or it’s porridge for a week.  I’ll just keep a pot of it on the stove and you can serve yourself when you get hungry.”

      “I should have brought Father home with me instead of leaving him with Gregory.  He would tolerate your threat no better than me and have additional weapons in his arsenal to give you great cause to regret your exceedingly poor choices.”

      “I understood each of those words but not a bit of what you just said.”

      “Ensconce me in your dog cart and I will elucidate.”

      “Still juicy, right?”

      “No fruit exists with a greater quantity of juice ready to be savored.”

      “Then your chariot awaits!”

__________

      “A chariot wouldn’t smell like your horrid breakfast.”

      “You’re a sour man, Greg.”

And looking as if you’re about to drop off for a little nap, which isn’t really a wonderful thing when you’re driving a car.

      “What I’m smelling is sour.  What did you have, anyway?”

      “I’m not exactly certain.  The chap who sold it to me was grinning, though, so I knew it was going to be good.”

      “Or poisoned.”

      “Tomato, tomahto.  So… want to tell me how things are going with your puzzle?  You’ve been a bit quiet in that area and that either means you’ve hit a brick wall, which I may be able to help with if we chat about it, or you found something incredibly interesting that I want to know about and if we chat about it I will.  So, let’s chat.”

Which should help keep you awake and give me, an incredibly nosy person, a little insight into why you’ve been so tired lately.

      “We do have an actual case, you know.”

      “Not in this car, we don’t.  At least not beyond The Case of What Greg’s Hiding, which if it’s constipation, I will retract my offer to chat faster than… whatever’s faster than immediately.”

Greg gave Anderson the gesture his nonsense deserved, and diverted his hand to smack his pocket where he was being poked by a piece of paper, something rather unfathomable for a slip of notepaper, but it had proven a champion pincher, so poking probably shouldn’t be too surprising.

      “What’s in the pocket?”

      “Why?”

      “That’s the fourth time you’ve fidgeted with it.”

      “You’re counting how often I fidget with my pocket?  That’s creepy.”

      “Creepy is trying to hide something from me, someone who is smarter and more observant than you.”

      “That doesn’t even approach matching the meaning of creepy.  You need vocabulary help.”

      “You need many types of help, so I’ll be glad for my single, self-improving one.  In any case, you’ve been quiet about a lot of things.  You new boyfriend, for example.”

None of that from you, Mr. Pike!  Your wriggling is not helping.

      “How you can function in the police service suffering from such vast and detailed delusions is completely beyond me.”

      “There was nothing at all detailed in any of that, so I think you’re projecting.  So, what vast and detailed fantasies are you having about this new boyfriend of yours?”

Provided he still is the boyfriend and ongoing self-flagellation for having another relationship go bust isn’t the reason you’ve got bags under your eyes.

      “Look, Michael and I are enjoying each other’s company and whatever perverted thoughts are in your head need to stay there and take some time to think about where they took a wrong turn in life.”

And you keep your fucking pinches to yourself, ghost.  I already know you’re perverted and the fact your son finds that hilarious is something I wish you both loads of scorpions in your underpants for.  Yours will have to be dead scorpions, I do admit, but I have no doubt those buggers are just as effective dead as alive.

      “Are we ever going to meet him?”

Because ‘enjoying each other’s company’ is the sort of limp-noodle statement you make when the romance isn’t doing much to give you anything but a limp noodle.

      “He lives in Ruralvania, so I think the answer to that is fuck no.”

      “Ruralvanians aren’t subject to travel restrictions.  They can come to London whenever they have the urge.  Is your snuggles not feeling the urge, Greg?  That doesn’t say a lot about your suitability as a sexy love panther.”

Leap in, Love Panther!  Defend the filthiness and fantasy that’s filling your nights with scorching… something or another.  Calls, emails, videos, tweets… gimme the filth, Greg and make it steamy.

      “Your.  Head.  Is.  Wrong.”

Boo!

      “That’s a confession if I ever heard one.  And I’ve heard lots!  Bit of an expert, really.”

      “He works long hours and… prefers to stay near to home most of the time.  We’re sorting out the logistics of things so we can spend time together and both of us can continue to manage our jobs, too.”

Sounds like a divorced couple planning their diary for weekends with the kids.  Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way.

      “Be honest, Greg. This is a ‘my boyfriend lives in Canada’ thing isn’t it?”

      “NO!  Ask…”

My head is wrong!  Nearly told Anderson to ask Sherlock if Michael was real and wouldn’t that open up the door to Hell.  And to lots and lots of blackmail…

      “… yourself why I’d make up someone knowing how much of an arse you are even when someone isn’t imaginary.  If it’s possible, someday, maybe you’ll get to meet him.  I’ll have him post you a holiday card, for fuck’s sake, if you need physical evidence.  You’ve heard me talking to him on the phone, in any case, you irritating bastard.  You owe me lunch for all this nonsense.”

      “I’ve heard you talk to a lot of imaginary people on the phone.  And you owe me lunch for all the extra work I’ve been doing for your imaginary Canadian boyfriend.”

      “I only do that to avoid meetings or give a suspect or informant a bit of worry.  But you do have a point, though not about the imaginary business, you miserable berk, so think of somewhere we can eat hearty because I’m already hungry.”

Which, given how much Mycroft and I ate last night, is somewhat puzzling, but I’ve learned over the long years never to question the moods and foibles of my stomach.

      “That’s not a problem in the slightest.  Answer me this, though, Greg…”

      “No.”

      “Funny.  I’ve seen your typical pattern with relationships and this one is different.  Are… are things alright?  I’m being serious here.  I know how you suffer when things fall to pieces and… just checking, that’s all.”

Greg sighed and ran a hand through his hair.  This relationship was different.  No question about that.  And, with his tragic love life, Anderson had good cause to be concerned.

      “Thanks.  And… things are good.  Really good.  Not off-hand, casual good, but the sort of good that goes deep and nestles inside, lighting all the right fires, gentle warm ones and raging infernos alike.”

      “That’s… that’s not anything remotely like what you’ve said about any of your previous relationship attempts in the past.”

      “And?”

      “And nothing.  Just making note of it.  And… reminding you that you’re balls for almost everything relationship-related, so you probably should check your thinking, actions and decisions now and again with someone who is slightly less balls than you.”

      “Donovan?”

      “She’s far less balls than you.  And she doesn’t know quite as many of your utter failures and truly embarrassing debacles as I do to help you avoid new and more pitiable ones.”

      “That’s true.  Ok, if I think I need some sorting out, I’ll turn to someone slightly less balls than me and maybe our combined balls will be up to the challenge of the sorting.”

      “Deal.  Now do you want to tell me what’s in your pocket that has our balls joining forces?”

      “That… the wrongness in your head knows no bounds.”

However…

      “However… it’s another lead in my little mystery.  Tobias Sherman.  Seems to have been an inquiry agent Adelia Holmes either contacted or was going to contact about the death of Langdale Pike.”

Greg fished out the slip of paper and passed it to Anderson to view, though not entirely letting it out of his grip.

      “It was in some of her papers and the handwriting matches samples of hers, too.  That’s the case number for Pike’s death and very unofficial investigation.”

      “Oh… interesting.  And you don’t know if they met or not.”

      “Nope.  Or if she saw Pike’s file.”

      “Did you do a check on Sherman?”

      “I did, and the only thing I could find with my admittedly quick search was that he was on a list of private agents in the police records.”

      “One of those… well, at least he’d be able to get eyes on the file in question, in all likelihood.”

      “I’ve got a call in with the firm handling Adelia Holmes’s affairs to see if they have any further knowledge of him or the work he did on this matter.  I’m waiting for a call back on that.”

      “Well, unless he found something beyond what’s in the police records, then I’d say you’ve run the course of this.  At least in terms of Pike’s death.  Which makes it well-matched with Adelia Holmes’s demise.  Wisps of smoke, but no actual fire.”

      “Which is suspicious.”

      “Ummm… you proposing a connection?”

      “Well… we learned a little something about Adelia Holmes and Langdale Pike that makes a connection worth investigating.”

      “Please tell me they were lovers.”

Oh, you like that, do you, Mr. Pike.  I suppose you should, but could you not wriggle when I still have… you… out for Anderson to notice?

      “Yeah.  We found a few things that make that fairly certain.”

Like their rather dramatic son.

      “Yes!  Nothing better than a love triangle for sparking a series of nasty murders.  The husband’s the suspect, right?”

      “As much as I can say there is a suspect, given we have no actual evidence of any murders being committed.”

      “Oh, there were murders.  There is no possible way it plays out any differently.”

Paper back in… not in breast pocket, but with an awkward shove into the trouser pocket because our Mr. Pike seems very willing to join forces with Anderson to investigate this situation.  I’m sharing a car with Randall & Hopkirk.

      “I’m inclined to agree, but we’ve seen what the police have and that’s as slim as the remaining balance of your bank account.”

      “Time to go off the grid.”

      “That doesn’t mean anything real.”

      “It means… yeah, ok, it mostly just sounds cool, but let’s see what those solicitors have to say, then we can start pursuing other angles.”

      “We?”

      “If you think I’m walking away from investigating a crime-of-passion double murder, then you’re loony.  Besides, this is to make your snuggle bunny happy, right?  Consider it a personal favor.  One on which I will collect at some point in the future.  With interest.”

Yes, I know you are very keen on this new chum of yours, Mr. Pike, but settle yourself because we have a long day ahead of us and you’ll tire yourself out with all this wriggling.  Or rip yourself in two and there where would you be?  I certainly don’t have any idea, but if it means there’d be two of you, then I’m staunchly against it.

      “Fine.  Can we actually focus on our real job now?”

      “Do we have to?  A body in an alley where we already have the ID and there certainly are no sordid love triangles involved.  The fellow was 72 years old.”

      “I don’t know about you, but I hope to be considered a candidate for a sordid love triangle when I’m 72.”

      “That’s next year for you, isn’t it?”

      “Drive.  And speak no more.  Child.”

__________

Ok… Anderson was right about one thing.  Their current case is not as much fun as a sordid love triangle.  The very likely perpetrator is the victim’s business partner, given the various financial finaglings that seem to be showing in their ledgers and the fact that their victim had put in a call to an accounting firm other than the one their company already paid spoke to the fact that poor Mr. Decker was aware of the finagling, too.  But, one could always hold out hope for a blinder to be played and there was a sultry secretary at the center of all of this.  Oh, bugger me… the one mistake about putting Pike in any of his trouser pockets was poking and wriggling potential for things being housed by said trousers.  Currently, it was his left bollock.

      “Alright, you’ve been a decent chap, letting me work, to some extent, despite your earlier bastardy behavior, so… I’ll set you somewhere nice and safe besides my pocket.  Maybe propped against that pot I’ve got pretending to grow a flower near the window?  Give you a chance to see out and gaze at my rather humdrum and solid-citizen section of London?  That sounds good, doesn’t it?”

      “Not in the slightest.  Dear god, but this is a policeman’s flat.  Utterly pedestrian in every way imaginable and a few that my imagination simply cannot comprehend.”

Oh no.

      “No.  No no no no.  No ghosts allowed.”

Because there one is, right there.  See it?  Come on, brain, admit this is all an hallucination from being overtired and have a chuckle at your silliness while the rest of Greg goes and has a blisteringly-hot shower and tries to pretend he’s not insane.

      “You amuse me.”

Shit.  That mostly visible figure is definitely Langdale Pike, wearing Mycroft’s nose square in the center of his face.  And being an arse.  With… oh double shit, with Mycroft’s arse in those old-style trousers which I can now see since he’s facing away being all judgmental and Mycroft-y about my flat.

      “Mr. Pike, I presume.”

      “What gave it away?”

Sure, turn and tap your nose at me like you being a ghost wasn’t clue enough.

      “The watch chain.  It’s the same one as in the photograph I saw of you with Mycroft and his mum.”

Hopefully.

      “Oh, very good.  Much better than the police of my day.  But, then, you are of the detective’s side of the business, so I suppose you would have to have some talent for observation.  Not that the majority did in my London, but the principle stands, so there must be occasional merit to it.”

It's Mycroft 1.0.  At least he hasn’t talked about inspiration or nudity yet, but I suspect it’s not long in coming.

      “Thank you.  Now, want to tell me how you’re here?”

      “Do I need to give you another little pinch to refresh your memory?”

      “No, that’s quite alight and I’ll admit that was a bit of a stupid question.  Let me rephrase.  Now, want to tell me why you’re here?  And to clarify, if needed, why you’ve been in the Diogenes Club and in Sherlock’s flat where your son was physically present and waited until now to show your face?”

That took some wind out of your smug and sassy sails, didn’t it?  Not sure if that’s good or bad, but it’s a bit less windy, that’s for certain.

      “I… can’t say I have an answer for that, actually.  I tried often enough at the club and, now and again, might give some poor old baggage a bit of a fright, but mostly because of some rather uninspiring moans and groans...”

And we’ve achieved inspiration. Or the lack of it, which is the same in these circumstances.

      “… which is a bit of embarrassment, to be truthful.  It was a day worth celebrating if I could give their newspaper a flutter.”

      “And Baker Street?  Mycroft would have adored, absolutely adored meeting you last night.”

      “I tried!  I did the best I could which, frankly, was dashed better than I expected, to be honest.  My son… my dear, sweet Mycroft.  Everything… more than everything I could have hoped.  Could have wanted or dreamed.  When Addie told me she was with child, I thought I’d burst!  But, since she would have stomped all the nasty bits flat and cursed me while doing it for mucking up her rugs, I thought better of it, but… it was the greatest joy of my life when my little son was born.  To watch him grow… I knew even then would be someone great in this world.  Someone to astonish, to beguile and bedazzle.  Someone to fly far above the heads of the silly fools who vied for mention in my newspaper musings.  And I was right!  Oh…seeing him now, knowing what he achieved, what he accomplished…”

Greg wished Mycroft could see right now.  But… maybe he could…

      “You really have no idea why you’re suddenly visible?”

      “No.  None at all.  Beyond…”

      “What?”

      “Well… it’s daft, utterly daft, but when I was, you know… dying… I did wish… hard, too!... that someone, someday, would prove I was murdered and who did it.  I might have assumed that would be some police chappie, but…”

      “Are you telling me your ghost was waiting for a policeman to wander by?”

      “God no, normally I’d have nothing to do with your lot, besides slipping you a few shillings for a bit of information, but… you are my son’s lover.  And a police detective.  And you accepted my little… can you call a scrap of parchment a vessel?  I declare it so, in any case, so taken in sum… that is a rather convenient coincidence, wouldn’t you say?”

Yes.  Fuck the world.

      “Alright, I’ll agree that is a fairly good fit to what you’d need for your wish to be granted, but…”

      “It doesn’t bother me, you know.  That my Mycroft is having his wicked way with a policeman.  I admit I may have hoped it would be with someone of a higher social class, but you treat him as I would like and he positively adores you, so I give you my blessing.”

      “Ummm… thank you, but…”

      “But I do expect you to continue to devote yourself to seeing him happy and contented.  If I notice any degree of neglect, no matter how infinitesimal, I’ll have you tossed out and your superiors notified that your personal conduct warrants dismissal.”

      “That’ll be difficult what with you being dead.”

      “Never underestimate Langdale Pike, you pompous peeler.”

      “So noted.  In any case… want to talk to him?”

      “To Mycroft?  He has returned home, from what I gather.”

      “Yeah, but while you were trying to haunt a bunch of old geezers, the world did carry on and think of a few ways to talk to people who aren’t physically standing next to you.”

      “How delightful!  You believe yourself a funny man.  Those are always the most entertaining to watch.  And mock.  Publicly when possible, with loads of genuinely funny words in a highly popular newspaper column.”

      “Let’s return to the rather salient point about you being dead.”

      “Let us return to the rather salient point about you being a pompous peeler.”

      “It appears we have reached an impasse.”

      “How tedious.  Very well, you were implying I could actually speak with my son?”

Again, that small drop of the mask that showed just how much this man… ghost… loved the little boy he lost so long ago.  If all went well, then the resident tech expert should still be at her post, too.

      “I’m implying we can try.  Ghosts can be photographed… in the world of fantasy, not reality, but I think we’ve detoured around reality for the moment, so… let’s see.”

Greg sloughed off his jacket fully and tossed it on the hook behind the door, shaking his head that it hung on precisely long enough to pull the door open slightly before falling onto the floor.  This was the price he paid, apparently, for his very misspent youth.

      “I hope your ability to communicate is more practiced than your capacity for sport.  I have seen children throwing balls with better accuracy and control.”

      “If they fit my jacket they can have it.  Now, you be quiet and let me remember how to do this…”

Given that didn’t work, Greg made a quick call to Mrs. Hudson who, thankfully, was still on duty and able to walk him through the process of getting a video chat established.

      “There you are!  And with a visitor, too.  Not sure Mr. Holmes is going to be happy for that seeing that one’s a handsome gent and in your flat, leaning over you like he’s… bollocks.”

      “I am not bollocks, madam!  However, I do boast a pair that is rather impressive if I do say so myself.”

Mrs.  Hudson continued to stare at a face that, now that she peered more closely, wasn’t wholly opaque, something that did naught to conceal it was a face that she’d seen very recently.  In a very old photograph.

      “Another bloody ghost on our hands.  Wonderful.  At least this one can speak properly.”

      “Very.  My education was of the finest sort.  Unlike my son’s paramour.”

      “Go back inside your paper, you evil ghost.”

      “I refuse.  This is far more fun.  Good lady, might I trouble you for your name?  Manners, like proper diction and vocabulary, are not among this man’s portmanteau of personal assets.”

      “I see where His Nibs gets his personality from, at least.  And it’s Martha.  Martha Hudson.  I take care of Mr. Holmes.”

      “He has the energy for both you and Lestrade?  Mycroft inherited more from me than personality, it seems.”

Mrs. Hudson giggled girlishly and Greg tried to reach back and swat his nemesis only to have his hand pass through very unsatisfyingly.

      “Mrs. Hudson, do you think you could get Mycroft for us?  And… honestly, I don’t know how to approach this.  Have you soften him up a bit or just let the surprise hit him full on.”

      “Full on is best.  At least, it’ll be the most fun to watch.  Just a moment…”

      “My son!  My dear, dear little Mycroft… I’m so happy Addie, at least, got to spend the years with him.  The loves of my life… all I wanted was to have that life with my family, Addie getting to do the things she wanted to do, Mycroft… he achieved greatness, but what might have he achieved with a life in London…”

Thinking about it, if Pike was in the Diogenes Club, then he’d have occasion to learn about Mycroft’s career.  It must have been a shock to learn that his son wasn’t dead as would be the case of millions of people born during that era, and was surely reported in the newspapers, but still alive and carrying on in some fashion.  However, when one was a ghost, such things might not be as shocking as this pompous peeler might expect.

      “I’m sure you’ll have lots to debate on that score.  And, just to prepare you, he… he looks different now.  Compared to what you saw in London.”

      “Does he?  Interesting.  It was dashed uncharitable for none of you to see fit to discuss the issue of his deliciously intriguing situation while I was present but I also don’t particularly care because he is alive and I can talk to him and he… oh my…”

Greg looked towards his computer and smiled at the sight of Mycroft bickering with Mrs. Hudson.

      “My interest in your computer business amounts to naught.  Less than naught, actually, for naught implies, here, some neutral condition whereas I was enjoying my brandy and preparing for Gregory to phone and now that is heinously denied me by your henpeckery.”

      “I’ll peck your hen, you horrid man.  Now, let’s see you in fit state to have a conversation…”

Knowing well that Mrs. Hudson was taking extra time both to wind Mycroft up like a cheap watch and to build his and Pike’s suspense, Greg made a mental note never to challenge the ultimate master of capitalizing upon an opportunity, for Mrs. Hudson was the undisputed champion.

      “Release me!”

      “Just checking… alright, now, for your information, Greg has called.”

      “No!  No, I certainly did not miss the phone.  It was next to me the entire time!”

      “He phoned on my mobile to help him with something.  Now, he’s on the computer with… well, you’ll see.”

Mrs. Hudson spun her employer and resisted the enormous urge go give him a bum swat to set him moving towards the monitor, something that proved unnecessary since once he caught sight of Greg, Mycroft started racing towards the computer.  Of course, he then pulled up short and almost fell over from the abrupt stop when he saw Greg wasn’t alone.

      “Gr… Gregory?  Is… oh, tell me…”

Mycroft was now in motion again, absolutely entranced by what he was seeing.

      “Oh my… Mycroft… dear god, it’s you.  Healthy and strong and positively the handsomest young man in Britain!”

      “And don’t think we can’t see how much he looks like you, you vain ghost.”

Mrs. Hudson was now giving Mycroft a push with the hand she was using to rub his back to try and calm his frantic breathing.  Mycroft loved his mother with all his heart and, from all she’d heard and, now, seen, he was ready to love his father just as deeply.

      “F… Father?”

Greg watched Mycroft almost sleepwalk the last few steps to the computer and took a moment to assess Mrs. Hudson’s observation.  She was right.  They did look alike.  Pike had slightly lighter hair, was about an inch taller, unless he was levitating a bit, had, perhaps, a longer face and his eyes were a blue-green than a true blue and were more widely spaced, but… you’d swear they were brothers, if you didn’t know the actual story.

      “It’s me, Mycroft.  My son.  My beautiful, precious son.  I thought I’d never have the chance to know you…”

Ghosts couldn’t cry, in all likelihood, but Pike was giving it a proper attempt, nonetheless.

      “Heavenly melody… it is you, Father.”

      “My dear little Mycroft…”

      “Father… why under the canopy of night did you not bother to manifest when I was in London!  That was positively villainous.”

      “Pish tosh, you ridiculous knee-pants wearing puppy.  That I am here at all is a blessing you should embrace wholly and without nattering complaint.”

      “I shall pish your tosh, specter.  This was intentional and stands as a black mark on your already besmirched record.”

      “Besmirched!  Impossible.”

      “You also failed to manifest at the Diogenes Club and… that is an appalling cravat.”

      “How dare you.  This cost easily the price of your entire outfit.  Which is decidedly plebian.”

      “How dare you.  This was crafted especially to flatter my physique.  And is exquisite.”

      “A costermonger would purchase it from a rag-and-bone man and deem it unworthy of wearing to his job for fear of chasing off custom.”

      “Your cravat would not be deemed acceptable for washing chamber pots.”

      “Neither are your socks.”

      “You cannot see my socks.”

      “Their hideousness proclaims itself with an intensity that renders the need for visibility moot.”

Greg may have considered, in other circumstances, stepping into his familiar ‘reasonable person in the room’ role, but two things were stopping him.  The first was the clear and profoundly heartwarming twinkle in each man’s eye as they took each other’s measure… and found it extremely agreeable.  The second was he’d caught a bit of motion out of the corner of his eye and now was considering hurling himself out of the window so he wouldn’t have to be the reasonable person in the room for any reason whatsoever.

      “Uhhh… hi, Anthea.”

      “Your door was open.”

      “My jacket betrayed me.”

      “I’d say something about that, like it proves you have a sad brain, but… ok… that’s the man in the photo.  And he’s… not all there.”

      “Yeah… ummm….”

      “And…”

Anthea had her eyes now fixed on the face on the computer screen, one which was quickly moving to join Greg in throwing himself out the window but his attempt would have been far less dramatic since he was on the ground floor.

      “… you’re looking better, Mr. Sigerson.”

      “Sigerson?  What is that woman talking about?  I’ll go to my grave a second time before my Mycroft is called Siger’s son again.  Contemptible scoundrel.  I know he’s the one who killed me and I’ve got a policeman at my beck and call now to prove it.”

Anthea mentally damned every one of the lazy louts who instructed her law classes because none of them had bothered to broach the very thorny legal situation of ghosts.  Or individuals who couldn’t possibly be ghosts because she’d seen him eat chips and he even fought her for one, which a ghost probably wouldn’t do since they had no reason for greasy goodness, no succulent that goodness was.

      “DI Lestrade?”

      “Unfortunately.”

      “Do you have alcohol?”

      “The drinking sort?”

      “Yes.”

      “Loads.”

      “That might be enough.  Might…”

Chapter Text

Anthea drew in a deep, steadying breath and did a quick internal check of her unflappability, feeling highly satisfied that it was still outwardly solid, though behind the adamantium wall of cool, it was all clowns, kazoos and chickens doing the hula.

      “And, while DI Lestrade is pouring my very full glass of something potent, why doesn’t someone narrate this horror novel to me.  Pretend it’s an audiobook version.  Unabridged.  Volunteers?  No?  Alright, then, Mr. Sig… Mycroft… you’re nominated.  Start.”

      “I abjectly refuse.”

      “So noted.  Please recognize that this, then, is a violation of our contract because you are willingly withholding information from me that is relevant to the legal matters you wish me to pursue.  Good luck contracting another solicitor, Mr. Dead and Gone.”

Greg made a clear point of avoiding Mycroft’s glare as he handed Anthea her drink but, also, chose not to participate in Mrs. Hudson’s rousing applause for Anthea’s speech.  And chose, also, not to participate in Pike’s settling in to watch the show because he, not that it needed confirmation, very much approved of clever and independent women.

      “That is a foul abrogation of duty.”

      “Not at all.  Read the papers you signed.”

      “I have not signed any papers.”

      “Minor technicality.”

      “I am trapped in an opera.  My least favorite musically-expressive form.”

      “The sooner you tell your story, the sooner we can move onto something more favorable.  You… I’m going to ask, primarily for legal clarification. You are Mycroft Holmes, aren’t you?  Formerly deceased but apparently not anymore.”

      “I am.”

      “Ok… that explains a lot.  And raises a hundred questions, simultaneously.  For now, I’m not going to pry into the M. R. James aspects and just focus on the here and now.  You are in the now and virtually here, so… start talking.”

      “I’d advise you to do it, son.  I’ve seen that particular flame before in your mother’s eyes and it is not to your benefit to have it grow.  She’ll burn you to the ground then use your ashes for something horrid like letting a cat defecate in the pile.  Then trundle it over to some disused corner, so the insects can lay eggs in the heap and it becomes a nasty, maggoty mess in a fortnight.”

      “That was highly specific, Father.”

      “Your mother had a highly creative mind.”

Anthea cut eyes at Greg who simply shook his head and took a long drink of his best scotch.  The Pike-Holmes family was nothing if not colorful.

      “Oh very well.  But we shall have an extensive conversation about your lack of fortitude in situations involving women.”

      “You are fortunate, Mycroft, your lover is male because that statement renders you unsuitable for any relationship with a woman of substance.”

That both Anthea and Mrs. Hudson were nodding had Mycroft clearing this throat and giving his most dramatic wrist-flick to the world at large.  However, he did begin narrating his tale, one that garnered as much interest from Pike as it did Anthea.  By the end, Greg had refilled their scotch once and Mrs. Hudson had cracked one of Mycroft’s especially fine bottles of wine for her own entertainment-watching beverage.

      “And that brings us to this point.  My… my true father stands there and was murdered by a vile and pestilent man.  As was my mother.  Those wrongs must be righted, the various monies and properties distributed to the appropriate hands and… and Mummy receives the credit she deserves for her boundless talent.  There is much unresolved here and I suspect the spirits will remain tumultuous as long as the situation persists.”

A long ghostly moan drew Anthea’s attention and she glared at Pike who was doing his best impression of an unquiet spirit, complete with agonized wavings of his arms and the fraught, hollowed look of pure despair on his face.

      “If you’re auditioning for the stage, I predict your career will be a brief one.”

      “You wound me!  Stab me with a dagger of coldest ice and bitterest scorn.”

      “Getting briefer.”

      “Father!  You are not Henry Irving.”

      “Thank heavens for that.  He was a touch too… bit of this bit of that… for my liking.”

      “That is profoundly inane.”

      “Something that would have done the man a world of good.  With a bit of the grape, he did demonstrate a more appealing personality but I, for one, did my utmost not to get entangled in his stultifying tendrils when he visited my club.  At least not beyond the tiny tendrily tickles required when I was, shall we say, keeping an open ear for morsels of salacity from the theatrical realm.”

      “Pfft.  One could stand on a street corner and learn all one wished of that.”

      “Au contraire.  The truly unseemly stories were held much more tightly to chest.  Fortunately, my fingers were the nimblest in creation for unfettering my guests of their chest-shielding waistcoats.”

      “How you were never killed in a duel is beyond my ken.”

      “Three duels to my name, I’ll have you know, all which… well, let us say when one insists on a few steadying drinks on the field of honor before honor is satisfied and one provides said steadying drinks, it is rather simple to ensure than the only things shot to accomplish the honor-satisfying are trees.  And, in one notable case, a truly ghastly statue of some nymph or other gracing an equally ghastly duck pond.  Given we were on an earl’s estate and this particular son was not one his lordship’s favored progeny, we continued our combat at a local tavern and chose to kill a bottle of surprisingly acceptable whisky instead of another nymph.”

      “A duel?  Father, how… gauche.  Mummy would have been appalled.”

      “Your mother was my second.  The blighter was dashed lucky he didn’t have to face her, too.  Addie’s aim was positively uncanny.”

Mrs. Hudson made a quick thumb’s up sign to the air above her and Mycroft snorted softly in fake disapproval.  His mother was an excellent shot…

      “Are you two finished with your music hall show?”

The dead and not-precisely-dead men turned towards Anthea and made a sound like air spurting out of a too-full balloon.

      “I’ll take that as a yes.  Ok… I’m not certain whether this makes my job easier or harder but I have a better idea of what’s ahead of me as I try and sort out the details.  At the very least you can lead me to documents that will help prove lines of inheritance, find any additional properties and deeds, accounts, that sort of thing.”

Greg had to admire how well Mycroft’s rolled-eyes expression came through on computer.

      “Money… all is tainted by the stench of money.”

Apparently, from Pike’s equivalent expression, it was a genetically inherited trait.

      “Silly boy… money kept your skinny arse with food in your mouth, a roof over your head and the funds to pay a housekeeper to make sure both of those are to your liking.”

      “An artist cares not about the mundanities of the world, Father.”

      “Every artist I knew grabbed whatever banknotes and coins they laid eyes upon and heaven help anyone who tried to steal back their hard-gotten gain.”

      “Philistines.”

Anthea waggled her glass for another refill and wondered if she simply drank enough could she count on Greg to see her home safely so when she woke in her own cozy bed, she’d believe all of this was a ridiculous whisky dream and life would return blessedly to normal.  However, given she probably would never forgive herself if she didn’t dive into this real-world ghost story with all eagerness, she granted herself permission to pass out on the sofa and let the DI prepare a hearty breakfast for her in the morning if this ghost story required enough whiskies to make that scenario likely.

      “Why do I suspect, Mr. Holmes, that you’d fight tooth and nail for your banknotes and coins if someone made a grab for them?”

      “I have no idea; I associate that more with your colleagues in the legal profession.  Besides, protecting my worldly goods and resources is Gregory’s responsibility.”

Anthea shook her head, then nodded at Greg’s empty glass to bestow permission for him to have another.  Or twelve.  At least the man she’d met here in London was the man on the monitor.  She already had a bevy of antibodies in her veins to ward against his pretentiousness.

      “In any case, this all alleviates some of the worry I had about this whole business.  I can honestly say, now, I know exactly who are my clients and that I’m not participating in some chicanery that will deprive honest heirs of their due spoils.  I don’t know how much of your wish list we can accomplish, though.  Sorting the details of inheritance should be easier now that I can be pointed in specific directions and… I can’t believe I’m saying this… we can… create documents to fill in certain gaps that could pose difficulties with the court.  However, as for seeing any justice for what you claim are murders… no idea what can be done for that.  Or for getting your mother the notice you say she deserves.  Perhaps an entertainment representative might have insights into how to promote a deceased composer or performer, but I certainly don’t.”

      “Could Addie’s recordings be of use?”

It wasn’t possible for Mycroft to physically leap through the computer, but that didn’t stop him from trying.  Mrs. Hudson tut-tutted loudly as she wiped the smudge of nose grease from the center of her screen.

      “Mummy’s recordings!  Where!  Wait… no, you are a buffoon.  The recording technology when I was born was utterly insufficient for more than documenting the possibility of something better in the future.”

      “Did you pay no notice whatsoever to the dates of your mother’s scores in the Diogenes Club?”

      “I… no.”

      “Meaning yes.  My beloved Adelia did return on occasion in the years after my death.  Sometimes to ensure that matters were being managed to her satisfaction and sometimes to add to her private repository, not that anyone recognized that fact.  There is a room adjacent to the music hall which is one of my favorites since it is the rather cliched secret room, but where better to hide something of immense value!  Addie did have several recordings made of her playing her works and stored them there where your blasted imposter father could not lay hands upon them.  Filthy bugger.”

      “Father… you were able to speak to Mummy again after your death?”

Immediately Mycroft had his answer from the harsh, sorrowful shadows that rose in his father’s eyes.

      “That would… I would have given all I am for that chance, but I had as little success communicating with her as I did anyone else who trod my floors.  They were the fleeting, precious lights of my afterlife, though, those infrequent visits.  When I caught notice of her death in the newspaper… I wished upon every star that I could simply die with her.  Truly die, not wander the halls of my club as a ruddy ghost.  But, I also needed to stay a ruddy ghost because, on occasion, I’d see or hear news of my son and that… well, if I had known what a pain in the arse you are, I may not have been so overcome with unbridled and incandescent joy.”

Mycroft’s ‘well I never’ face was the Platonic ideal of affronted expressions, but he had no time to put words to his drama since Anthea cut in first.  Mostly to detour the conversation away from further wordy drama.

      “We can retrieve those easily enough provided Mr. Ghost knows how to access this secret room.”

      “I do.  My grandfather had it designed, actually.  He secreted some highly intriguing items in there that the authorities might loved to have discovered.”

      “That’s set, then.  I’m more curious about why you can be seen and heard now, but that was impossible earlier.”

      “I explained that to my personal constable here.  He is uniquely suited to this task and, I assume, the… officials of spiritdom… deemed it acceptable for me gain a greater ability to interact with him and, by association, the lackeys and menials who will assist him with his work.  I say…”

Langdale Pike was fortunate Anthea’s foot couldn’t connect with his leg because he’d be limping for a week in the aftermath.  Truth be told, though, he was more worried about the gleam in Mrs. Hudson’s eyes that said she’d have him over her knee for a paddling if she ever had even a fleeting opportunity to do so.  He’d seen that look in his mother’s eyes often enough and she had the same wiry build as the housekeeper shooting death glowers into his soul.  At least his peeler seemed to recognize the validity of his claims.

      “If you want people to help you, Pike, you might consider being a bit more cordial.”

Or not.  Useless bloody bluebottle.

      “A policeman lecturing me on manners… oh, very well.  I may have gone slightly over the mark, but only slightly.  And I am still not entirely convinced this one is a solicitor.  Look at those shoes.  A trollop would snatch them off a cart to add enticement to her already garish business costume.”

Mycroft found it terribly unsporting that the computer would not allow him to peer downwards and see the evidence of harlotry himself.

      “How tarty are they?  Anthea, I absolutely forbid you to wear tarty shoes while acting as my legal representation.  However, you are free to wear them during your off hours.  Truthfully, I would applaud your sloughing off your daytime persona, which is tepid in the extreme, and embracing something more vibrant for your leisure time.”

      “My fee just doubled.”

      “Still a pittance if you help to bring about a solution to this mystery and see my list of wants satisfied.”

      “Your boyfriend here can take care of your wants the next time you see him.  In any case… I’ll arrange access to the Diogenes Club, Mr. Lestrade I presume you want to do the honors of collecting those recordings?”

      “Oh, yeah.  That’s probably for the best since I’m the only one who hasn’t been inside of the place yet and people do trust a policeman when entrusting things to someone’s care.  Usually.  Any need for a cover story?”

      “Not on your part.  I’ll phone the club manager and see you have access and permission to remove audio recordings for… digitizing.  Something that should happen anyway, so I’ll have arrangements made for it.”

      “I demand to hear them as soon as possible!”

Greg considered lowering the volume of his computer then decided Mycroft’s ear-splitting shout was justified in this case.

      “As soon as Anthea can have copies made, I’ll get them sent directly to you, alright?”

      “Unacceptable.”

      “It’ll have to be acceptable.  Speaking of Anthea… why are you here?  And, that’s not me being rude, it’s me wondering why you came to my flat since I doubt you’re here because you got lost looking for a bus.”

Anthea bit back the comment she’d been preparing when rudeness did seem to be the intent of the question and remembered that, yes, she was there for a reason besides a bus.

      “You phoned about one Tobias Sherman.  I had a few meetings in the area and decided to drop by the information because… I wanted to discuss with you what I found.”

Anthea moved towards her valise, which she’d dropped onto Greg’s sofa after being struck in the face by the vision of a departed spirit and withdrew a thin folder.

      “Sherman did a bit of work for the police, but also for private clients, as you already knew.  One of those clients, apparently, was us.  We hired him, on occasion, to investigate certain matters outside the standard legal channels.”

      “Could be where Adelia Holmes got his name from.”

      “It’s possible.  He was a reliable investigator, from what I gather, until… he stopped responding to messages.”

      “He went missing?”

      “That I don’t know.  All we have is a notation that he, apparently, wasn’t responding to queries or work offers.  However, what’s notable is the timeframe.  When or if something happened, I can’t say, but my firm tried contacting him over a period of months around the time of Adelia Holmes’s death.”

      “Really?”

      “Again, it could be a coincidence and mean nothing, but he’d been consistently taking cases from us for a number of years and for him to simply stop, with no word as to why, raises questions.”

      “Did anyone check?  Go to see him?”

      “He was a hired functionary.  Sad to say but the firm had no interest in Sherman besides the work he did for them.  At least, there’s nothing to indicate they took any steps to determine his welfare.  I can’t say it’s much different now.  You contract a business for this or that service and they suddenly close or someone dies or whatnot and it’s not always on the minds of those involved to send out notices they’re no longer in business.  And, those that hire them don’t pursue the issue unless there’s money involved or incomplete contracted services.  If not… you shrug your shoulders and ask about for someone to replace them.”

      “The only notation the police had for him was on a list for inquiry agents.  No indication any case was opened for a disappearance or… worse.”

      “There could be a very innocent explanation for the whole thing, but I had someone do a cursory search of death notices and there’s nothing.  They’re searching what’s available of property records, bank information, birth records to see if he appears as someone’s father.  Sherman didn’t have much family, but what he did have we’re checking into, also.  So far, though, nothing.”

Greg looked at Mycroft who seemed to be awash with frustrated confusion, something Mycroft’s father was displaying in abundance, also.

      “Ok… nobody’s saying he was murdered, but I’d wager most are thinking it.  What we don’t know is if he met with Adelia Holmes.  I could be she was hoping to meet with him and never got the chance.  Or she, but he never had time to do any work or share his findings with her.”

      “Gregory!  You are irritatingly pessimistic.”

      “No, Mycroft, I’m a police detective who doesn’t leap to hoped-for conclusions.  We have to consider all possibilities, barring evidence to the contrary.”

      “I still pronounce you a knocker.”

      “O…k.  That’s a thing I’ve never been pronounced, so thanks for that.   In any case…”

      “I think they met.  At least once.”

Now, eyes were now on Mrs. Hudson, who was holding an old book in one hand and, currently, slapping away Mycroft’s attempted grab with the other.

      “This rude tit had me pull out all the papers and such of his mother’s and I had a browse through it earlier.  I think I remember… yes.  Here… it’s terribly vague, she was going to be in London and had an appointment with a ‘T.’ for a Wednesday morning.  After that trip, she only had one more to London and that one… well, let’s say it was the last one anywhere.”

This time, Mycroft wrenched the diary from Mrs. Hudson and scrutinized it with the intensity he normally devoted to his music.

      “Yes… yes, this was Mummy’s standard notation for events completed to her satisfaction.  If they were rescheduled, or did not meet her expectations, she would put an ‘X’ next to the appointment and add notes to indicate how she chose to proceed.  She met with this Tobias Sherman.  I do not doubt it.”

      “At the risk of being called a knocker again, we don’t know that this ‘T’ is Tobias Sherman.  Yes, I admit that it’s highly likely but don’t… do THAT!”

Greg gave a long shudder that did nothing to reduce the creepy feeling from having a ghost walk directly through him.

      “It stopped your nattering and naysaying, so I harbor no regrets.  In any case, I agree with my son.  Now, how shall you investigate to determine the nature of their conversations and what fruit they bore?”

      “Oh, I was thinking about hiring a spirit medium to summon their otherworldy essence.  Maybe do a bit of Ouija board or tarot cards if NSY’s spirit medium hiring budget is on the depleted side.”

      “Not the approach I’d expect the tedious and unimaginative police to uptake, so I suspect you are simply being infantile.  However, my friend D D Home claimed the ability to speak with the dead.  Among other things.  He claimed a great deal, actually, though he always had some excuse for not being able to demonstrate his abilities on an impromptu basis.  If the police are now using such individuals in their work, I might owe him an apology and a refund of moneys he had to spend when he changed his mind about a demonstration and I made him purchase the club a case of excellent brandy as forfeit.”

Greg wondered if a ghost could buy him a case of excellent brandy for his troubles, then decided his luck simply didn’t allow for such generosity from the afterlife.

      “We don’t use spirit mediums or Ouija boards or tarot cards or anything like that.  I was making the point that, in case anyone forgot with you in the room, that the participants in this bit of theatre are dead.   And, to be more of a knocker, this isn’t an official case, so I can’t devote myself to it at the expense of my job, which pays for this lovely flat you’ll be sharing with me.  I’ll do what I can when I have the opportunity, and I know someone who likes a taste of sordid mystery to tap for help, but… unless someone finds a crate of Sherman’s files or copies of anything he shared with Mycroft’s mum, then I’m as much at a loss as the rest of you for how to proceed.  Let’s start with getting those recordings, then pool our collective intellects about next steps.  It sounds as if Anthea already has lines on inquiry going and I will do another search through police files for anything we might have on any of the involved parties.  It’s a start.”

      “Paltry.”

      “Uninspired.”

The Pike-Holmes assault front was united as ever.

      “It’ll do for now.  Anthea, anything to add?”

      “I need more alcohol.”

      “Besides that.”

      “No, not particularly.  Until we learn more, we’re at a standstill on matters beyond those of inheritance, which I can start working on tomorrow.  I should ask, though… are there any surprises waiting for me on Sherlock’s end of things?”

Mycroft opened his mouth to answer, then gave his father a quizzical look because, honestly, he wasn’t sure he could give a definitive answer to that question.

      “If I understand rightly that young Sherlock is a descendent of Sherrinford Holmes, then I personally know of no perturbations along his line of heritage.  Sherrinford was Siger Holmes’s son, though both Addie and I were hopeful to include him as part of our family.  The poor boy… it was tragic enough he inherited Siger’s bodily humours, however, to live under the same roof as that reptile… it was not a conversation Addie was eager to have, but we hoped Siger would rather avoid the spectacle and simply allow Sherrinford to live in London with us than battle us in the courts.  He was terribly unfit to raise a son without the aid of a loving and devoted mother and we were prepared to besmirch him as completely as necessary to wrest the boy from his grasp.  It was not an issue, however, that ever had the chance to be pursued…”

Mycroft pursed his lips then fixed Greg with a pointed look.

      “Motive, Gregory…”

      “Perhaps, Mycroft…”

      “Plod.”

      “Dilettante.”

Mycroft gasped loudly and Mrs. Hudson stepped aside so his rearing back didn’t interfere with her giggling.

      “I… I am grievously insulted.”

      “I… can’t muster much care about that since you are not a policeman, not a detective and not, in any manner, an unbiased source of opinion.  I recognize you’re clever, insightful, wildly intelligent, creative and all sorts of other things and you’ve been very helpful in investigating this situation, but I do know what I’m doing if you want to actually see justice done it will mean that we have to do things in a way that will ultimately deliver actual evidence, not suspicion and innuendo.  Recognize that I’m trying to see that happen and maybe, just maybe, you won’t have to suffer a grievous anything in the future.”

Mycroft scowled mightily, but there was a tinge of chagrin that you had to be looking directly in his eyes to see.  Which, fortunately, Greg was doing while everyone else looked between each other and shared a ‘well, he’s right’ glance.

      “Oh, very well.  I will concede you have more experience in this area and, further, are acting in what you believe is the proper manner for bringing about a successful resolution to my mystery.”

      “Thank you.”

      “But I retain the right to scrutinize the reasoning behind your decisions and chide you for what I feel is inadequate thinking.”

      “That’s… about what I expected.”

      “Huzzah!  We are of like mind.  I knew you were simply being a malcontent.”

Greg knew, to the depths of his soul, he was a blessed man.

      “As always.  So… I have a suggestion.  How about we table discussion about doing things for now and have ourselves a right little party.  There’s food and drink on both ends of this and we can all, except for Father Ghost, indulge ourselves while said ghost regales us with tantalizing tales and gossip from his days as a purveyor of such things and tells us stories about Mycroft’s mum that Mycroft himself doesn’t even know.

      “Oh, I’d be delighted!  You couldn’t stop me even if you wanted to, which you don’t, believe me, because the stories I have… nobody has the stories I have.  Not for anyone with tender ears, though, but I don’t think that applies to any of us.  Besides Mycroft, that is, but perhaps a bit of toughening will do him some good.”

While Mrs. Hudson darted off to get some proper party nibbles going for their side and Greg did the same for his with Anthea joining so father and son could have a moment alone.  They had a great deal of time to make up for and they might as well make a start now.  Besides… that ghost had lecherous hands despite not being able to touch anyone and the two tries at getting a pinch of her bum was quite enough forth the moment…

__________

      “You look complete shite, Greg.”

      “Thank you, Anderson.  From a professional shite-looker, that’s quite the compliment.”

But undeniably true.  Sleep?  Naught.  He’d poured Anthea into a cab with just enough time for her to stagger through her front door, shower, change and be at work in questionable state and now sat here, in his own showered and questionable state, with a fresh as a daisy ghost riding along in his pocket to make certain the stop at the Diogenes Club gained them more than a nice look at a proper London club for the discerning gentleman.  Which sounded somewhat filthy stated that way and, from what he gathered, the old duffers in there had rather firm views on all things filthy.  They were strongly for it as long as it was done in private amongst the moneyed class and strongly against it for anyone else at any time whatsoever.

And, now that the questionable Anthea had phoned with the go-sign, it was just this one little errand to run then he could be back to using the day to continue with his actual job and, concurrently, mentally prepare to see Sherlock tonight to introduce him to his new relative.  Or, more accurately, old relative.  Though, to be fair, Pike died… he and Sherlock weren’t far from the same age.  Maybe their lunacy was a hallmark of that time of life which he, himself, must have hastened by while aging gracefully into the wise old copper currently sitting here doing important and vital work.  While looking shite.

      “Any reason for looking like you got drunk, lost a brawl then had sex in a filthy alley when your boyfriend currently is freezing his bollocks off in Canada?”

      “He’s not Canadian, I’m not drunk… anymore… and I didn’t have any form of sexual encounter whatsoever.  Just had a few friends in for drinks and it ran much later than anyone anticipated.  Without a single punch thrown, either, to put the final nail in the coffin of your absurdity.”

Credit to ol’ dead Pike for giving them all a very late, but thoroughly entertaining night.  The man could tell a story and had the sort of stories to tell that lent themselves to being told by a proper storyteller.  It was easy to see why someone as life-loving as Adelia Holmes had fallen for his charms.  And, to be fair, he had fallen for hers.  If there was ever a man who delighted more in telling tales of his lover’s escapades and accomplishments than Pike, Greg had certainly never crossed their path.

      “That’s unusual for you.  Having friends, I mean.  Not the drinking until dawn bit.  I’ve seen that often enough.  Is this little errand we’re running related to your drunken debauchery?”

      “Sort of.  Apparently there are some rare recordings by our Mr. Addison Harliss that are of interest and I’m collecting them to be digitized.  All right and proper per the solicitor who represents the owner.”

      “Why you?”

      “Because I have time to do it and they really are rare, so the club will feel better handing them over to someone more trustworthy than a man with a van.”

      “So, once again, why you?”

      “Hilarious.  Mycr… Michael learned of them and convinced the firm that represents the Diogenes that it’s in their best interests to see them copied and preserved.  I’m doing the club’s solicitor a favor, alright?  Always good to be owed a favor by a solicitor.”

      “That’s true.  Especially someone as disreputable as us.”

      “Us?”

      “I am participating in the errand; therefore, I share in any subsequent awarding of favors.”

      “Then you help carry what I collect.  I’m not certain how much is there and it could be heavy.”

      “I agree.  Then lunch?”

      “After we drop off these lovelies and while we’re on the way back to our anxiously-waiting stack of paperwork.”

      “We live a charmed life.”

      “No doubt about it.  If we really put our charms to work, we might have biscuits, too.”

__________

Ok, this was a club.  A club.  One of those that would burn itself to the ground before having the likes of them as members.  Mycroft would fit in perfectly here, if the average age of the members was below 140, real years not maybe-ghost years, and they had a flair for the musically theatrical.  Though not musical theater because that likely fell too close to opera for the maestro’s peace of mind.

      “Ah yes, we were informed you would be arriving.  I must say… the idea of genuine Addison Harliss recordings hidden here for all this time.  What an astounding thing!  Is there… will they be returned?  If not, is it possible to gain a copy?  I would very much enjoy listening.  Mr. Harliss was supposed to be a virtuoso without equal.”

      “I’ll guarantee you’re able to listen to whatever may be on these.  After all, you’ve been their guardian for a long time; it’s only fair.”

      “Thank you, Detective Inspector.  Truly, you have my gratitude.  This is all so exciting!  We have not seen the like in… oh, I fail to remember.”

Oh, you’re all smug about that, aren’t you Mr. Wriggle?  I just hope your instructions for opening this room are correct, because you can’t really appear out of thin air to tell me what a berk I am for doing something wrong.

      “The music room, you said, sir?”

      “Yes.  And then… if it’s not too much trouble…”

      “You will be left alone for your work.  Ms. Anthea made that very clear.  She does enjoy a bit of drama and I am always happy to oblige.”

The small tap at the side of the nose said that this should stay very much a secret with Greg but it made the DI smile widely, regardless.  And, true to his word, they were left alone once escorted to the music room, silently, of course, with the door shut behind them.

      “That’s bizarre.”

      “It’s certainly different.  Now, let’s get started. Supposedly, I go to the wall with the big oak bookcase and… there should be a notch at the back edge of the center support that… ok, move a few books to get at it and… oh, there it is.  Give that chap a push, then have a feel for the little bump in the knot along the left-hand side… there… push it, too and, finally, give the top rosette there a bit of a shove… stand on toes to give the top rosette a bit of a wobbly shove so… it opens up for us.”

Anderson had more than half believed this was all rubbish until the case swung out exposing a room behind it.

      “Well, now we know you weren’t being taken for a fool.  Not an enormous space, but I suppose it couldn’t be kept secret for long if it was.”

      “You could be right.  Doesn’t matter, though, since it’ll easily fit us both for a look around.  Come on…”

      “Ok. but… what if that case closes behind us?”

      “We become ghosts haunting this place for all eternity.”

      “Funny, Greg.  See me laughing?  My sides are nearly splitting.”

      “I doubt we’re in danger of becoming permanent residents of the Diogenes Club.  If we don’t leave after a time, someone will come looking and hear us yelling and banging.  Or, if all else fails, we could use that.”

Greg pointed to the small mechanism on the inside of the bookcase-cum-door that seemed to connect to various pieces that caused the door to open.

      “Nice that the idea of being eternal residents was considered and planned for accordingly.  Alight, we’re looking for very vintage vinyl?”

      “Yep, whatever there is to find.  Such as that lot in the glass-front case.  Smart to protect them from dust and whatnot.  Let’s see… yes, these definitely look like them.  I said I’d take a snap before we started moving them so they could be returned to their proper place later, if necessary.  So… one quick photo and while we’re were, might as well photograph the rest of the room’s contents so…”

Mycroft and Pike could comment on what they saw and Mycroft might want to view in person.

      “… Anthea has an idea of what an inventory of the space will look like.  Handsome little desk and chair, I have to say.  Bookcase, got it…”

And no looking into drawers or perusing books right now due to the Anderson situation.  Time for that later.

      “… and oh, that’s interesting.  Rather a nice specimen of chest there, wouldn’t you say?  You don’t see many of those today.  Not terribly ornate, but solid and sturdy.  Almost… oh.”

Almost a lockbox.  Where one might keep important papers.  If your initials, helpfully provided on the front, were T. S.  That was a thing…

      “Ooh, I’ve seen these before at the antique stalls, Greg.  Costly because they’re well-designed to keep people from stealing what’s inside.  I wonder if this one is unlock… oh, that’s bad.”

      “What?”

Anderson debated backing away, then stayed crouched down and motioned Greg to join him with the ‘careful, you big oaf’ gesture Greg had seen a few times before in his career.  It wasn’t a gesture that portended good things.

      “See this little thread?  I’ve read about these types of traps.  You try to open this up without the key and… bad things happen.”

      “Such as?”

      “Such as the little vials of chemicals that are protecting it are broken, mix with air and ignite.”

      “Ignite?”

      “It’s an incendiary trap.  You either are allowed to look inside or you aren’t and the stuff contained within are for a very select set of eyes.  And, important enough that it’s best they’re destroyed rather than have anyone else finding them.  Do you think… should we call for assistance?”

      “It’s not a bomb, is it?”

      “Uhhh…. not really.  It’d more be just a rapid ignition that sets things inside on fire.”

      “That’s bomb-ish.”

      “No shockwave or anything of the like.  Not really designed to damage the person opening it.  Probably.”

      “So… we’d need a key.”

And why aren’t you wriggling a message to me, you useless ghost.  A bit of Morse Code would be incredibly helpful at the moment.

      “Basically.  I mean… I have no doubt we could find someone to open it, but I’m not certain they wouldn’t want to write up a report and send a team here to check for other devices, neither of which I suspect you want without talking to that solicitor first.”

Or a useless ghost.

      “True.  But…”

Greg felt an itching in his brain and whoofed out a short breath as he stood and ran his hands through his hair.  Then took out his mobile to check for a signal, feeling some surprise at the single, valiant little bar standing proudly.

      “I may know someone who can help us.”

      “Please tell me it’s not Sherlock.”

      “It’s Sherlock.  But… not in the way you’re likely imagining.  Hold on…”

Greg tapped Sherlock’s contact listing and waited impatiently for the detective to answer the call, something not at all guaranteed if he was in the middle of one of his blasted experiments.  Today, though, luck was on the side of the silver-haired.

      “What do you want, Lestrade?  I am incalculably busy and…”

      “Did you ever try that key of yours on the toy chest or desk?”

      “I… why?”

      “Answer the question and you’ll find out.”

      “Very well.  Yes.”

      “Did it open either?”

      “No.  Now, what do I win?”

      “The chance to see if it fits something else.”

      “That… that is interesting.  I assume you would not broach the issue if you did not have reason to believe this would work.”

      “Correct and, to sweeten the pot, there’s a situation you might want to study.  Involves fire.”

      “Fire?”

      “Chemicals and fire all in a secret room.”

      “Where?”

      “The Diogenes Club.”

      “I will be there shortly.”

Greg didn’t bother to say goodbye as Sherlock had already disconnect the call and, instead, used his breath to phone Anthea on her private number that she said to use for business related to ghosts, witchcraft and the corporeal undead and described the situation with enough detail for her to realize the importance of it, but not tip off Anderson that anything beyond the obvious was involved.  After gaining her promise to phone the club manager to alert him of Sherlock’s impending arrival and that there might be more taken away than some music recordings, Greg put his mobile back into his pocket and smiled at his colleague.

      “Well, that’s managed.  Sherlock said he had a key from his family and I’m wondering if it’s more like one of those keys that opened a few different types of locks, perhaps the sort that might open a chest his great-whatnot grandmother left here with her recordings.”

      “Her initials aren’t T. S.”

      “True, but she may also not have bought the chest as new.  Or, she was asked to store it for someone.  It’d make sense that if what it contained was important enough to rig with that business, then it was important enough to store in a secret room.”

      “You have a point.  You’re not going to let Sherlock play with this if his key doesn’t work, are you?”

      “God no.  I actually want to know what’s inside, not have the privilege of staring at a pile of ashes.”

      “Good.  What shall we do in the meantime?”

      “Got any games on your phone.”

      “Always.”

      “Pull up one, then, and we’ll see how badly I can beat you at it.”

      “Are you taking medication for your delusions?”

      “Wager?”

      “Lunch?”

      “Done.”

      “And nowhere they hand you food in a sack.”

      “Shit.”

      “Or have that on the menu.”

__________

Hoping it was a good omen that Sherlock wasn’t immediately tossed out of the club due to his quivering menace, which was how his extreme interest in something was often presented, Greg smiled graciously at Sherlock’s escort and waited for the man to leave before speaking.

      “Got the key?”

      “No.  I traveled across London simply to marvel at your luminous smile.”

      “Many do, but that’s not helpful here.”

      “I have the key.”

      “Good!”

      “What is he doing here?”

Anderson gave a little wave and went back to thoroughly trashing Greg’s score on the candy game they’d been playing.

      “Helping me move a certain set of recordings by someone near and dear to your heart.”

Sherlock could think of only two people that might describe, in a roundabout and overly sentimental fashion and felt his interest in the situation soar even higher.  Not that he’d show an iota of it, of course.

      “Anderson serving as a mule.  Appropriate, at least.  Now, what is the potential target for my key?”

Sherlock eyed the desk and the glass-front case housing recordings before his eyes landed on the chest.

      “I assume that is it?”

      “Yeah, but have a care.  Get down and take a closer look.”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes but complied, muttering to himself once he was able to examine the chest more closely.

      “I see.  Yes, this is of interest.  Highly unusual, in fact.  What do you suspect lies within?”

      “Ummm… perhaps some documents relative to the Langdale Pike situation.”

      “Those are not his initials on the chest.”

      “True, but… there’s a lead that’s risen concerning an inquiry agent named Tobias Sherman.”

Sherlock gave Greg an expectant glance, but nodded slightly when Greg cut eyes at Anderson’s occupied self.  Keep information to a minimum and all would be explained later.  More than Sherlock, actually, could imagine at present.

      “A possible connection.  Well, this will be a quick determination…”

Sherlock pulled the key from his pocket and inserted it into the lock.  All three men froze in surprise when he turned it and was rewarded with the audible sound of the mechanism unlocking.

      “Anderson, is it safe?”

      “It should be, yes. The key should have disengaged whatever internals were acting to break the vials if the system was forced.”

      “Ok… in any case, stand back and let me… oh you bastard.”

Sherlock had already flung open the lid.  And, sat back on his heels staring inside.

      “It can’t be my finger; I was buried with all of mine.”

Sherlock, Anderson and Greg turned at the voice, but only two sets of eyes bugged out of their sockets.

      “Really, you wanker?  Here?  Now?”

      “My spectral senses started tingling.  Probably because of that nasty finger.  Or that ugly ring.  Some men have taste and others don’t.  Herein we have an example of the ‘don’t’ class.”

      “Greg…”

      “You’re imagining things, Philip.  Gave your head a knock.  Play with your game until your wits are restored.”

      “Lestrade!  That… wait.  That… that is Langdale Pike.”

      “In the flesh, young Sherlock!  Or the lack of it, as you can see.  Now what can you tell us about that finger?  You’re supposed to be smart, so get to it.  Then we can have a look at the papers it’s lying on.  Nice of Addie or whoever to put the finger on a little plate so it didn’t ooze all over everything.  That would have been a mess.  Though, after all this time, likely not as large a one as it might have been originally.  Time does have some uses, apparently.”

      “It… finger… you are a ghost.”

      “A stunning one, too.  At least I’m wearing something fashionable and not a nightshirt or some such.  That would have been utterly dreary.  Not that my nightshirts were appalling, of course, but really, how can one fully express one’s self in a sea of white linen?  Now, answer my question or I will proclaim you a dunderhead.”

      “You are a ghost.”

      “Oh, he’s pitiful.  You!  Sir Anderson of the Beard.  Have a go at that finger, will you?  Or the papers.  Anything at this point so there’s not two dunderheads in the room.”

      “You’re a bloody ghost!”

      “Another one!  Do you know anyone useful, peeler?  Anyone at all besides my son and that shapely solicitor?”

      “I… I know Mrs. Hudson.  You liked her.  And loads more, too!”

      “None of which is helpful here.  Do something to start those two thinking again and let’s look at those papers.  I wondered what was in here when Addie brought it here and now, I’m even more keen.  Come on, get started!  I haven’t got all day.  Oh wait, yes, I do.  But I don’t want to spend it in here when someone mentioned lunch.  I can’t eat but I can critique.  Oh, the fun we had visiting the various eateries and discussing their fare.  I wonder which are still in business.  Well, what are you waiting for?  Get on with it, peeler, and close their mouths.  I refuse to be held responsible if they choke on a fly or something.”

Greg shook his head wearily and marveled that his life was so full of nonsense that this latest bit scarcely registered on the nonsense-meter.  First step, gather all of this and deposit in vehicle.  Second step, deliver the recordings to Anthea’s office.  Third step, deliver the horror chest to his flat.  Fourth step, explain things to Anderson and Sherlock, mostly Anderson, while eating a delivered lunch and doing a quick perusal of the horror chest’s contents.  Fifth step, extract a promise from Sherlock not to do anything destructive to the finger, the ring, the papers or his flat while he and Anderson went back to work to, most likely, waste the rest of the day because Anderson would be asking questions until he officially was hoarse from using his voice nonstop for hours on end.  Sixth step, who the fuck knew.  At this point, nipping off to Zanzibar for a holiday was beginning to sound very, very good…

Chapter Text

      “It’s still a finger.”

      “You thought something might change, Anderson?”

      “Greg… I’ve had all day with the knowledge that ghosts are real sitting in my brain and that’s more than sufficient time for said brain to dredge up all variations of memories and theories about what might happen to that finger while it was sitting here in your flat.  I was more than slightly convinced we’d come back to a mummy shambling about or an ancient god called forth from bowels of the universe having a seat on your sofa, eating crisps.”

Greg patted his friend on the shoulder and steered him towards where the crisps and beer could be found for someone who was having a teeny bit of difficulty with reality at the moment.  For his part, he was just happy that Sherlock had abided by his promise not to break in and do something with the finger before they could collect what evidence was possible.  The chance that this would ever become an actual police matter involving living people stood squarely at naught, but closing a cold case and gaining justice for survivors was important, so they’d do this the proper way.  The sort of proper way.  There would be a semblance of properness, at least.

      “Be quick with your nonsense, Lestrade.  I have many tests I need to perform on the digit and the fact that I have not yet begun is already an insult to science.”

Pike rolled his eyes and marveled that a boy with that capacity for fervor in any manner stemmed from the loins of the dullard that was Siger Holmes.

      “Sherly, dear boy, let the peeler do his work in peace.  Why don’t you do whatever it is one does to summon my son for a discussion?  If he isn’t party to this, I have little doubt he will be absolutely insufferable and I have already suffered enough today riding about in a pocket.”

      “My name is not Sherly.”

      “As you desire, Hortense.”

      “That, also, is not my name.”

      “Ebenezer?”

      “I am eternally grateful that I do not share your genetic material.”

      “Might want to rethink that.  I’m handsome, erudite, clever, witty and marvelously skilled at separating the unwary from their deepest secrets and scandals.”

      “The first four items are patently false and the latter is provable only by your writings.  I have researched them.  If your scratchings represent the deepest secrets and scandals you could unearth, then you were lucky the public was so easily shocked, for a pet rabbit has a greater depth of salacity in its existence than the subjects of your gossip.”

      “Alas, Addie said much the same thing.  About the latter part of your prattle that is, not the former, which is simply verbal evidence of your raging envy.  I admit I held certain items of interest out of the public view, on occasion.  Putting a bit of cowitch in their undergarments is one thing, but genuinely bringing a person to ruin is quite another.  Though, there may have been a few that ruin bumped into in a roundabout way completely not involving any published column of mine.  They deserved it, though.  Dreadful people.  Truly dreadful, not just naughty or boring or foolish or a bit too free with, shall we say, creative bookkeeping.  There is evil in this world and if they are also too stupid to hide things about themselves better kept hidden, then the devil take them and with my compliments.”

Greg and Anderson were both well aware that they should be against intentional and outright ruination of a person but, frankly, couldn’t be arsed to care for the dreadful buggers.  Who’d been dead for a century.  They could be bothered, though, to start collecting what they could of forensic evidence.  More specifically, Anderson could pass the crisps bag to Greg and start the mini forensics sweep himself.  Which took a touch more time than usual since he had to do it one-handed, the other being used to swat at Sherlock who kept trying to sneak in with some bit of his own business.

      “Ready to move it, paranormal investigator Anderson?”

      “Yeah, still lacking a sense of humor, Greg.  Away with the plate… and now we can see what it’s been a paperweight for all this time.”

Anderson moved the small plate to the floor where, unexpectedly, it was further moved by Sherlock to Greg’s sofa table and left undisturbed, his attention being more focused now on the remaining contents of the box and shouldering Anderson away from being the first to examine them.

      “These are Tobias Sherman’s documents.  At least, this top set.”

Sherlock carefully extracted a set of ledgers and sets of papers bound with string, untying the knots to examine each sheet in turn.

      “Client lists, with addresses, description of work done and payment.  There.”

The detective put his finger squarely on one entry and it surprised nobody that it was for Adelia Holmes.  And for the matter of the death of Langdale Pike.  Greg sighed and knew that before they went further they needed to add another voice to the choir.  At least in a virtual sense.

      “Alright, let me phone Mycroft so he can be part of this.  Keep going, lad.  Anderson, you too.  Knowing she contracted him is a long way from knowing if he found anything relevant.”

      “You’re a bit of a drooper, aren’t you, peeler?  Dashed unhelpful of you, all things considered.”

      “Mr. Pike… fuck off.”

      “There was not a bit of cleverness in that.  Not even a smidgen.”

      “Fuck cleverly off, then.”

      “Har de har har.  Where is that shapely solicitor?  She’s clever.  As lovely to talk to as to look at.  If my Mycroft didn’t have a taste for… you… I’d be scheming to make a match between them but, alas, it is not to be.  And, most likely, she’d break the silly boy in two for one reason or another, maybe scandalous, maybe not, so it’s probably for the best, in any case.”

Greg was absolutely certain Anthea could break any of them in two, including the ghost, so simply nodded in agreement as he made his call.

      “Gregory!  What news have you for me?”

      “You’re gorgeous and sexy.”

      “True!  And besides that?”

      “The recordings were safely deposited at Anthea’s office.  More than a scant few of them exist, I have to say.  I think you’ll be very happy with what we brought away, as long as they’re still in good condition.”

      “Excellent!  Oh, I am overjoyed to hear that.  Though it will not compare to the joy I will experience hearing again Mummy’s playing.  Besides, that is, the ghostly strains I sometimes hear on particularly spectrally-inspired evenings.”

      “I’m sure Anthea will have them digitized as soon as she can.  But…”

Greg cut his eyes towards the chest, then the lone finger, and decided to take conversation in a visual direction.

      “… we also found some other things.  Things you might want to have a look at.  Is Mrs. Hudson’s laptop there?”

      “No.”

      “Damn.”

      “However… I do have my tablet.”

      “Do you have the right app?”

      “Martha checked and verified that I am suitably provided.”

      “Ok, then.  Let’s move to that so you can see what’s what.”

      “Very well.”

      “And… be ready for… stuff.”

      “That is decidedly ominous.”

      “Yeah, well… it’s my day for drama.”

      “I am most intrigued.  Very well.  Let us begin.”

Greg was happy he’d already started up his laptop because there was little doubt he’d get a scolding if Mycroft had to wait one additional second beyond what was absolutely necessary for his invite to chat.

      “Ah!  That was not at all complicated.  I abhor this technological maelstrom that has gripped humanity like a beleaguered ship, however, it does, on occasion, have its uses.   And… oh.  Who is that?”

      “Another peeler, my dear boy.  They’re taking them fairly lean now, I must say, but maybe they don’t rough up the lurkers as much as they once did.”

Pike floated over and waved excitedly at his technophobic son.

      “Father!  You are… exposing yourself.”

      “Not yet, but if we can fathom out how to get a few good whiskies in me, then it’s almost guaranteed.  Besides, he’s one of those science types like our Sherly.  They can be frightfully useful now and again.”

The near perfect duet of ‘I’m not like Sherlock!’ and ‘I am not like Anderson!” was handily waved off by the unimpressed ghost.

      “Gregory!  You allowed Father to compromise our secrecy.  I would have supposed a man of the law to have some ability to manage nefarious individuals or lunatics but I seem to be mistaken.”

      “Some people are too nefarious or loony for even me to manage.  Like every member of your family.”

Now it was a trio of ‘Well, I never,” ‘I am not loony!’ and ‘Inspector Bluebottle does have a point, son,’ giving Greg a relieving sense of satisfaction at a job well done.

      “Now, do you want to see what else we found or repair to a fainting couch for a soothing tisane?”

      “You are a villain, Gregory.  Fortunately, you inspire each and every of my humours, so receive far more of my forgiveness than is likely to your betterment.  Very well, what else have you… dear heavens, is that a finger?”

Which was being held aloft by Anderson in hopes of turning the conversation back towards a productive direction.  Not that it had been particularly productive before Mycroft’s arrival, but it could be a long night and spontaneous vaudeville acts weren’t going to make it any shorter.

      “Yeah… we found that on a plate in a trunk with what appear to be Tobias Sherman’s papers.”

      “Where is the remainder of Sherman’s corpse?”

Anderson cut eyes at Greg who simply shrugged away any responsibility for answering that particular question.

      “I… we’re not even certain it’s him, to be honest.  It does seem to be a him, but beyond that, there’s not much in the way of identifying features like a helpful tattoo of his name across a knuckle.  The next step is to see what we can learn, perhaps, from the ring.”

      “Bring it closer.”

This time Anderson put ‘tone’ into the eyes he cut at Greg, who finally sighed, donned a quick glove and took the finger from the plate to deliver to Mycroft’s view.

      “No no no, I have no interest in the finger.  What a ghastly object.  Mr. Poe might find such a thing a pleasant sight but I certainly do not.  The ring, Gregory!  Let me see the ring.”

Greg hesitated a moment, then gently tugged on the ring.  Then less-than-gently tugged on the ring.  The slid the ring off the… wrong… end of the finger where he encountered much less resistance.

      “Here.  Nothing inscribed on the inside of the band, if that’s what you were hoping for.”

      “No, not at all.  Actually, that acts as further evidence.”

      “Evidence?”

      “This Sherman was an inquiry agent, neither the most respected nor best compensated of professions, though some few exceptions existed.  That is not the ring I would expect for someone of his station.  If it was inscribed, I might think it a gift, however, this… something is not right here.”

      “What’s not right?”

      “I… no, it is not possible.  I thought for a moment I recognized the ring, however, that is not possible for I never met the man.”

      “Ok… is there something unique about it that’s sparking a memory?”

      “No, not at all.  It is an expensive piece, but not particularly remarkable as an example of a man’s ring of the time.  In fact… the style appears somewhat old.  Father, your assessment?”

Greg sighed as the ghost walked through him again to stand where he could see the ring.

      “Hmmm… now that you mention it, the style is an older one.  Saw it’s like on the doddery gents that I’d run across when stepping out for a bit of music or theatre.”

Pike shrugged to indicate the terminus of his opinion, which was underscored by Mycroft’s sigh and unenthusiastic flick of the wrist.  However, in Greg’s mind, it was just more possible leads to follow, no matter how thin and probably unfollowable they might be.

      “A family piece, then.  From his father, grandfather or something.  Of course, how we’ll link the ring to Sherman, I have no idea, but it’s more to work with than a finger on its own.”

      “I suppose… but what else is in there, Gregory?  A trunk that size to house only a finger?  That would be laudably dramatic, but I doubt Mummy would have gone to such lengths for the future possibility of a bit of drama.”

      “Yes, she would, son.  And without hesitation.”

      “Very well, you have a point, Father, however, I still suspect I was summoned for more than a revelation of the Mummy’s sense of the macabre.

Sherlock and Anderson held up handfuls of papers and waggled them suggestively.

      “Aah… yes.  That seems far more useful.  I want a copy of everything you find.”

Greg had to wonder if Mycroft believed that magic existed beyond his own… and his Father’s… existence and could be wielded by humble coppers to satisfy the wants of musical geniuses.

      “Um… that is possible, but it’ll take some time, so don’t expect it right away.”

      “Use technology.  That should deliver them to me in a trice.”

Ok, no need to wonder, apparently.

      “I plan to, but it’ll still take a bit, so just be patient.  However, you can help now while we’re going through things before you get your own copies to examine.  Speaking of… Anderson, Sherlock… anything leaping out at you two?”

Pike making a balletic leap across the room reminded Greg that it had been a whole day since he’d had a good drink and took immediate steps to rectify that fact.

      “Funny.  Sherlock?  Anderson?”

Anderson shuffled through his messy pile while Sherlock shuffled through his and both hmmmm’d sagely while Greg cracked open a new bottle of scotch and pulled down three glasses.  Anderson’s sageness broke first.

      “They do seem to be this Tobias Sherman’s work records.  At least, some of them.  An appointment ledger, case notes… not the volume I’d expect if he was in business long, but enough to be certain he was successful at what he did.  And had a good relationship with the police.  He seems to have had a respectable number of sources in their ranks.”

      “Smart man.  The billion quid question, though, is what’s in there about Mycroft’s parents?”

Something Anderson was still in shock over.  Not that he was in the room with a ghost, but that Greg’s boyfriend, Michael, was actually the assumed-long-dead Mycroft Holmes.  It shouldn’t have him surprised, though.  Greg’s history for romance was peppered with strangeness and this was just a large and showy candle on that best-forgotten cake.

      “Uhh… ok, Sherlock, what’s in your pile?  I think I saw something in there, correct?”

It peeved Sherlock to have to agree with Anderson, but this was not the time for peevishness.  He’d save it up for later and let it inspire a truly spectacular show of pique.

      “Yes, there are specific notes of the meeting to engage him for the purpose of investigating Pike’s death and agreement to meet a second time once he had any results to present.”

That got Greg’s attention.  And everyone else’s.

      “What were they?”

      “Unknown.”

      “Pardon?”

      “There are no notes concerning a second meeting.  There are, however… much as I might do, Sherman laid out what facts Adelia Holmes had presented and listed potential suspects for the crime.”

      “Which would be Mycroft’s fath… fake father.”

      “That is one.  Adelia Holmes was another.”

The WHAT! shrieked by both Mycroft and Pike was in nearly identical pitch.

      “She would be on my list, also.  Especially, given the fact that, barring a few minor bequests, Mycroft was the sole beneficiary of Langdale Pike’s estate.”

Greg and Anderson shared a look that said Sherman, at least, wasn’t a fool.  Greg, however, was the one elected to voice their agreement, which cost Anderson the glass of scotch Greg was about to pass him.

      “Yeah, that would make sense.”

      “Gregory!  You bounder!”

      “No, Mycroft, not a bounder, a police detective.  When there’s a death and we don’t have the killer outright, we quickly look at who would stand to benefit through a will, insurance, business arrangement, etc.  If you stood to inherit everything, then you’d come under close scrutiny if you hadn’t been an infant at the time of Pike’s death.  Your mum is a bit more of a stretch, but I’ve seen enough cases where a mother did many an unsavory thing so her child met with an opportunity, such as a fat inheritance.”

Pike strode angrily through Greg again and once more for the irritation factor.

      “Balderdash!  Addie would kill no one.”

      “Sir, did you or did you not say she was a second in your duels?”

      “Well… nobody died, now did they?  Besides, if Addie murdered someone, such as me… especially if it was me… she would do it if a far more spectacular manner than a banal poisoning.”

      “If she wanted it to look like an accident so her dearest son would inherit a fortune?”

      “She had her own fortune.”

      “Has that ever stopped anyone from killing for money?”

      “That… damn.  You have a point.  Fairly common, in point of fact, at least in my time.  Poor old Uncle Horace having all that money and being a rotter about staying alive and not letting it flow to more appropriate hands.  Well, a nip of something evil in his brandy or a bit of a shove down the stairs should do the trick.  What it doesn’t explain, though, is why my Addie would want it investigated if she was the villainess of the story.  Seems that’d be the last thing she’d want to do.”

      “Exactly!  Finally, Father, you are being something other than nonsensical.  If Mummy was the killer, she would simply have remained silent so that no hint of suspicion rose as to Father’s demise.”

Greg nodded slowly and took a fortifying sip of his drink before responding.

      “I admit it wouldn’t be the first thing I’d suspect if she was the killer, especially after that long a time, but I also won’t say we’ve not worked cases where that’s exactly what happened.  Usually because the killer was worried someone might raise the issue independently so they got it out first, thinking it would make them look all the more innocent.  If Sherman was worth his fee, he’d have her on the suspect list and do some digging to learn if there were others raising questions about Pike’s death.  Maybe someone wondering about his assets.  Your mum hadn’t put you forth as his son yet, so that could have inspired some worry that it would cloud the issue of your parentage and put obstacles in the way of your gaining Pike’s money and property.”

      “Uh, Greg?”

Greg, Pike and Mycroft turned towards Anderson who, with Sherlock, was looking back at them with slightly troubled looks on their faces.

      “Yeah?”

      “Ummmm… there’s been a development.”

Said in precisely the tone that declared that development to be one nobody would actually be happy to hear.

      “Ok… what is it?”

Anderson shot a look at Sherlock to make very clear he’d lost his scotch once and wasn’t going to lose the glass he’d had to pour himself, also.  Sherlock scowled but stepped up as spokesman since he had no scotch to lose.

      “First… it seems Sherman did prepare at least a preliminary report of his findings.  There is a notation in his journal to that effect and that he had contacted Adelia Holmes to set an appointment to review it.”

      “That’s… is that bad news?  It doesn’t sound like it.”

      “I have no idea because the report, itself, is not here.”

      “Are you sure?”

      “Very.”

      “Ok… then… I have no idea what that means.  The simplest explanation is that he gave it to Mycroft’s mum but…”

      “Their appointment was the day before she died.”

That stopped Greg in his proverbial tracks and he cut a glance at Mycroft and Pike to gauge their expressions.

      “Mr. Pike, you said you remember her bringing the trunk to the Diogenes Club.”

      “I do.  But… I also only learned of her death somewhat after the fact.  It was a number of weeks after, I think.  I only knew because I heard one of the club staff mention that they hoped the solicitors who took control after ‘Harliss’ died would keep the current staff in service.”

      “Ok… well, that shines a new light on things.  Sherlock, I’m almost afraid to ask, but is there anything else?”

Because you look very much like there is and you saved the best for last.

      “This was also in the trunk.”

Sherlock reached inside and pulled out a small framed canvas that he passed to Greg.

      “Oh…. yeah, that’s not good.  Not in the slightest.”

As Pike peeked over his shoulder and gasped loudly, Greg looked over at the laptop and sighed.  It wasn’t every day you were handed a portrait of your lover wearing a ring you just found on a mummified finger.  Today, however, was one of those days…

Chapter Text

      “What?  Why is everyone staring at that painting?  Let me see it.”

Greg hesitated a moment as he felt his ‘official police business’ mindset snap into place.

      “Ummmm… first off.  Where were you around the time your mother died, Mycroft?”

It hurt to ask the question in a somewhat official manner, but his lover was the one who’d wanted this investigated and that meant, sometimes, ugly surprises reared their head that you had to take seriously as the lead investigator.

      “I… I have already told you.  I was in Geneva.”

      “Can you prove it?”

      “I… Gregory?  What is this nonsense?”

Greg turned the canvas towards Mycroft, who gasped as loudly as had his father.

      “That is me!  And… that ring.  It is on my hand.”

      “Yeah, so I’ll ask again, can you prove…”

      “Fiddle-faddle!  I was in Geneva and, if pressed, I can likely provide my journal to document my time there.  Or… yes, I still, I believe, have the telegram informing me of Mummy’s death.  You do not honestly believe I killed her…”

      “I can’t dismiss it out of hand.  Nor can I dismiss you out of hand as a suspect in Tobias Sherman’s death.”

      “That… that is preposterous!”

      “I agree, but if we can’t eliminate you as a suspect, it’s not going to be possible to put forth someone else as the killer and make it a credible claim.”

      “You know, Gregory… you know I did not do this.  Any of this!”

      “I believe that, yes.  I can’t say I know, though, because that requires evidence.  Something we don’t have for your innocence.  That’s what we need to do now, establish your whereabouts at the time of the murders.”

It wasn’t lost on Greg that he was speaking about this like it was an active case, but it felt active.  Two key players were here in the flesh, so to speak, and fresh evidence was coming in by the trunkful.  And, to Mycroft, it was an active matter.  Active, relevant, pressing and, now, more personal than ever.

      “You said the ring was vaguely recognized.”

Now, eyes were turning towards Sherlock, who was looking again at the ring, carefully examining it for any identifying mark.

      “Yes, but not because I owned it.  I have no idea why that painting… there!  There is your evidence.  I never sat for that painting.  And that is something I would not forget.”

Greg hated his brain, which immediately leapt to ‘can you prove it?’  He had to do this right, though.  The victims deserved his best effort.

      “Are you certain?”

      “Am I certain?  Gregory, one does not forget sitting for a portrait.  It is a loathsome task and one I abhorred, though the end result was my image, which was always a pleasant outcome.”

      “He’s got a point, peeler.  It was never a thing you did on a whim because it could be days of sitting with the same expression on your face in some stuffy room, because the artist didn’t want the windows open in case the wind blew your hair or something.  Photographs are much better.  You still had to sit a bit, not the years and years needed for something like what you’re holding.  Though… now that I really look at it.  It’s rather hideous.’

      “Father!  That is decidedly uncharitable.  And patently untrue.  I am a man of no small measure of beauty.”

      “Given you strikingly resemble me, that is unquestioned, however, I was referring to the quality of the portrait.  Look more closely at it.  The brush strokes, the lack of attention to finer detail… I admit I have seen more than a few of similar quality in my lifetime, but it is not something you or your mother would tolerate for an instant.”

Everyone crowded around the portrait, Anderson walking through Pike for his spot, much to Greg’s delight and, after a moment, it was a series of heads nodding their understanding.

      “This was hastily done.”

      “My point exactly, Sherly.  And, most certainly, done using another portrait, sketch or even a photograph as a reference.  Admittedly, its appalling quality could be due to the artist’s utter lack of skill, however, there is no life there.  No breath of vigor or whiff of vivacity.  Even the portrait we had done of Mycroft as an infant was far superior and the artist only could view him while on his mother’s lap and thoroughly dissatisfied with the posing experience.  I suggested a touch of laudanum to settle his squirming, but Addie would have none of it.”

Mycroft gasped again and marveled that his father’s capacity for effrontery genuinely knew no bounds.

      “I would hope so!”

      “I suppose.  She didn’t want to deplete her own supply, you see.  You would have needed quite more than a touch, to be honest, as you seemed to think you had far better things to do with your time than sit and look regal.  To be fair, that was true, as we’d gotten you a kitten and that was the only thing on your mind for days and days.”

      “Bastet.”

      “I called her Bassie, but your mother bopped my nose when I did it.  Naturally, I did it a lot because she was an absolutely adorable nose bopper.”

Greg, Anderson and Sherlock looked between each other and decided that unless Mycroft had sought to frame himself for the crime which, admittedly, was not out of bounds for his sense of the theatrical, he would not condone a portrait like this be left in existence when he could have burned it outright and tossed the artist on the pyre, as well.  A question did linger, though…

      “Mycroft?  Ummm… the ring.  I’m willing to, in my official capacity, say that after a better look at your portrait and having firsthand knowledge of you, it’s unlikely that you sat for this and are lying to us about it.  That points to someone other than you having a hand in this.  If it was your mum… it’s hard to imagine the situation where she’d stitch you up for Sherman’s death since it wouldn’t give her claim on Pike’s assets if you hanged for murder.”

      “Which I had absolutely no reason to commit.”

      “Which you had reason to commit if Sherman found something like other heirs to Pike’s money.”

And cue an indignant Pike in 3… 2… 1…

      “How dare you, slanderous cur!   Mycroft was my only child!”

      “Something, sir, Mycroft couldn’t have known at the time.  What about a cousin or nephew?  Mycroft was illegitimate and that meant something more then than it does now, even with a will.  Which didn’t even name Mycroft outright.”

Cue a deflated Pike in 3…2…1…

      “Ah… yes, there is that.  Very well, I credit the point, however, Mycroft committing a murder is so utterly farfetched as to be something that Jonathan Swift may have penned.  Now, that reprobate Siger… if there was ever a person I’d believe could commit murder, it was him.  Shifty, peevish, covetous, lacking utterly in morals or integrity, vile both of spirit and of what little intellect he possessed… Addie’s little dalliance with the wrong sort was not something she ever stopped regretting.  What a dreary man… he did in Sherman, just as he did in me.  I don’t doubt it for a moment.  Did in my beloved Addie, too, don’t think differently.  Rotten to the core.”

      “And… do you think he’d frame his son for a murder?”

      “Not.  His.  Son.”

There was real anger there and Greg respected it.  As frivolous and loony as Pike could be, his love for his son was real and deep.

      “Ok, you’re right.  And that’s actually an important point.  Could be a way to have a bit of revenge against not only his wife but Mycroft, too.  Kill you, then the person who might expose that murder, while embroiling Mycroft in a murder investigation which certainly wouldn’t do his career any good, even if was officially cleared.  We need to explain the ring, though.  Mycroft, you said you thought you recognized it.  Think hard and with the perspective that the person who painted this had to have seen it, meaning the person who commissioned it had to have access to it at the time of your mum’s death.”

Mycroft threw up his hands, but turned his thoughts inward.  The sense he’d seen the ring was a genuine one, not a fantasy of his imagination, of that he was confident.  Fath… Siger… was the likely culprit, the very likely culprit, so he would have seen it in association with him.  Or, at least, in locations or situations where they both would have seen it.  It was not Sherrinford’s and Siger did not wear it.

Or did he…

      “One moment.”

Mycroft raced through his home, looking for even the slightest clue to bring the thick fog in his brain to focus, finally finding it in one of the unused bedrooms on the upper floor.  Greg could hear his name being yelled before he saw Mycroft’s face on the laptop.

      “Gregory!  Look!  I remember!  The ring’s history, I remember it!”

Everyone peered at the painting in Mycroft’s arms, which was one of his supposed father and undisputed mother posing formally and somewhat somberly.  On Siger’s finger was the ring.

      “This was done just after Mummy married.”

      “That explains the look of despair on Addie’s face.”

Which flitted briefly across Pike’s face, also.

      “She did admit it was a grueling experience as F… Siger… was in a particularly foul mood owing to certain business dealings going awry and, further, that it was a hot week and his body odor was shockingly distasteful.  In any case, the ring… it was a gift from Mummy’s family to him.  It had belonged to one of Grandfather’s brothers, I do not remember which.  Siger was not, however, fond of it and soon began wearing the one I typically associate with his person.  He set the one in Sherlock’s hand aside and… I have no idea what happened to it after that, however, Mummy once said she took with her when she left him anything that had connection to her family.  That, likely, would include this ring.”

      “Which would place it in her, now your,  house?”

      “It is a near certainty.”

      “Where you could either get it yourself or it could easily be claimed she gifted it to you at some point after she left her husband.”

      “I am not the murderer!”

      “Not saying you were, just laying it out how the police might interpret things.  Especially if your… Siger Holmes… nudged them in that direction after he’d planted a painting at the crime scene of you wearing the ring.”

      “Does this not prove, then, that he is the killer?”

      “No.  In an actual case, it’d be a theory we’d work to support with actual evidence.”

Sherlock, Anderson and Pike had been conferencing while the other two debated Mycroft’s murderous nature and Anderson politely cleared his throat to turn the attention their way.

      “We might have an idea.”

The way Anderson said that notified Greg in writing that the idea was one that would not receive his wholehearted approval and lead to a headache that Anderson would owe him for.  In an enormous way.

      “Ok… I’m braced.  Hit me with it.”

      “We have a séance.”

The headache had arrived.

      “What?”

      “You heard me, Greg.  You’re not deaf.  Old, but not deaf.”

      “A séance?  For… who?”

      “Mrs. Holmes.”

Mycroft’s sputtering would have had ducks on a pond looking for the motorboat heading their way.

      “Mummy?  I… are you mad?”

      “Not that I’ve noticed.”

      “But… ridiculous.  Utterly ridiculous.  Mummy is… here.  Somehow I know she is here and beyond a measure of whimsy, she has never once seen fit to contact me with any pertinent information relevant to this situation.  Why not state plainly – my dearest Mycroft, my former husband is a reprehensible worm and murdered your real father, me and the poor man I hired to find proof of the first murder on my list.  Here is what you need to bring the worm’s memory to justice.”

      “First, zombie…”

Sherlock elbowed Anderson from in front of the laptop and flailed behind him to ward off another of Anderson’s flicks to his ear.

      “I am not a zombie, Sherlock, we have been through this time and again.”

      “First, vampire…”

      “Still inaccurate, but far more adoring of the sensual aspects of existence and alluring of image, so continue.”

      “… she may not be able to impart information, being either prevented in some manner by her husband or by a potential threat by him to your welfare.  Lestrade noted a significant manifestation of her only when his life was directly threatened and, even then, it was not a manifestation that lingered or appeared again once the threat was subdued.”

      “Hmmmm…. it is possible, I concede, however, how will any of that be different during a séance?”

      “First, ghoul…”

      “I agreed to vampire, for erotically aesthetic reasons, so we shall remain in that realm.”

      “First… no, I cannot continue that thread without vomiting.  FIRST, we conduct the séance at your home.”

      “So I suspected, given Mummy is here.”

      “And, second, Pike shall be with us.”

      “Father?  For what reason?”

Pike rubbing his hands together gleefully was Mycroft’s own signal to begin preparing for a headache of herculean proportions.  And without a single erotic overtone to speak of.

      “For the very reason you left me in London, my dear son.  If anyone could distract Siger to… distraction… it would be me.”

      “Oh.  Long enough, perhaps, for Mummy to speak freely.  An intriguing notion.”

      “Or for her to send some form of message, at least.  What say you, son?  Game for a bit of spiritual communing?”

      “I… Gregory?  Thoughts?”

      “This really is more your area than mine, Mycroft.”

      “For what reason?”

      “Your not-death.  And having a ghost dad.  And being… artistic.”

Mycroft gaped a moment, then composed himself and acknowledged the validity… slim though it was… of Greg’s perspective.

      “Very well.  I suppose the cost to try is naught, so it is not a burden we cannot bear.  However… does anyone have an idea how to conduct a séance?”

The fact his father waved merrily shocked Mycroft not in the slightest.

      “For what possible reason do you have that knowledge, Father?”

      “I attended my fair share.  They could be terribly amusing with the right crowd.  And you’d be scandalized to know the sorts of secrets people will part with when they think they’re talking to the spirit of old dead Aunt Elizabeth who supposedly knows those secrets already.  Never a thing to miss when I had the time.”

      “That you used the opportunity for personal gain is shameful.”

      “That I used the opportunity for personal gain is inspired.  Besides, the silly buggers who took it all seriously deserved what they got for putting their faith in a medium.”

      “Which you now purport we attempt to emulate be to speak to the spirit of old dead Mummy Adelia.”

      “I don’t remember Addie craving vinegar when was carrying you so I have no idea how she birthed such a sour boy.  My lips… and other things… are puckering as if smeared with alum.”

      “I am disgusted.”

      “And I’m puckery, so where does that get us?  Nowhere I want to be for long, so let’s sweeten things up a bit.  When can we have our little supernatural soiree?”

Mycroft looked to Greg for an answer, who looked to Anderson.

      “Willing to shift your off day for a drive to commune with the dead?”

      “If my boss lets me.”

      “I’ll have a chat with him.  Bit of a bastard, though, so it’ll be hard going.”

      “Tell him I’ll fund the coffee for the drive because I suspect we’ll be going a bit late into the evening for our chat with the great beyond.”

      “That might work.  He’s a bastard, but an easily bought one.  Ok, we have to get a little further along on our current case, but I suspect we can break away in two or three days.  Sherlock, you ok for that time frame?”

      “No, but I suppose I shall have to make myself ‘ok’ if I wish to participate, which I do.  We must leave early so I have time to erect several experiments prior to beginning the séance.”

      “Ok, a sciency séance.  Not unheard of.  Pike, I won’t ask you because you go where my pocket goes.  Let me get a feel of things tomorrow, then I can be a bit more definite about a departure day.  Mycroft, you’ll have to chat with your dad about… ambience… and things like that.  I’ll bring Mrs. Hudson some of those biscuits she likes to pay her for the extra work she’s going to have to do, especially since… I suppose we’ll be there fairly late.”

The ‘probably all night’ was left unspoken because the potential was lighting up Greg’s brain and blinding him to other, less sordid thoughts.  True, the house would be filled with guests, but suggesting a nap before they got an extremely early start for London left open the possibility of napping with a certain pianist.  Who was in a condition to do things with that napping interval that would shock an incubus.

      “Yes, I shall alert her in the morning, so the thunderstorm of her ire will have abated by the time you arrive.  Father!  What must we do to prepare for the séance?  And if you speak in any manner of a crystal ball or tarot cards, my response will be of the harshest sort.”

      “You need a crystal ball, a deck of tarot cards, a few colorful scarves and enormous earrings.  Oh, and think of a good name for yourself.  Mystic Mycroft would work.  Mycroft the Mysterious is a cracking choice, too.  By Jove, this is going to be fun!  Sherly, Phil, let’s do some practicing, what say, with Mercurial Mycroft, Mesmerizing Medium to the royal courts of Europe?  Chanting will be involved, so limber up your voices.  Sherly’s definitely a baritone and I suspect you’ve got a tenor’s timbre, Philip, old pot.  Greg… sit that bit out, why don’t you?  I don’t have to hear you chanting to know that it would scare away even the most sinister of black-hearted ghosts.  You can wave your arms about or something to show willing.  Spirits like willing and I would be one to know…”

Greg stared at Pike, then kept his gaze while filling his abandoned glass with a willing amount of good scotch.  It was going to be a long night.  One of several.  A few of which, blessedly, wouldn’t involve chanting…

Chapter Text

Four people in a small car was a tight fit unless one of those four is a ghost, so the drive to Mycroft’s house wasn’t as uncomfortable as might have been imagined. Of course, the mental discomfort of being locked in a rolling metal prison with three verbally combative persons was turning Greg’s mind to porridge.  The relief he felt when they arrived was a palpable loosening of tightly-knotted muscles.

      “Alright, we’re here.  Mr. Pike, what’s your plan for doing whatever it is your plan is designed to do?”

      “You must be supremely skilled with sexual debauchery for Mycroft to tolerate your gibber.”

      “I am, but that’s not important now...”

It will be later, though.

      “.. what’s your plan?  I’d rather not just walk in there for you to go Tah Dah! and challenge Siger Holmes to one of your bloody duels.”

That Pike quickly cut eyes towards Sherlock made Greg swear loudly.

      “That was your plan.  You… clodpate.”

      “Scurrilous cur!  But, yes, that was our plan.”

      “Brilliant.  You have a sword or pistol on hand?”

      “No, however, the idea was to simply draw out the rogue with my challenge then… pounce.”

      “Scooby Doo has better plans than that and he’s a dog.”

      “Can we go inside?”

Greg turned towards Anderson in the passenger’s seat, then further turned his eyes towards Mrs. Hudson who was watching them through the window, seemingly deciding if she should chase them off with a broom.

      “We probably should.  For now, sir, will you just ride in… on… your paper until we have a feel for things?  We might get started and find Siger’s having a nap or something and a distraction was unnecessary.”

      “You don’t believe that for a moment, flatfoot.”

      “Flatfoot?”

      “Sherlock is teaching me new terms.  I rather like that one.”

Shaking his head and wishing to an extent the bloody thing would simply fall off his shoulders so he didn’t have to endure the lunacy already priming to explode, Greg got out of the car, gave Mrs. Hudson a little wave and only sighed softly at the agitated rustle of a paper slip in his pocket.

      “Just relax in there, will you?  I promise you’ll get to come out at some point, even if it’s only to visit with Mycroft.”

Paper shouldn’t be able to emphatically poke at you, but miracles happened every day.

      “There you are.  Mostly on time.”

      “Very on time, thank you very much, Mrs. Hudson.  And bearing gifts.”

Greg passed over the tin of biscuits he’d remembered to buy and was rewarded with a happy smile and quickly unburdened hands.

      “I do adore these.  Come in, then.  He’s waiting as impatiently as you might expect.”

Not that Greg would know it from the bewitching strains of music coming from Mycroft’s piano.  While Anderson introduced himself formally to Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock shouldered by and stalked after Greg, who was already moving towards the music’s source and it didn’t surprise the DI or, when he noticed, Mycroft, that Sherlock quickly snatched up the Stradivarius from where he’d last left it and began to check it’s tuning.

      “Ah, Gregory, you are arrived.”

Mycroft’s attempt to sound supremely cool and collected earned an 85% mark by Greg’s scoring.  It had gone just a touch too David Niven to be completely sincere, so points deducted for overshooting the target.

      “We have!  And not only us but the treasures we bring.”

Not that the treasures were visually impressive since it was all digital files, but they would still mean the world to the composer.  Greg quickly opened one on his mobile and held it out to Mycroft as it started playing.

      “Gregory… that… that is Mummy…”

      “Anthea must have twisted someone’s arm good and hard to get these done so fast.  I suspect this is a first round to see how well the process would work for those discs and next they’ll do a bit of wizardry to clean them up slightly or whatever the audio people do for things like this.  They’re still very good, though.”

Something verified when Sherlock first heard them and looked as if he’d experienced a spiritual awakening.

      “Her point of view for that piece was always an aggressive one.  There was a savagery to her approach that contrasted with the more delicate nature of the composition lending the performance a rather thrilling contradiction.  It was as if the song of a fragile fairy was being sung while it garroted you with a gossamer thread of razor-edged silk.”

As if on cue, Sherlock began playing an accompaniment to the recording, which ended quickly and left Sherlock continuing on, remodeling the original piece to insert a measure of sober gravitas it formerly lacked.

      “Intriguing, Sherlock.  Mummy always believed that her violin did not have the temperament for a heavier hand, but you are providing something of an argument to the contrary.”

Which, of course, started Mycroft playing along with Sherlock’s performance, casting his memory back to when he did the same with this particular tune when it was being led by his mother’s hands on the violin.  Greg, Anderson and Mrs. Hudson simply took seats and let the two men play, first, because it was absolutely mesmerizing and, second, because it the two didn’t work this bit of inspiration out of their system, they’d be good for nothing for the rest of the night.

When the final strains of the duet vanished into the evening air, Sherlock carefully put away the Stradivarius and took a deep breath.

      “Where is the crystal ball and tarot cards?”

Mrs. Hudson’s clapped happily, thrilled her recent bits of shopping hadn’t been in vain.

      “In the dining room.  I had my knit-and-sip ladies rummaging about to find what we needed and added a few bits from one of those sites that’s all bats and runes and the like.  Come along, you’ll absolutely love it.”

The small pained whine from the man at the piano bench said otherwise.  However, it didn’t stop everyone from following Mrs. Hudson to the dining room, which had been festooned with dark draperies over the windows, candles on every available surface and a few new surfaces brought in specifically for their candle-supporting abilities, various eldritch figurines, a deep red  velvet tablecloth on which sat an enormous crystal ball, along with a tarot deck, a skull and a fancy dagger that had seen use in the first Anglo-Afghan War but was far happier summoning spirits that cleaning the toenails of the English captain to which it had belonged.

      “This… this is very mystical.”

That was the most neutral term Greg could think of to satisfy Mrs. Hudson while also not provoking a thunderous snort from either Sherlock or Mycroft.

      “Isn’t it!  Oh, I had a grand time putting together a proper séance room.  I’m a firm believer in doing things right or not at all, which isn’t always easy with Mr. Naysayer nattering in my ear.  Now, I’ve got some spooky wine glasses ready and we can have a hearty sip or two of a bloody good red before we begin.”

Mycroft shook his head sadly, but only for the glasses Mrs. Hudson had proudly procured, not for the exquisite Syrah chosen to grace them.  If he had to endure this harlequinade, then he would do so with an excellent, full-bodied vintage lingering on his lips…

__________

An hour of wine, music, conversation had ushered in the actual night, which all agreed was proper for their séance if they were to do things in the most ghost-story manner possible.  Now it was time to set it in motion and, unsurprisingly, nobody was particularly willing to be the first to take a seat at the table.  Therefore, Greg decided to take charge.

      “Mycroft, have a seat and we’ll get you sorted to start calling up the dead.”

      “Me?  I refuse.”

      “You can’t refuse since it’s your house and your ghosts.”

      “They are communal ghosts and that does not mandate my acting as the resident spiritualist.”

      “Given only you actually live here, you cannot claim communal status for the ghosts, unless you mean you share them with the house mice.  In that case, you’re still in the spiritualist seat since they’re hands are too tiny to shuffle the tarot cards.”

To speed things along, Greg pulled out the obvious ‘head of the table’ seat while Sherlock, Anderson and Mrs. Hudson quickly grabbed three of the remaining vacant chairs, with Greg dropping down into the final one while Mycroft stood and glared at each traitor in turn.

      “Fine.  However, if I am beset by malevolent phantasms and forever disabled from rational thought, on your collective heads be it.”

Given his words of warning had no discernible effect on their intended recipients, Mycroft huffed loudly and took his seat in front of the various mystical paraphernalia.

      “Are you sure you won’t wear the scarf, dear?”

      “NO!  I have made thoroughly clear, Mrs. Hudson, that I am not wearing the scarf.  Give it to Sherlock.  He’s the type.”

Sherlock made to protest, then decided to hold off until he saw the scarf in question.  During the unexpected quite moment, Anderson took out a small notebook from his pocket and opened it to the pages where he’d scribbled notes from Pike’s rambling discussion of effective séance protocol.

      “Alright, we’ve got lit candles, the curtains are drawn, the lights are off and we’re gathered round the table.  The next bit is… probably best ignored… so moving on to holding hands like they show in the films.  Circle of vital energy and all that.  So…”

Anderson flopped his palms out on either side of him, one happily taken by Mrs. Hudson and the other used first to smack Sherlock into compliance then to hold the now-compliant Sherlock’s hand.

      “Next, according to your father, Mycroft… start summoning.”

      “How?”

      “Beseechingly.”

      “Marvelous.”

Mycroft scowled at Anderson but settled himself in his chair and drew in a breath.  Then let it out.  And breathed again.  Let it halfway out.  Paused.  Lost his train of thought and replenished his air for another partial lung-clearing to prepare for the aforementioned beseeching.  Then let it fully out because he was now feeling exceedingly self-conscious about his breathing.

      “Get on with it, Mycroft!”

      “Sherlock Holmes!  Do not use that tone with me.  This… you could have a go at sitting here invoking the spirits of the departed if you are so offended by my approach to the matter.”

      “No.”

      “Then be silent.  Alright… I shall begin.”

Mycroft drew in another deep breath, ignored Sherlock’s snort of contempt, and began speaking.

      “I, Mycroft Holmes… beseech the spirits who dwell within these walls to communicate with us here tonight.  We entreat you to honor us with your presence and bestow upon us answers to the questions we must ask.”

The lack of response terribly offended Mycroft’s sense of fair play.

      “Maybe a bit more sing-song, dear.”

      “Martha…”

      “I’m being serious!  Your mum was musically gifted.  Maybe she’d respond better to a bit of song than you just muttering words like having a knife to your throat was making you say them.”

      “Thank you for your critique.  It is duly noted and disregarded.”

      “Ummm…”

      “Not you, too, Mr. Anderson.”

      “Well, your dad did bang on… and on and on… about chanting.”

      “Because he is a lunatic.”

      “True enough, and I skipped over that part in his directions mostly for that reason, and because it was embarrassing, but maybe there’s some… energy involved you can leverage with a spot of chanting.  Sound is mechanical energy and… could be it gives ghosts a tap on the shoulder like it does to our eardrums.”

      “I refuse to believe that.”

      “No offense, but you’re over a hundred years old and questionably alive.  Believing this sort of thing is rather your area, all things considered.”

      “Irrelevant.”

Greg leaned over and whispered something to Anderson who thought a moment, then shrugged.

      “Worth a try.  Sherlock, why don’t you get the violin and maybe that will help with the whole business without anyone chanting or sing-songing.  You can play while Mycroft does this beseeching, entreating and whatnot.”

      “Lawks, but the hand holding…”

Greg glared at the younger man who finally rolled his eyes and broke the circle, darting off to get the instrument.  Greg then glared at his pocket, which was doing a rumba to get his attention.

      “Ok, ummm… how do I phrase this without alerting… the afterlife.  My pocket is wriggly.”

The blank stares did not indicate even the smallest degree of effective alerting.

      “Sure, thanks, Greg.  Secret codes are very much part and parcel of secret mystical societies, but that one could use work.”

      “Shut it, Anderson.  My pocket… and what’s in it… seems to want attention.”

      “Oh… got it.  I’m not sure it’s time to unleash our… reserve forces.  Let’s try our musical interlude first.”

Right on cue, Sherlock returned and took position where he had room to play and observe the proceedings, but away from any windows that he might find himself crashing through in a repeat performance of his previous ghostly encounter.  He gave Mycroft a nod to indicate his readiness.

      “Very well… let us begin again.  Sherlock… I have no particular suggestion, so choose as you wish an appropriate accompaniment.”

The young detective thought a moment, then began playing the piece Mycroft had written for his brother’s wedding, hoping its sweeping nature and family connection might spur some interest.  Of course, if Mycroft didn’t get off his arse and start droning this was all for naught.

      “Mycroft!  Stop sitting there like an addled schnauzer and begin your incantations.”

      “Well, I never.  Oh , very well.  I was simply observing your bowing for that passage.  Adequate, I suppose.  Though amateurish.”

Sherlock paused, stabbed Mycroft in the arm with the bow, then continued on.

      “Ruffian!”

      “Get on with it!”

      “Oh very well.  If I must… I call upon you, spirits of this house, to guide us.  To light our way.  We beg from you knowledge concerning the death… perhaps murder… of Tobias Sherman.  Gift us with your wisdom so we may learn of his fate and its connection to that of Langdale Pike.  We have discovered the chest, the contents it held and…”

When many things happen at once, no account ever offers the full perspective.  From Greg’s point of view, he was launched backwards by what felt like an explosion erupting from his chest, and the next few moments were spent seeing stars from the impact of his head against the floor.  Mrs. Hudson saw an incoming flash of violet light and dove under the table since it seemed headed in her and Mycroft’s direction.  Anderson saw a flash of blue light explode from Greg’s pocket and speed towards the violet one, sending the DI toppling back as it sped towards Mycroft while Anderson quickly moved to help his friend.  Sherlock had a quick view of a blinding white light flash into existence in front of Mycroft and hover there before infiltrating the crystal ball and exploding it into a million pieces while he whirled to protect the Stradivarius.  Mycroft suffered a fate similar to Greg in that he was launched backwards but by what he would forever claim was a hand pushing him squarely in the chest.  As everyone stayed frozen in place, the house veritably screamed with fury as the dining room was whipped by a violent wind before the cacophony moved outward into the house, havoc being wreaked by shrieking bursts of energy and force that raged for long moments before everything went still.  It was further long moments before anyone dared to look around for confirmation that it was actually safe to look around.

      “Ok… well, that was a thing...”

Greg rubbed his aching head and slowly rose not quite to his feet, helpfully supported by Anderson who also righted his chair so the DI could sit down.

      “… Mycroft, Sherlock, Mrs. Hudson?  You still with us?”

Sherlock made a brief inspection of the Stradivarius before carefully setting it down to help Mrs. Hudson crawl out from beneath the table.

      “To a degree.  Mycroft seems to have finally died, however.”

      “WHAT!”

Greg’s head roared in pain and Sherlock felt a rare flash of chagrin at the agony in Greg’s eyes, both from the head trauma and worry over his lover.

      “Sherlock is, as typical, exaggerating, Gregory.  I simply have not risen.  I find it quite restful here on the rug.”

      “Your head kicking you in the bollocks, too?”

      “That is a rather apt description of my discomfort, yes.”

      “Stay there, then.  It won’t improve by being upright.”

      “Very well.  Regardless, I believe our ghosts were not particularly approving of our performance.”

      “I didn’t catch any of what happened after… Pike.  Shit…”

Greg patted his pocket and found the slip of paper, which was decidedly lacking in any further wriggling.

      “I suppose it was him that I saw.  Or felt.”

Mrs. Hudson nodded, forming a theory in her mind.

      “I saw a light coming towards me and Mycroft but I think it was actually only Mycroft that was the target.  I wager our Mr. Pike thought that, too.  A father protects his son.  That might also explain the commotion.  If it was Mr. Pike and that reprehensible Siger Holmes…”

Mycroft started to rise, then declared himself the most stupid man in the world as the pain flared behind his eyes.

      “That is not implausible.  Father did believe he would have a disruptive effect on our spirits.”

      “The white light…”

Eyes turned towards Sherlock who was running events through his mind, grasping for hypotheses even as his mind rebelled against applying the scientific method to ghosts.

      “It does not make sense it was Adelia Holmes.  Why would she have exploded the crystal ball?”

      “To extinguish the conduit you and I were creating, forestalling, perhaps, a further incursion of Siger into our world?”

Sherlock looked down at the floor where Mycroft had returned to lay and shrugged.

      “I can neither confirm nor refute your proposal, however, the battle did move quickly from this room after the crystal incident.”

The unsettling sound of crystal shards being moved about caught everyone’s attention and their attention sharpened as the shards formed an arrow pointing towards the window.  Mrs. Hudson was closest and took a peek around the heavy curtain, gasping sharply at the sight, which had everyone moving to join her, with Mycroft and Greg bringing up the rear.  Bobbing in midair several strides from the house was the same white light Sherlock had seen before.

      “Ok, you stay here everyone.  I’ll go out to investigate.”

Greg wasn’t surprised that his words were ignored but he was deflated that a DI’s rank didn’t mean as much as a sausage in present company.  As a group they moved out of the dining room and into the music room where they could still see the bobbing orb of light through the doors to the garden.  Cautiously opening them, Greg peered around to see if there were any other surprises lurking and took a step outside, cursing under his breath that Mycroft followed.  Then he was shouting in surprise, something somewhat drowned out by Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock doing much the same.

      “Mycroft… you’re you.”

      “I’m…”

Mycroft looked down at his hands and saw… his hands.

      “I am me.”

Whole, unwithered, and as purely his typical self as he was when inside the house.

      “Gregory… what has happened?”

      “I don’t know, but I’m not going to look this gift horse in the mouth.”

Sherlock, Anderson and Mrs. Hudson quickly moved to join the other two and found themselves blocked.  By nothing.

      “Intolerable!  Mycroft, what have you done?”

      “Me?  What could I have done, Sherlock?”

      “You… failed to disfigure so you must have some inkling of what is at work.”

Greg walked back to the open doors and strode through unimpeded.  Then waked out again while Anderson pushed with all his might against thin air but to no avail.

      “Sorry, Greg.  Looks like whatever comes next it’s for the two of you alone.”

Looking between themselves and the light, Mycroft and Greg took a resigned breath and started walking, following the light as it led away from the house.  Though they could be very, very wrong, this felt like the end of their road.  They’d started it all together and, apparently, that’s how the conclusion would play out.  There was nothing at all comforting about that, given they were being led into the darkness by a light mass that had nearly killed them with mystical shrapnel once already, but at least the others were being left behind to tell their tale if they vanished forever from the face of the Earth.  Knowing the ones being left behind, however, that tale might be a bit rude which was poor reward for being murdered by an outsize fairy light…

Chapter Text

Greg and Mycroft followed cautiously after the light, farther and farther from the house, through the stand of trees that framed Mycroft’s grounds and beyond to an less wooded area that appeared to once have been open land that was left alone so second, or third, growth trees could sprout and begin to reclaim the emptiness.  There was still one area kept clear, however, and Mycroft’s slowly indrawn, partly hissed breath signaled that their destination was likely at hand.

      “Mycroft?”

      “It… it is the family cemetery.”

      “What?  Really?”

      “Yes.  Disused for decades as family members moved outwards and created new histories in new areas but I have seen it maintained, though, I have not visited since my own supposed death.  Sherrinford’s wife, Lucy, was the last to come to rest here.  My great-grandparents, grandparents, various aunts, uncles and cousins, Mummy, me… symbolically… Sherrinford, then Lucy.  William was to join them here, also, however, he stipulated in his will that he wanted to remain with his wife near the family and life they had built themselves.  And such was the way for the years that followed.  It is actually listed somewhere as a spot of local interest so Mrs. Hudson is occasionally bothered by this or that person seeking permission to pay a visit but, for the most part, the residents remain at peace and undisturbed.”

      “Well, it’s an efficient place to murder us, you have to admit.”

A merry giggle in decidedly feminine tones rang out and had Greg and Mycroft looking around them for its source since it didn’t seem to emanate from the light they’d followed.

      “You’re such a good one for my sweet son, Gregory.  You’re clever but give him a good arse kicking when it’s necessary.”

Mycroft’s characteristic offended instincts surged forth but quickly leapt off the pedestal they’d erected to stand on when his brain directed their attention to the familiar figure sitting on one of the gravestones and to the fact that there was really nothing in that statement that wasn’t true.

      “Mycroft… that’s…”

      “Mummy.  Is it… oh Mummy…”

It was foolish for a man his age, real or physical, to feel choked with emotion, but today, Mycroft welcomed being a fool.

      “Mycroft, come here son, shouting in a cemetery is probably disrespectful and I’d rather not have Mother rising from her grave to tell me off for yet another violation of her sense of propriety.”

Mycroft laughed and darted towards his mother, Greg looking around once more for any further surprises waiting to appear but only saw the ball of light hovering at the edge of the cemetery like a server waiting for your answer to their ‘Can I bring you anything else?’ question.

      “Look at you, dear… so handsome.  And with a handsome man on your arm.  Are you going to live here, I hope not, or in London with Greg?  That’s the better plan, if you ask me, which you should because you were always hopeless at making important decisions for your life in any aspect but your music.”

      “Mummy!  You are just risen from the dead and already being bothersome.  And I thought Father was the supreme progenitor of headaches, but now I remember the degree to which you vie for his crown.”

      “Langdale!  Wasn’t he brave and wonderful?  You’d never think from meeting him that he was possessed of genuine and ferocious courage, but he is and he finally got to use it on that bastard Siger.  Langdale was willing to risk his reputation and livelihood for me and you by dragging that repugnant beast through the courts, but… well, he didn’t have occasion to deliver the legal trouncing he wanted.  Now he got to give the reprobate a proper thrashing and I couldn’t be prouder.  Oh, there he is now… well, that’s a sight.”

Which was Langdale somehow holding Siger Holmes by the collar while Siger scowled thunderously but defiantly.

      “Look what the cat dragged in!  I’d make a marvelous cat, too, wouldn’t I?  Dashed unsatisfying that we ghosts don’t seem to be able to get a blacked eye or broken nose because this villain would be sporting both and I’d parade him about in public so everyone could jeer at him for being a rotten cove.”

      “Langdale!  My dearest love… look at our son.  He looks just like you which I know makes you happy, vain man that you are.”

      “Guilty!  My looks and your intellect.  And talent.  He’s a blessed boy.”

Mycroft had never really experienced being gushed over by two parents simultaneously and wondered if it was easier or harder to bear as an adult than as a child.  While he undertook his mental analysis, Greg continued to scan the area and saw nothing of new worry but one thing of continued worry.  The ghosts might be willing to have a family chat, but he’d prefer it take place after certain questions had been answered.

      “If I might interrupt… I see three ghosts here.”

      “Mycroft, my motherly pride at your choice of helpmate is withering.”

      “Gregory!  Do not be inane when Mummy is present.”

      “I’m not being inane.  I’m seeing three ghosts right now and there were three in the house, so how do you explain that.”

Greg pointed at the light that was still hovering at the edge of the graveyard and Mycroft’s lips pursed both in confusion and in contemplation.  Neither, however, brought him any closer to an answer.

      “I… do not.”

      “I do, dear.”

Mycroft turned to his mother who was now wearing an expression that was both sad, worried, relieved and hopeful in equal measure.

      “Mummy?  What is going on?”

Adelia looked towards the ball of light and made a beckoning motion that she had to repeat several times before the light moved to hover next to her.

      “Go ahead, dear.  It’s alright.  It’s over and done.”

A long moment passed before the light expanded into a tall male form that had Mycroft slumping in shock so sharply that Greg had to provide support to keep him upright.

      “Sherrinford?  You.  What?  Why?”

      “Your brother has been a touch… stuck, Mycroft, love.  I hoped he’d unstick himself at some point, and it’s taken a long, long time for that to happen, but I think he’s finally ready.  I’m sorry that you, my dear, dear boy had to remain, too.  To stay here so that the chance might arise for this terrible business to end, but… well, what’s past is past.”

      “Could you lay out the facts for us, ma’am?”

Greg had felt himself falling into police mode and didn’t see a reason to change course.  Whatever this was, his Mycroft had suffered for it and that wasn’t sitting to well with this old copper at the moment.

      “Langdale!  He’s a proper policeman, isn’t he?  Reminds me of you friend Gregson, the one who was only a touch corrupt and in all the good ways.”

      “Our Gregory is a peeler through and through and I already have a bounty of evidence to prove it.  Not all in the good ways, unfortunately, but one can’t have everything.  Though one can try.”

Pike’s teasing smirk was not exactly helping with Greg’s frustration.  Which, to be fair, was perfectly in character for Langdale Pike.

      “The facts!  I respect that this is all… a bit beyond the beyond, but Mycroft has had a rough go of it, and he deserves answers.  Plain, simple and true answers.”

Greg ignored the shared look of delight between Mycroft’s parents because, yes, that was said with a bit of a growl and they were precisely the sort to adore that sort of thing in their son’s suitor.  Which was not a word he would use himself, but they would certainly use no other.

      “It starts, flatfoot, with my inglorious death.  By this evil bugger’s hand.”

      “We haven’t proved that, Mr. Pike.  Though I do admit it’s probable.”

Adelia actually did appreciate that Greg was a police detective because this whole blasted affair needed to end and end officially.  I’s dotted, t’s crossed, stamped and signed documents filed with the proper offices and authorities.  The police were brilliant for that sort of thing.

      “You’ll have your proof, Greg dear.  Or, as best a measure of proof that can be provided without Siger confessing, which he won’t do because he’s prideful that way.  Aren’t you, Siger?”

The fact that Siger Holmes merely snarled at his ex-wife told the tell well enough as words.

      “That aside, I’d appreciate any actual evidence you have and… can we please get on with some form of explanation?”

Keeping his arm around Mycroft’s waist, Greg kept his best no-nonsense expression on his face and ignored the new round of approving parental looks.

      “My horrid husband killed my beloved lover Langdale but, at the time, I had no way to bring the matter to the police.  No, as you say, proof.  And… I was heartsick.  Heartsick and with two beautiful sons who I couldn’t… well, I suppose I could have supported them myself in London, I easily had the monies, but I didn’t want for them the… gossip.  The black-hearted gossip that would surely dog their heels.  With Langdale alive it would still exist, to an extent, but he was so good at keeping the truly vile wretches from getting any foothold where he didn’t want that foot to land.  With a father and mother, even if one son had a different father and the other was technically illegitimate, in the circles we moved socially… it would have worked.  To raise two boys alone and battle everyday for their best life… I didn’t have the heart for it.  Not the heart, not the energy and with no desire to sit every day in a house I’d hoped to share with my family knowing the person who would make that family with me was gone.  Stolen.”

      “So you went back to live with Siger.”

      “Live, period.  Share a house.  Sherry was his son, that couldn’t be denied and a boy should know his father, for good or ill.  We had an agreement.  I would live there, perform the social duties of his wife, not the personal duties of his wife, mind you, he could toss a sovereign at some willing maiden if he wanted that, and he would, at minimum, present himself and act as father to the two boys in his home.  Which would be a step up from what he’d been doing with Sherry, truth be told.  His reputation would remain intact, I would assist with the upkeep of Sherry and Mycroft from a financial sense and that would be that.”

      “But you left again.”

      “Yes, but years later.  The boys were grown, off living their own lives… and Siger was becoming even more dreadful than usual.  His business interests weren’t thriving, his music was being properly ignored, he’d taken more and more to drink and there was nothing really holding me in place.  So, off I went!  And it was glorious.  Such a wonderful thing, to be wholly our own person.  I could be that with Langdale, he was happy, ecstatic really, for me to be myself.  Even if I had to pretend to be someone else to do it, at times.  That was fine, though.  I still did as I pleased, though in trousers and not a skirt. “

      “Why did you wait so long to investigate Pike’s death?”

      “Because I thought it was as reported, heart trouble that overcame him suddenly.  Tragic, heartbreakingly tragic, but nothing out of the ordinary, except for his relative youth.  Not at all unheard of, though.”

      “What changed?”

      “I decided to spend a bit of time in London.  Just a short holiday, see about the status of my property, poke about the club, though it had already changed quite a bit since Langdale’s death.  I tossed on one of my suits and spent the day chatting with a few of the people I recognized and the older staff.  Then, I asked to see the guest ledgers from Langdale’s time.  Something to stir the memories.  We had so many visitors, so many interesting people… some outright miseries, too, but even those are worth remembering once you’re far enough from having to actually deal with them when they cross the threshold.  I finally looked at the page for the day Langdale died.  I wasn’t there; I was home trying to get both Mycroft and Sherry to have a spoon of some horrid concoction the chemist sent for their sniffs and coughs.  I saw a name, Sydney Holmwood.  That was a name Siger used for his more unsavory financial dealings.  I could be a coincidence, of course, but…”

      “That’s a fairly unusual name.”

      “Just so.  I popped round to the local police, asked about for some of the chaps who’d known Langdale and asked a few questions.”

      “And you learned that there was reason to believe his death wasn’t due to natural causes.”

      “That I did.  It wasn’t enough for them to investigate, just suspicion, instinct, of the person who did the examination after Langdale died, but… given the name in the guest ledger, I knew.  I knew for certain Siger killed the man I loved.  I simply had no idea how to prove that.”

      “So you contacted Sherman.”

      “One of Langdale’s police friends gave me the name.  Said he was good at his job and trustworthy.  Not above doing a dirty deed or two to see the job done, either, which was more than acceptable to me.  I met with him and he said he’d do what he could, but was honest about how far he thought he’d get, Langdale’s death being so long ago.  I respected that.  I was actually surprised when I received a telegram asking when I might be in London to discuss a few things he’d found.  When I got to his office, though… oh dear.  It difficult to think about even after all this time…”

Dragging Siger with him, Pike moved closer to Adelia so he could run a hand along her arm for comfort.  Greg took note that Sherrinford looked considerably more agitated now than he had before, when he just seemed frightened and sorrowful.

      “… in any case, I went to his office and I was very sure I heard footsteps running down the back stairs as I entered and saw… I’m sure you know.”

      “Pike was dead.”

      “Very.  And still warm.  With… with that blasted ring on his finger and that ridiculous portrait lying on his desk.  I was horrified.  Not only because that man had lost his life but because of the pathetic attempt to put the blame on Mycroft!  Not that it would stand scrutiny, of course.  Mycroft was abroad and there would be legions to testify to that, but even whispers of scandal can plague a career and life.  Well, I wasn’t standing for that!  Especially since I knew who had done it.  I rummaged through Sherman’s papers and found what I was looking for.  Slim threads, but statements from people who had seen Siger in London that day and near the Diogenes Club when he claimed not to have been in the city at all.  Information showing Siger had a run of bad luck, more than even I had known, and was facing a worrying financial situation, one that certainly wouldn’t be helped if his wife left him and took up with another man with whom she had a child.  He even had a list of people to speak to about the possible poison used on Langdale.  There was a notation that a few of them probably wouldn’t talk without a bit of cash slipped into their pocket and a question about how much I was willing to spend to loosen their tongues.”

Greg could feel Mycroft trembling as the story unfolded.  Even though they’d assumed what happened, hearing it plainly spoken was another thing altogether.

      “I realized that Siger hadn’t had time to find this yet and I had no idea what else Sherman may have discovered.  He kept certain papers in a trunk.  Papers, evidence, that sort of thing.  I’d taken note of it before and he was actually impressed I was interested in the little surprise that lay in store for someone trying to force it open.  He’d bought it somewhat as a lark, but it well served my purposes that day.  I gathered everything I could quickly lay hands upon and used the key I found in Sherman’s pocket to open the trunk and put it in with whatever else was there.  Then tossed in that wretched piece of artistic blasphemy and the next toss would have been the ring.  Except I couldn’t get it off his blasted finger!  I have no idea how they got it on in the first place but I couldn’t remove it for love nor money.”

      “So you cut the finger off.”

      “It wasn’t my first choice, but it proved to be my only one and Sherman had a helpful knife in his desk drawer.  At least he also had a plate close at hand for me to set the silly thing so it didn’t soil the papers I needed.  Once I’d locked the trunk, I carried it out, thanking good fortune that I’m not a frail woman, and took a cab to the Diogenes.  They weren’t happy about a female being on premises, but the manager knew who I was, he’d been there long before I even met Langdale, and let me in to hide the trunk.  I knew it would be safe there, but I kept with me the few papers directly connecting Siger with Langdale’s death.   I was going to take them to the police straight away, you see.”

      “Sounds like you didn’t, though.”

      “I was worried I’d missed something.  Any little detail could be important, so I went back for another search.  Only… let us say the bird… birds… had returned to the nest.”

Adelia glared murderously at her former husband then turned her eyes to Sherrinford who visibly flinched at her gaze.

      “No… Sherrinford, no…”

Greg kept firm grip on Mycroft and wished for a moment that they had let matters lie.  Unfortunately, that was water long under the bridge…

      “You’re saying both Siger and Sherrinford participated in Sherman’s murder?”

      “Not precisely.  Siger, the foul creature, did the murdering.  Sherrinford… he didn’t want his father to go to jail.  He wasn’t expecting Siger to kill Tobias Sherman, just… pay him or something to let the matter drop.  However, someone decided to bring a bit of nasty with him in case that didn’t work.  Nice little cosh that put a good crack in Sherman’s skull, poor bugger.  At that point…”

      “You tried to implicate me for the murder!  My own brother!”

The shock and horror were fully off Mycroft’s face as he tried to launch himself at Sherrinford’s ghost.  Not that it would have done much good, Greg suspected, but he held his lover fast anyway, to keep matters on course.  There was time for recriminations later.

      “Why’d you do that, Sherrinford?  Mycroft speaks of you fondly overall.  Never hinted at animosity between the two of you.”

Sherrinford’s face screwed up with shame but he remained silent, leaving his mother to continue with her story.

      “He knew Mycroft wasn’t in the country.  That no charges could possibly hold up to scrutiny.  And… he thought that if things truly took a harsh turn for his brother, he could… tell the truth.  He could, in a way, not blame overmuch his father for Langdale’s death.  At the very least, he could understand the motivation.  However, this… this was another thing altogether.”

      “It didn’t come to pass, though, why?  Sherman disappeared without a trace and not a hint of anything rose until we started looking into it.”

      “That was because of me, actually.  I’d rumbled things, hadn’t I?  When I returned to Sherman’s office, I saw Siger and Sherrinford carrying out a rolled carpet.  That was noticeably heavy for its size.”

      “They moved the body.”

      “Moved it and tossed it in the Thames once night fell.  The poor man… it did mean, though, that even if I pressed the issue it would be a hard thing for the police to prove, what with no corpse.  I had a finger, but it certainly didn’t have Sherman’s name on it.  I had the trunk, but that only proved I was a thief.”

      “Can I ask how you learned all of this?  Was it after… after you became a ghost?”

      “No, not after.”

Again, eyes were cut towards Sherrinford who drew further into himself and looked as if he was about to weep, despite that being the very last thing a man of his station, when he was alive, would ever do.

      “Could you elaborate, ma’am?”

      “So official.  It’s appropriate, though.  In any case, I thought I’d stayed out of sight that day but… Sherry saw me step out of the cab before I crouched behind it.  He knew I’d seen what they were doing.  And he knew where I was staying in the city.  A hotel, rather than my home.  It… I simply couldn’t sleep under that roof anymore.  I always told Sherry when I was going to London, you see, and I’d told him about seeing an inquiry agent about dear Langdale’s death.  That’s how Siger knew or suspected he needed to act and quickly.  In any case, the next morning, he tried to meet at my hotel but I had already departed.  I needed time… time to think.  To fathom out what to do.  He found me at the train station.”

Mycroft went bone white, reflecting the moonlight like a sheet of plain paper, and Greg held him all the tighter.

      “No… no, Sherrinford.  For pity’s sake, no…”

      “It was an accident, Mycroft.  Your brother didn’t intend… what happened.  He told me what had occurred.  All of it.  I tried to convince him to come with me to the police, but he refused.  I said I’d go alone and they’d bring him in for questions so he’d have to confess sooner or later.  We argued and I… I foolishly waved in his face the papers I’d taken from Sherman’s office.  Then I walked away.  I needed to be away from him, then.  He followed and made to steal the papers from my hand.  I drew back and… stumbled.”

      “No…”

      “In the bustle of the crowds, nobody noticed anything until it was far too late and Sherry simply blended in with the onlookers, my evidence in his pocket, and not a soul the wiser.  He didn’t intend it, Mycroft my dear, dear boy… and it scarred him.  Scarred him dreadfully to carry that burden.  To hide from you, from Lucy, from the world what had happened.  What his father had done and what he had enabled.  His conscience was so heavy that he wrote it all down.  On the train home, without his father even knowing, he wrote out everything.  Every detail.  Made his confession as I’d urged him to do.  And… when it was time to say his goodbyes, he set it and the papers he’d taken from me in my casket.  He felt he couldn’t do it publicly, not with the scandal that would plague his wife and son, you see.  But it was there to be found, perhaps, someday, for the truth to come out.  Your evidence, Gregory, such as it is, lies here, with me.  Be gentle removing it, if you would be so kind, as I do prize keeping my bones somewhat in their proper position.  But make certain to do it.  Let the truth be known, let the air be cleared.  That is why I had to keep you here, you see, my sweet Mycroft.  Your brother could not rest, could not move on and join Lucy, join William until this was made right.”

Mycroft gaped and breathed so heavily and rapidly that Greg worried he would faint.

      “You cursed Mycroft to give his brother a chance to find peace.”

      “Cursed is an ugly word and I shan’t use it.  He’s alive, isn’t he?  Restricted in some ways, but alive to interact with the world and find a lover, as well.  I simply… made it unlikely that he’d move away.  Leave the place where this proof might be found.”

      “Then why not tell him!  Just fucking tell him so… I adore that he’s here now and I love him with everything in me, but I hate the idea of him being here, alone, all these years.  Unable to leave his house, unable to go to a concert to have people here him play.  His beautiful music… lost for so long.  So bloody, fucking long…”

      “I wanted to!  I wanted to desperately, but…”

Another murderous look was cast towards Siger who simply ignored it beyond curling his lip in distaste.

      “He died fairly long after you, Mrs. Holmes.”

      “And it took a fairly long time to… learning to be a ghost isn’t the quickest thing.  Further, it took a great deal out of me to recover from what I wished upon my sweet Mycroft.  I thought, actually, that I had… can a ghost die?  I thought I might.  I felt so much lesser than even I was and certain I would simply fade away.  But I didn’t care.  My Mycroft would live, survive that horrible disaster and one day, one day, he would give his brother the chance to clear his conscience.  I thought that, perhaps, Mycroft would reach out… tell Sherrinford he still lived.  Wishful thinking, perhaps, but when Sherrinford died in that terrible war and he remained chained to this world and to this house, it became clear that his conscience wasn’t the only thing to worry over.  But his father… he threatened Mycroft.  Threatened to do something horrible to him and I knew he was sincere in that threat.  I had to be subtle, nudge, draw out small memories, do my utmost to spur Mycroft to take notice and to act upon it.  It was not something that could occur quickly.  We had time, though… all the time in the world, if necessary.”

Greg moved behind Mycroft and wrapped both arms around him, laying his head against Mycroft’s shoulder to offer what comfort he could.

      “I have… I have endured these decades… all these long years…”

      “Rage at me, Mycroft, do what you will and I will not fault you for it.  You were ill-used, perhaps, but I saw a chance and grabbed it.  Without thinking and, at the time, without regret.  You were a brilliant man, are a brilliant man.  Who better to reveal the truth of your father’s death, of Sherman’s?  Of mine?  And to lift the weight from your brother’s shoulders.  You may think now he doesn’t deserve your pity.  Does not merit your help or regard, but remember the person he was to you, my sweet son.  Sherrinford was always your brother.  Your devoted elder brother.  Even when it was not easy to be such, given you were so dissimilar and he knew the truth.  Never forget that, Mycroft.  Sherrinford knew you were not his full brother by blood and he loved you no differently because of it.”

      “And neither you nor Sherrinford deigned to inform me about my true lineage.”

This time, the regret in Adelia’s eyes, shined harshly and she looked somehow older than she had at any point in the conversation.

      “I thought it best.  At the time, I thought that it would be easier for you if your life were unburdened with the knowledge.  Certainly that was true when you were a child and, later, it seemed a pointless thing.  You built a tremendously successful and vibrant life for yourself, one I was so very proud of and knew your father would be also.  To insert into it the truth of your history… what good would it serve?  And, I will admit, I simply wished to avoid the wounds it would open in me.  Every day Langdale was in my thoughts, but they were mine to contemplate as I chose.  Your questions, your rightful desire to learn more and to speak of your father, to see the places he graced with his laughter and light… I hoped one day I could bear it, but the time had not arrived.  And I was unsure it ever would.  I went so far as to ensure what memories remained in our London home were walled away from the world and the properties managed by other hands so my involvement was pitifully small and you would not learn accidentally of them once I had passed on.  All to avoid the pain, the hollowing, icy pain that had taken so very long to fade even slightly.”

Greg was genuinely worried about Mycroft at this point, as it seemed he was collapsing into himself, racing away from reality as his gaze continuously grew more glassy and unfocused.  Holding him warmly, sending soothing, supportive words into his ear was the only thing the DI could do, since you couldn’t put your boot up the arse of a ghost.  Even one wearing a skirt.

      “F… Father?”

Good to know Mycroft was still verbal.

      “Yes, my boy?”

      “What… what do I do?  What am I supposed to do?”

Pike shared a glance with Adelia and wished he had half of her intelligence because his son deserved everything he could offer and, this time, being a rake and raconteur was shamefully insufficient.

      “You do what your heart tells you, Mycroft.  Your options seem to be leaving secret what is secret and giving your brother the punishment you feel he rightly deserves or see those secrets revealed and provide the forgiveness and conclusion that will allow him to move on.  The only advice I can offer is you alone know what will poison that heart of yours and how sweet you find the taste of revenge.  And… only you know what your brother meant to you in your life and how that weighs against a terrible, tragic mistake.”

      “Mistake… that imprisoned me for a century.”

      “A century that let you watch the world grow in marvelous ways and meet a man who loves and adores you.  You’re right to be angry, feel betrayed and deceived, but that’s part and parcel for family doings and you do have the opportunity, now, to do something about it.”

Staying silent so he didn’t influence Mycroft’s thinking one way or the other, Greg simply held the most important man in his life and let him work through his thoughts.  After a few long moments, Greg was going to suggest they return to the house and discuss matters a bit more comfortably but Mycroft wriggled slightly to break Greg’s grasp and turned to face him.

      “Gregory, my dear…”

      “Yes?”

      “Get a spade.”

__________

Greg only waved at the faces at the window when he raced back to collect a spade from the small shed in Mycroft’s garden and earned, of course, the eternal wrath of the three faces at whom the waving was directed but their revenge came quickly as it became apparent to the DI that he was the only one present to wield the tool, either due to matters of corporeality or sudden attacks of frailty.  He’d remember that last one when Mycroft wanted to try something especially vigorous in the bedroom…

After a long dig, serenaded by alternate choruses of encouragement and disparagement, the spade hit the casket lid and Greg made quick work clearing the space to pry it open with the spade blade since nobody had reminded him to grab a pry bar while he had the chance.

      “Mrs. Holmes, you might want to look away.”

      “Whatever for?  They’re my bones and if anyone should have the chance to admire them, it certainly is me.”

      “Your choice.”

Opening the casket, Greg suffered a rush of onlookers to peer into the grave while he carefully felt for the papers in question.

      "You are positively ravishing, my love.”

      “Oh, Langdale.  You are wonderfully silly.  Never change.”

      “Not for a maharajah’s fortune.”

      “Ah, you may as well grab those, also, Greg, dear.  Why anyone is buried with valuables is wholly beyond my understanding and they were my very favorite sapphires.”

The substantial earrings and necklace were removed and Greg handed them to Mycroft who was highly reluctant to touch them for a myriad of grime- and propriety-related reasons.  And because he remembered clearly choosing them to adorn his mother as she made her final appearance in the world.

      “Sherry wanted you in pearls, but I knew you would be horribly cross with that decision since pearls really do need to be worn to show their best luster and I doubt that the skin of the deceased has anything remotely resembling luster-enhancing properties.”

      “You were always my aesthetic child, Mycroft.  And very correct in this case.  They went to Lucy, I hope.”

      “Yes, with the other of your jewels besides the few pieces I kept for sentimental reasons.  And because they were exquisite examples of the craft.”

      “My diamond choker?”

      “Naturally.  And your emeralds.”

      “Good.  A choker would not favor Lucy in the slightest and the emeralds would have looked far too garish with her complexion.  Wise choices.  Would you not agree, Lucy dear?”

Heads whipped around to see a slight, blonde woman standing off to the side, smiling warmly at the one person besides Siger who had yet to speak a single word.

      “Lucy, my darling…”

Sherrinford raced forward and took his wife in his arms, holding her tightly, until, unexpectedly, they began to fade.  But, perhaps, it was not as unexpected as one might believe.  Especially if that one was Mycroft who had struggled to find true hatred, contempt, wrath or desire for vengeance in his soul and had dredged up nothing but pity and regret for the man who had been to him a devoted brother through thick and thin.

      “Goodbye, Sherry.  Find your peace.  I am… I genuinely am glad for it.”

Sherrinford looked towards his brother and his softly-spoken ‘thank you’ lingered for an instant after the couple had fully vanished from sight.  Adelia clapped her hands merrily and felt her own sense of gladness that her dear Mycroft had let his heart lead the way and show kindness where it truly was needed and deserved.

      “Well, that’s him sorted.  I have little doubt we shall see them in whatever lies beyond, however, it could be a wait of decades, so I shall not hold my breath.  Ha!  Langdale!  That was a rather good jest on my part, would you say?”

      “I would and… oh, I have no recollection anymore of where our witticism tallies stand.  We shall have to begin anew.”

      “One-naught, then.  Best get to it because that is an embarrassment I doubt you can bear for long.”

Greg watched the two lovebirds and had to concede that not only were they well-suited to each other, the child they brought into the world possessed both the best and the worst of each of them.  This tired, dirty DI could not be luckier if he tried.

      “Too right, my darling.  First, though… Siger, you utter disgrace.  Be off to whatever the gods have in store for you.  I hope it’s spending an eternity up to your nostrils in pig muck, but it’s not my worry any longer.”

Pike released his hold and provided an arse kick that Greg wished he could deliver to ghostly beings, starting the fading process for the spirit who certainly went to no warm and welcoming arms as he vanished.

      “So savage!  I heartily approve.  Now, you’ll see this matter fully righted, won’t you, Mycroft?  Tell the tale and tend to all the various legal nonsense so all is as it should be?”

      “They’ve got a fantastic solicitor, Addie.  You’d adore her.  Just as fierce and brilliant as you and takes as little nonsense from us foolish mortals, too.”

      “Perfect!  You’ll have to tell me all about her.  I thought of dabbling in law once upon a lifetime, but one can follow only so many passions and between my sons and my music, I was fully provided with passionate riches.”

      “Mummy, Father, wait… you are not leaving?”

The clear distress in Mycroft’s voice gained him Greg’s trouser-wiped hand resting on his back in support.

      “I’d say we’ve earned it, don’t you think?”

      “But… no, Mummy.  Please, we have so much to talk about.  You, Father… please stay.”

Pike wrapped his arms around Adelia and gave her a kiss on the top of her head.

      “Your mother’s right, Mycroft.  We’ve earned a spot of rest.  And… not rest.  Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve had my hands on this luscious woman?  Well, I’m sure you do since you can count, but the principle holds.”

      “But I have just met you!”

      “And that really is enough to know fairly much everything about me, wouldn’t you say?”

Despite his upset, Mycroft couldn’t stop the snort of laughter at the very true words.

      “Perhaps, but…”

      “Greg, look after this one, will you?  Man to man, I suspect he needs that and in rather large measure.”

      “How dare you!  If anyone requires looking after, Father, it is you.”

      “A task for which your mother is very well-suited.  To my great delight.”

      “A question?”

The Holmes-Pike family paused and waited for Greg to continue, something that took a moment because it wasn’t a question he really wanted to ask for fear of the answer.

      “What happens to Mycroft now?”

Mycroft opened his mouth to speak, then shut it with a snap since he realized that the question was an exceedingly important one and very much needed to be addressed.

      “How should we know?  Good heavens, peeler, we’re not those mind-readers or gypsies to tell the future.”

      “Sir, I mean…”

      “Langdale knows what you mean, Gregory, he’s just being a beastly man.  He’s also correct, though.  We can’t tell the future, but it’s a future that holds a living Mycroft Holmes, which is what you really want to know.  He was… stopped in time, for lack of a better phrase.  Time has started for him again and what happens as the years pass is not for us to know.  What I do know, from being his mother and learning of some positively salacious escapades in which he participated… or initiated… I’d say you’ve got a job ahead of you making certain he’s not taken to an early grave by his shameful hedonistic leanings.”

      “He inherited those from me, by the by.”

      “He did, my delightful man.  And I have little doubt our Gregory will be just as overjoyed with them as I am with yours.  Fare thee well, my dear boys.  Stay out of trouble, unless it’s the truly fun sort.  Then enjoy it to the fullest.”

The final two ghosts faded from view and Greg wasn’t surprised Mycroft walked to the spot where they’d been standing and stood there himself awhile.

      “It is over, Gregory.”

      “Seems so.  How are you with all of it?”

      “I… I suspect I shall not have a definitive answer to that for some time.”

      “Nothing wrong with that.  You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you, though.  I hope you don’t mind being lent a hand with it.”

      “Might that hand be attached to a scandalously handsome man?”

      “It might at that.”

      “Then I accept.  Once he refills Mummy’s grave, that is.”

      “Me?  I dug it out, you can’t even fill it in?”

      “Perish the thought.  Think of my hands, Gregory.”

      “Soil isn’t acid, you know.”

      “I might injure a finger and that would have catastrophic effects for my playing.”

      “That sentence is true to the point where shoveling dirt into a hole is likely to snap a finger in twain.”

      “I shall occupy myself tidying the other plots.  There!  A weed I might pluck to make a more respectful presentation.”

Rolling his eyes as dramatically as he could, Greg picked up the spade and began replacing the dirt.  Mycroft had endured a hellish night and a bit of weeding was actually more than enough exertion for now.  Besides, this gave him the opportunity to watch Mycroft’s arse as he bent over to pluck plants and that would certainly lead to more exertion at some point in the very near future.  Exertion of the kind parents shouldn’t know about, but would greatly approve of, nonetheless…

Chapter Text

Greg watched the very last of Mycroft’s personal possessions being loaded into the lorry and cut eyes at the man by his side who was also watching, though with a wistful smile on his lips.

      “There’s still time to tell them to carry everything back into the house.  They don’t care since you’re paying for one loading up and one unloading, so it’s all the same, really.”

Mycroft’s wistful smile grew into something larger and he laughed at what now was the absurdity of the notion.  It had been a wildly tumultuous year since the events of that fateful night when he was freed from his curse.  Which had genuinely become a blessing, all things considered.

Take the man now gazing at him with love in his eyes.  He never would have met this glorious man and the tragedy of that possibility was impossible to overstate.  Gregory had infiltrated him utterly, infused him with a sensation he never had experienced and would fight to the death to retain.  The joy, the comfort, the inspiration, the motivation… he loved his man without reservation and with his mind, body and soul.  The body part being especially uplifting for what that exquisite man could do and wanted done was… well, scandalous was the merest expression of that particular delight.

And such love and support were necessary these last months.  What an ordeal!  First, suffering the affronted pique of Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock and Anderson who did not appreciate being told after-the-fact the details and resolution of the mystery that had consumed their attention and time.  THEN it was the even more vituperative response when Anthea was so informed because she was unable to participate in the séance and had a rather lot of work placed into her hands in the aftermath, little of which could precisely be termed legally proper.  It was accurate, though, nothing was being done to fabricate a lie but rather to fabricate the actual truth in official form so it could be acted upon.

His own identity had to be bolstered somewhat in substance, for example.  Michael Sigerson had a surficially-adequate existence, but not one sufficient for the legal entanglements that would accompany his upcoming life.  Then, Michael Sigerson had to be connected most solidly to Mycroft Holmes so he could take possession of his property, something happily uncontested by Mrs. Hudson who bemoaned her own lack of children to whom to pass her legacy and was guaranteed an income for the duration of her life by the grateful benefactor.

A benefactor who made the formal decision to officially change his name.  To what, however, had taken long and careful thought.  That he would carry any semblance of Siger Holmes’s moniker was never in question.  He no more would do that than he would eternally forsake his music, however, what should he adopt to become the attachment point for his new identity?  He would dearly have loved simply to be Mycroft Holmes, however, even as the man’s purported descendant it would see a bit… tacky.  Wearing the namesake mantle of such a great man, such an incomparable musician and gift to the arts, positively smacked of vulgarity and pretense, neither of which could he abide in any form.

He had flitted, also, with taking Pike into his name since the effort to establish Langdale Pike as Mycroft Holmes’s father and, therefore, his own ‘ancestor’ was most successful, given a rather detailed confession left behind by Sherrinford, which clearly included this tidbit as part of Siger’s motive for murdering his father, and the photographs and papers they had discovered at Baker Street.  And, once they had done the additional work of making clear that Addison Harliss and Mummy were one and the same, the evidence was compounded, taking into further account the portraits in the Diogenes Club and the photographs on hand.  So, so much work to do to disentangle then reentangle the threads of the past, but they had succeeded.

Mycroft Holmes was the son of Adelia Holmes and Langdale Pike.  The properties of Langdale Pike should have passed to Mycroft Holmes per the conditions of Pike’s will.  He was the descendent of Mycroft Holmes… the sole descendent… and, therefore, Pike’s properties were inheritable by him.  Addision Harliss’s assets were divided according to Adelia Holmes’s will, which was properly verified and, again, uncontested by Mrs. Hudson, so Sherlock Holmes and this newly-discovered heir to Mycroft Holmes were able to properly divide the various assets.  Of course, Sherlock immediately washed his hands of any managing of those assets, leaving them on the shoulders of his solicitor and the new heir to tend in his stead.

And then, of course, he had to decide what to do with his new life before he could choose his new name.  He easily could live comfortably on the income from his investments, however… why?  Why simply lounge about as a wastrel when he was a man of unquestionable and nearly-unearthly talent?  Why putter about when he could perform, record, compose… and deliver it all to the world?  And, of course, restore his ancestors – Mycroft and Adelia Holmes – to their rightful place in the musical world.  None of that was easy.  Dear god but things had changed since his day.  Fortunately, Anthea found and vetted an excellent firm to represent his musical interests and, not to sound boastful, they were enthralled by his music.  Entranced, enraptured… verily none had crossed their threshold in memory with his degree of ability and innate feel for the heart and soul of music itself.

And pooh-pooh to Gregory for pronouncing him arrogant at his effusiveness.  Perhaps he could, at rare times, become a bit… intoxicated by his own greatness, however, that did not equate with the intoxication being unmerited.  Already, on the heels of his… that is… Mycroft Holmes’s works being again released, he had positioned himself as the heir to that lofty crown.  He was actively curating and evaluating his post-death compositions and had collected the first to be recorded and performed.  Live.  He had played selections from the Mycroft Holmes collection on several radio programs and they were extremely well received.  The BBC had released small tendrils to gauge his interest in a documentary of Holmes’s life and music, which was terribly amusing since there were also tendrils of inquiry about him being the featured narrator.  How utterly delicious a deceit!

And, most excitingly, his representative was finalizing the details to bring to the world his first performance of his ‘original’ work.   Yes, he was still, to a degree, riding his own coattails for exposure and publicity, however… sod it!  Sod it straight to hell and back again.  One did what one did to promote one’s genius and damned be any who thought otherwise.  Soon, Michael Holmes… yes keeping the bland Michael was sadly banal, but the combination met the necessary criteria of acknowledging his heritage and making any public slips of the tongue by those in the know wholly understandable… would creep further and further into the musical community, soon to be crowned its king.  Well, as much of a king as could be had nowadays.  Classical music held only a small corner of the musical world in this modern age, but it was a vibrant one, replete with enthusiastic individuals who parted with hefty sums to sit in their finery, as they did in his time, to experience an evening of exquisite music.

Though none were as fine in their finery as his Gregory.  And he could declare that factually as now… London was at his feet.  He could easily take in whatever he wished and, though the drudgery of employment weighed drearily on his lover’s broad shoulders, Gregory had participated in all he was able.  That included the terribly simple and mundane, such as strolling the streets to reacquaint himself with the city’s structure, and the terribly fine and elegant, such as dinner and excellent seating at the theater or concert.  Anthea’s ability to wrest from her various associates access to the highest strata of the cultural geography in London was positively frightening, but extremely welcome.  And, soon… soon he would not need her help for such things.

That cultural geography would be an easy thing to grasp with in own fist since he was moving his life to London.  Not to live in Gregory’s squalid flat, perish the thought, but a single glance at his father’s own home resonated like a perfectly crafted piano, rendered by a master’s hand.  Yes, the décor was horrific, however, much of his father’s original furnishings remained, albeit overrun with more modern atrocities that were blessedly easy to remove, strip, refinish, paint, burn or whatever remedy was necessary so that, with prudent purchases and his own impeccable sense of aesthetic, the dwelling was now… his.  Gorgeous, comfortable, inspiring and his.

And, if the rather subtle and roundabout conversations of late were to believed, might soon, also, be ours.

      “Already, Gregory, you bemoan my impending proximity to you.  How quickly your ardor has chilled.”

      “Just checking!  It’s… it’s a big change for you and it’s alright if you need a little more time to feel comfortable with it.”

      “Balderdash… I am eager for it!  Besides, this house is not passing entirely from my hands and, one day, I may tire of London life and wish a quieter existence in the country.  The young man signed to rent the property seems a responsible sort, so I have little fear for its condition in his hands.  Normally, I would be more hesitant, since writers have an unseemly tendency to drink, but it generally leads to a morose solemnity and blackening of thoughts, which rots the liver as readily as the soul, but does not often tend to outright property destruction.”

      “Henry didn’t seem much of a drinker.  No legal trouble on that score, at least.  I liked him.  Polite, smart and he’s got a vested interest in staying on your good side since you’re his primary source for the definitive Mycroft Holmes biography he wants to write.”

      “The situation is profoundly amusing.”

      “I can’t deny that.  How honest are you going to be with him?”

      “Oh, very.  Mycroft Holmes, sadly, is deceased and cannot defend his reputation which, now, can shine forth with its full radiance.  There are things in my life of which I am not proud; I would challenge anyone to say their life lacked a single point of regret.  However, I had an exceptional life.  One which, in sum, I take great pride.  The blemishes upon that celebrated canvas will serve only to highlight the overall magnificence of the image.”

      “Make certain to emphasize Mycroft Holmes’s immense modesty, too.  It’s his most defining feature.”

      “It shall have its own chapter.”

The two men laughed and Greg reached over to gently massage Mycroft’s neck.

      “It is not only my story I long to see told, Gregory.  Mummy and Father will receive their due.  The chance for their story to be known in the deserved detail.  This shall be their legacy as much as mine.”

      “I’m happy for you, love.  More happy than I can say.  Well, it seems they’re closing up the lorry and that’s our signal to double check they’ve got the address and make our own start back.  I’ll phone ahead to let them know we’re setting out.”

      “If Martha deigns to answer.  She seems to believe that my home is now hers to command.”

And had held that belief since she came along on their first trip to inspect the property and declared it ‘A proper house for an artistic man but since artistic men were terribly untidy and got flustered making a spot of toast, it needed someone to keep it from falling in ruin around his feet.’

      “Well, you did take her on as housekeeper and she’s got a tidy suite of rooms for her very own.  With its own exterior door to sneak in her lovers without you knowing.  That does make it all a bit hers, all thing considered.”

      “There shall be no elderly debauchery in my home.  I am adamant on that fact.”

      “Given your actual age, that doesn’t bode well for our sex life.”

      “For all there is an exception.”

      “Glad to hear it!  Shall we go?”

Mycroft took one final look at his home for so very, very long and felt no reticence about giving Greg a strong smile and nod.

      “Then into my chariot, good sir.  I’ll do the final checks with the movers while you find something on the radio to suit you.”

      “That shall be difficult.”

      “As difficult as keeping Sherlock from phoning you at all hours to know when you are giving him the Stradivarius outright?”

      “The birth of the universe was not so difficult, though it is a very near thing.”

__________

      “Did you lose your way?”

Greg grinned at Mrs. Hudson and whipped the bouquet of flowers he was unsuccessfully hiding behind his back into full view and handed it over with a small bow added in for emphasis.

      “For you, dear lady, to apologize for the extra 17 seconds you had to wait past my very vague estimate of when we’d be here.”

      “Tardiness isn’t an attractive feature, young man.  Remember that in the future.  That one there will chuck you out and replace you in an instant if you lose your looks.”

Greg nodded mournfully and turned very fake distraught eyes at Mycroft who simply gave an ‘oh well, such is life’ shoulder shrug and strode imperiously past Mrs. Hudson into his new home.

      “I have been waiting an eternity.”

Mycroft spun on his heel and tried to walk back out of his new home, but Greg gave him a second spin and pushed him forward towards Sherlock who was glowering, something not easily accomplished with a biscuit being shoved into his mouth.

      “Mrs. Hudson and you have a rather singular idea of the concept of time and its passage.”

      “I have reworked the middle section of your flaccid Sonata of the Stars.  I need you to play it so I can refine the score, as needed, to accommodate your rudimentary piano skills.”

      “Flaccid?  You dare?”

      “I do dare.”

      “Oh very well, it is not the most enlivening piece, I will concede.  I was slightly beset by melancholy when I composed it and never felt a pressing urge to revisit the work and be reminded of the pasty wash of mundanity that had gripped my person during its creation.  I had purchased a case of the most substandard, mediocre wine, you see, and suffered its effects until I had emptied each bottle down my besieged throat.  What a tragic time that was.”

Greg shared a look with Mrs. Hudson, who smiled gleefully at the Holmes exchange.  It did her lifelong charge a world of good to spar with someone operating at his level.  And, now, he’d always have that opportunity, which would keep him very much out of her hair when she had work to do or wanted a day out in London.  It hadn’t taken even a moment’s thought when she saw this house to know this was where she wanted to be.   So many of her friends were in London now and with her own place to live she had the whole city at her disposal and that was something that sit very well with her at this point in her life.  She’d spent that life guarding a precious secret and taking care of a truly special person, but now she could continue to do that while having a grand time in a gorgeous house, with a healthy income and endless opportunities to make exceptional use of that income stream.

      “Your pathos fails to excuse you from the lackluster quality of that piece and I am only stepping in to redeem you as your name is now woefully tied to mine and I will not suffer being painted with your black and sooty brush.”

      “I assume you have checked the tune of the piano?”

Not that it should be anything other than perfect since he had supervised the moving of his piano last week and further supervised the individual hired to precisely tune his beloved instrument in the room which would now be its home.  It was a room specially crafted to both house and respond to the music that would now fill it corner to corner.  And it looked out onto a garden!  It was a touch more manicured than his former grounds, but he already had plans to render it more… natural in appearance.  That was vital since he, now, readily could partake of those natural delights.  Could walk among the plants and feel the earth beneath his feet, smell the fresh air and do rather wicked things to his lover who had demonstrated anunexpected liking of a somewhat exhibitionist approach to all things carnal.

      “It is adequate.  Barely.”

      “Of course.  Well… we have time before the lorry arrives, so I suppose that is not the least tedious way in which that time might be spent.”

      “You could always opt for a bit of randiness.”

Mycroft opened his mouth to agree with Greg’s suggestion, but his ears cleared their proverbial throat and raised a point of order.  That being the voice wasn’t Greg’s.

      “Wait…”

Mycroft spun and found himself looking in the direction the others had already discovered was one very much worthy of their wide-eyed attention.

      “FATHER!  And… who is giggling?”

That question was answered in instant later and in stereotypically ghost-manifesting form.

      “MUMMY!  What… what is the meaning of this?”

      “Our son isn’t happy to see us, Langdale, darling.  Think he’s too heavy to put over your knee for a good spanking?”

      “Likely, but that man of his is sturdy enough to do the job.  And probably happy for it, if I know the signs and I always know the signs.”

      “That you do, you delightful man.”

Now it was two giggling ghosts in his foyer and that exceeded Mycroft’s tolerance for supernatural silliness.

      “Enough!  Explain yourselves.  Why are you here?  How are you here?  I thought you… went to frolic in the afterlife or become one with the universe or whatever is the current theory.  I cannot be bothered to keep up with such philosophical nonsense.”

      “Oh, we frolicked, my dearest son.  Your father is an exceptionally-skilled frolicker, in point of fact.  I’m speaking to proof of that right now, aren’t I?”

      “NO!  I will not tolerate discussion of spectral shenanigans in my home.”

      “It’s mine, actually, Mycroft.  If we want to be pettifoggers about it.”

      “Father, you are dead.  The dead cannot own property.  That is the law.  Most likely.”

Pike flicked his wrist at Mycroft and shot Adelia a look which spoke clearly of his love of her and their son, despite their son being almost as argumentative as those who produced him.  Though, there was someone outside the family who vied for their son’s combative crown.

      “Where’s that saucy solicitor of yours?  Anthea will know and not mince words telling the tale, either.  What say an evening of cocktails and conversation once you’ve something in here to sit upon besides the stairs?  We haven’t had a party in an age, have we, Addie?  It’s time we changed that, I think.”

      “An excellent idea!  I wonder if we can manage a way to indulge a bit ourselves.  They are called ‘spirits,’ you know, so why not?  Sherlock, dear, you must have some idea of how a person of alternative existence can imbibe?  You’re so smart for scientific topics and this one certainly falls under that umbrella.”

It was becoming clear to those not of the alternative-existence persuasion that ghosts had a nearly unlimited capacity for monopolizing a conversation.

      “Ummm… Mr. Pike, sir.  Want to explain what you’re doing on the premises?”

Straight police talk seemed to work well on the ghost, in Greg’s experience, and he frankly didn’t have much mental power left for much more because… ghosts!  Again.

      “Ooh, it’s like I’m a suspect in a despicable crime.  I do like that.  In any case, as I was telling my boring son…”

      “I am not boring!”

      “… this is my house.  So there’s some… magicky… thing, I wager, about it, rather like that slip of paper I was able to hop into.  My club, my paper, you see.  Now, it’s my house, my son, my paper porter all in one spot – how could my handsome self not be able to step in and stroll about the place?  With my darling Addie on my arm to make the experience all the more delicious?”

Mycroft, though still stinging from being labeled boring, was not content to let that stand unaddressed.

      “I have resided in Mummy’s home, by your definition, since your… dissipation… and you never deigned to visit me.  I call you out as a deceiver and demand satisfaction.”

      “Did you not hear the bit about the frolicking, son?  I rather thought you did what with the tantrum you threw over it.”

      “I did not throw a tantrum.  And… this part of the conversation is officially concluded.  Let us address, now, the issue of why.  Why are you here?  Surely your… issues surrounding the forbidden section of our discourse and associated non-forbidden issues would preclude returning here for any reason whatsoever.”

Having two ghostly parents shaking their heads sadly at him as if he was a puppy who had soiled the rug was not something Mycroft ranked highly on the scale of his life’s experiences.  Fortunately, his mother took pity on him before another tantrum erupted.

      “It’s London, dear.  My dear, dear Mycroft… why do you think I wanted to come here with you and your brother?  Yes, Langdale was here, but it was also London!  Vibrant, alive, brimming with interesting people… if you knew where to look for them… and none of them sufficiently bright to catch on that Addison Harliss was a woman so I could have loads and loads of fun.  Male and female fun, at that, so I had the best of both worlds!  Whyever would I want to stay in the tedious old afterlife when your father and I can enjoy ourselves again?  Langdale!  Your old bedroom, do you think, for us?  Greg and Mycroft will probably want that room on the upper floor with all the dark wood because they’re so wonderfully manly… Greg is, at least… but we should have a little space just to ourselves when we’re tired of enjoying our friends’ and family’s company.”

      “Are you going to need your room tidied, do you think?”

Mycroft glared at Mrs. Hudson, but his mother thought it a very proper question for a working woman to ask.

      “Doubtful.  It took me ages to be able to move anything about my house once I was dead and I suspect it’ll be the same for both Langdale and me living here.  No extra work for you, I’d say.”

      “Alright, then.”

Mycroft’s glare took on the configuration typical for a man who believed himself horribly betrayed by a supposed ally.

      “They are NOT living here!”

The ghosts were giggling again!

      “Don’t worry, son.  Your mother and I promise not to interrupt anything that’s going on behind closed doors.  If you take my hint.”

      “There wasn’t a whiff of hint there, Father.  Explicit exposition is a better descriptor.”

      “Not really.”

      “I am no longer… Gregory!  Why are you not leaping to my aid?”

      “I’ve got bad knees?”

      “I am undone.  Sherlock… of all people!... is my only comrade in arms.”

      “Keep your arms to yourself, Mycroft!”

      “Adrift!  Utterly adrift on an ocean of solitude and betrayal.  My heart bleeds, my soul burns…”

Mrs. Hudson patted him gently on the shoulder and found herself feeling nothing but relief that life was already settling into familiar patterns.  It was so much simpler that way.

      “I’ve got a cream for that, I think.  Why don’t you go and see if that bleeding and burning inspires you to play something new and I’ll make tea.  Your mum and dad can join me for a nice chat while you see about doing something useful with your agita.”

The village elders started off towards the kitchen, with only a single amused, over-the-shoulder look per elder given to Mycroft as they departed.

      “This is hell and I am its ball to kick.”

Sherlock snorted loudly and decided to follow Mrs. Hudson because where there was tea, there were biscuits and a biscuit was a better companion at the moment than anyone in this room sharing his blood.  Who was a dreadful, dreadful whinger.

      “You wanted to know more about your family, love.  Looks like you’ll have your chance.”

      “Funny.  Very funny.”

Greg laughed and took his lover in his arms, holding him gently while Mycroft fumed.

      “I wager you’ll see less of them than you expect.  I don’t know if they can… float about and see the sights, but they seem to think they’ll have some way to entertain themselves.”

As if on cue, Langdale appeared next to the couple with what appeared to be a ghostly cup of tea in his hand.

      “Oh, it’s not real, but there’s a realness to it on my side that’s not entirely unsatisfactory.  In any case… Mycroft, have you found my hidden safe, yet?”

      “What?”

      “You haven’t, then.  Good!  I’ll show you where it is later, but my watch should be in there.  Wore it every day except for the week I was murdered because I cracked the crystal and hadn’t taken it to be repaired.  How I cracked it is a wildly interesting story, but I’ll save it for later when your mother is here to hear it.  In any case, it’s a hefty bugger and… you have your mother’s sapphires, correct?”

      “Yes…”

      “Perfect!  Between the gold and stones there and the gold in my watch, there’s easily enough for the two of you to have a pair of wedding bands made and enough for tie pins or other baubles.  You’ve got to work in both gold sources and your mother’s stones since that’ll make it much easier for Addie and me to ride along when you go to the theater or other bit of fun.  Set Sherlock up, too, while you’re at it.  And Martha.  What a gem you have in her!  And she tolerates you, which is an amazing thing, to be honest.  Anyway, we can sort out the details, now that I know there are details to be sorted.  There!  That was easy.  Now, off to see what stories the ladies are telling behind my back.  They’re probably filthy enough to scorch my ears, but I do enjoy a bit of scorching from the fairer sex.”

Pike vanished, with his smile lingering to the last, like the Cheshire Cat.

      “Gregory…”

      “There, there…I still say it won’t be as horrid as you think and you’ll have more than enough time with them out of your lovely hair that it won’t be a bother.”

      “You speak as if you are not part of this nefarious equation.  If I have to endure their meddling and intrusiveness, so do you.”

      “I don’t actually live here, so…”

      “You do now.”

      “What?”

      “Mummy is absolutely correct about the bedroom we shall share… she does have excellent taste and insights for such a bothersome woman… and… I have given the matter thought, Gregory.  I love you.  I love you passionately, deeply and abidingly.  I want to share my life with you and make this not simply a house, but a home.”

Greg grinned and gave Mycroft a kiss on the tip of his nose.

      “All those beautiful words because you need help managing your family?”

      “Unbeautiful ones would certainly not work.  I am desperate, Gregory.  Save me.  Be my knight and forever will I reward your valor.”

Mycroft’s anguished grimace held another moment before it broke into a smile and he returned Greg’s tip-of-nose kiss, then upped the ante with a long and tender one on Greg’s lips.

      “And I do not proffer limp and unsatisfying rewards, either.  You are the stars in my sky, Gregory Lestrade.  That is not something I question for it lives in my heart.  I would celebrate with you every day our love and devotion and would want this regardless of the pestiferous blackguard that spurred the offer.”

Greg smiled and shook his head, calculating the odds at better than even that the pestiferous blackguard intended this as the outcome of his actions and it was likely sanctioned and planned by at least one female in residence.  However, since he also had been thinking along these lines…

      “Oh… I suppose.”

      “I lay bare the core of my being and that is my response?”

      “Yep.”

      “I adore you, Gregory.  Madly.”

Mycroft gave Greg a quick peck on the lips and the most smoldering grin in promise of fully demonstrating the degree of that adoration later, when the bed was delivered.  He did adore this man and would ensure he never, not for an instant, had cause to doubt it.

      “Madly enough to let me hear you play?”

      “Oh… I suppose.”

Spinning out of Greg’s arms while taking Greg’s hand, in a surprisingly balletic maneuver, Mycroft strode towards his new music room where, in an omen of things to come, Sherlock had started to play Chopsticks.  Theirs would be a lively home, that much was certain, but it would be glorious, nonetheless.  Gregory at his side, the world at their feet… theirs might be a house of ghosts, but there were far worse things in the world to contemplate.

      “Mycroft, my dear sweet son, did you know Martha already has a gentleman admirer?  Your Father and I are positively thrilled.  You shall invite him to tea tomorrow for us to have a better look at the fellow and decide if he’s good enough to escort her out.  Wear something nice.  The both of you.”

That, for example.  One, very surely, of many horrible, terrible examples to come…