Greg woke to quiet knocking on his door. Groaning, he looked over at the clock. 3:48 AM and how the fuck had anybody even got into the building at this hour in the first place?
The knocking didn't stop and Greg grumbled as he got to his feet, fighting to clear his head. Not a break-in -- no burglar would just stand there knocking. Sherlock would just break in. Mycroft would have the grace to call first, at least, and Greg hadn't heard from him in a couple of weeks anyway.
He peeked through the peephole in the door to find Andrea, Mycroft's assistant, standing in the corridor, her eyes tight, shoulders hunched. She had a folder tucked under one arm. He unlocked the door and let her in. "What's happened?" He closed it behind her as she went to the couch and dropped onto it.
"Mr Holmes was kidnapped two weeks ago. We've only just found out who, and where he's being held."
"What? Shit." On autopilot, Greg went into the kitchen to start some tea, his heart thundering frantically. "Is he all right? Has there been a ransom demand?"
Andrea shook her head. "No. This is a personal grudge. He's no longer in the UK and extraction is going to be complicated." Now that she was in better light, he could see fading bruises on her face.
"You were with him when he was taken."
She nodded. "They didn't want me, only him."
He brought them both mugs of tea, and sat next to her on the couch. "You said extraction was going to be complicated. You've got a team on it already, though, right?'
She was silent for a moment, sipping her tea, then she sighed. "Due to current circumstances, I can't go through the usual channels."
"What do you mean?" Greg sipped at his tea, trying to force his brain to full wakefulness.
"After the incident with his sister, Mr Holmes's situation changed drastically. You're aware of some of it, I know, but not the full extent of his vulnerability. The kidnapping itself, should it become widely known, would create an international incident that the government wishes to avoid."
"Who took him?" Greg asked. "Where is he?"
"He's being held at a CIA black site in Romania."
He knew about the kinds of evil they got up to in those places and it left him shaken, thinking of Mycroft in a place like that. "Jesus. What's being done? Anything?"
Andrea set the folder she was carrying onto his coffee table and pulled out a photo. She handed it to Greg. He studied it for a moment. The man was tall and thin, with short, dark, balding hair.
"Wait, I recognize this bloke."
"You should. You arrested him after he'd assaulted Mrs Hudson."
"Sherlock said he was a CIA agent. But it was Sherlock that binned the bastard, why would he go after Mycroft?"
"Sherlock's involvement was part of a much larger, overarching situation that Mycroft was handling. Neilson held both of them responsible for his humiliation. Due to the change in Mycroft's circumstances after what happened with their sister, he was by far the more vulnerable of the two, and easier for Neilson to reach."
"What's being done?" Greg asked again, his stomach in a knot. "Has anyone gone after him? He's been gone two bloody weeks!"
"I'm aware of that," Andrea snapped. "Due to the involvement of the CIA and the fact that Mycroft has enemies within our own government, I could not request assistance from that direction. No one can be trusted with his safety or his life at this point. I've been assembling a team of mercenaries to go in after him. Sherlock is already on the ground in Romania with several of them. I'm here at this hour and under these circumstances because I am being watched, and I need to ask you to go in with them so that there is a known face with the actual retrieval group when the extraction team finally gets to him."
Her answer was a gut punch and Greg's head was reeling. "You want me to go. Sherlock's there. He'd know his own brother."
"He knows you. He trusts you. You're the closest thing he has to a friend in this world, Greg. Sherlock is going to be dealing with Neilson and he can't be in two places at once. Mycroft won't know any of the mercenaries and is extremely likely to be injured and disoriented. He may not understand at first that it is a rescue attempt."
After Eurus, Greg had been seeing Mycroft regularly to talk with him. They'd spent a couple of hours nearly every week just socializing and Greg had, in fact, come to regard Mycroft as a friend. Not the sort you met at the pub for a pint and a match, but he'd come to like Mycroft a lot and the idea of the man being tortured at some CIA black site terrified him. "I'll go, yeah, of course I'll go. But I don't speak a word of Romanian. I have no idea what you'd need me to do."
Andrea relaxed at Greg's agreement. "Thank you," she breathed. Emptying the folder on the table, she handed him a passport and a plane ticket. "You'll be entering the country as Gerald Hawley, an office clerk on a trekking holiday, and will meet your contact in Bucharest."
Greg met Boian Radu in a bar near the center of the city. Bucharest was huge -- larger than Greg had expected, but he wasn't there for the sights. The only thing on his mind was Mycroft and the mission. He'd not been told a lot beforehand. "Your contact will have what you need to know," Andrea said. "He'll be posing as a trekking guide."
"We'll be going into the Carpathain mountains," Radu told him, over a beer. "There is a town called Huedin, maybe three thousand people. The mountains near there are filled with caves. Our trek will take us out of the town tomorrow morning. I have got us a hotel room for the night. I can show you the maps for our trek there. The town is about four hours away from here. We should eat dinner in the city; the food in Huedin is boring."
After dinner, Greg dumped his rucksack into the boot of Radu's car and they headed for the mountains. "Where's the site?" he asked.
"It's tiny," Radu said. "Not much more than some stone huts in the middle of the forest, but still heavily defended, with a lot of surveillance. Our source says there are cells for five prisoners but only three are there right now. We intend to release all of them and destroy the place while we're at it. This will make them uncertain about who we were there to rescue."
Greg was feeling more than a little destructive himself at the moment. "Sounds good to me, but how do we get them out of there?"
"You know how to shoot a gun?"
"Yeah," Greg said with a nod, "but I'm not that good at it."
Radu chuckled. "I like a man who knows his limits. I tell you that if you have to shoot, things have gone very wrong. There are three already near the site. One is English, like you."
"Tall, curly hair, bad attitude?" Greg asked.
"So you know him."
"I can trust him to get the job done, yeah."
"Good to know. He's got one particular job, to take care of a man called Neilson. Seems personal."
Radu nodded. "For you also, Hawley?"
"More than I'd like to admit." He shifted uneasily in his seat. "What should we expect there? The person who sent me said our target would likely be injured and disoriented."
"It will probably be bad. You should be prepared for that. Dislocated joints, waterboarding, hallucinations. Probably been lying in his own filth the whole time." Radu shrugged. "Maybe broken bones if they are feeling energetic. We were told they wanted to keep the target alive for as long as possible, so maybe not."
Greg tried to suppress his fear and keep his mind on the rescue, on getting Mycroft out of there. "You done this kind of thing before?"
Radu grunted. "From a larger site, with a larger team. We go in, we take the prisoners out, we leave no witnesses."
"What if something goes wrong?" It wasn't a thing he wanted to consider, but he had to.
"We will cover some options when we get to the hotel. Maps are waiting. Equipment. It's easier to show than tell."
They were out by dawn. Greg's small rucksack was filled with first aid supplies. He was wearing camouflage, a balaclava, and a bulletproof vest, and carrying a silenced weapon he hoped he wouldn't have to use. They'd be meeting the rest of the team near the facility, away from the perimeter security. Greg wasn't sure what to expect from Sherlock.
Greg and Radu's focus was on extracting Mycroft. The team expected to be outnumbered about three-to-one, but some of the CIA operatives were likely off-shift. They'd gone over the maps and surveillance information carefully the night before, and Greg hadn't got much sleep.
Getting to the site took about two hours through a forest on foot from the point where they left the car. "There are hundreds of caves in these mountains," Radu told him. "Once we have made the rescue, I am to take you to one where we have set up a secure location. You can hide there until it's safe for us to collect you."
When they arrived, Greg met the others, none of whom gave him names. Sherlock was there and they acknowledged each other with a nod. "Your only concern is to get him to safety," Sherlock insisted. "I'll take care of Neilson." There was death in Sherlock's eyes and it sent cold shivers down Greg's spine. "I didn't expect her to send you, but I'm glad she did."
It felt like a suicide mission. "How are they going to get us out of the country?" Greg had been flying by the seat of his pants the whole time, and it wasn't a good feeling.
"Don't ask. The less you know, the less can be extracted from you should things go wrong."
"Everyone sounds like they expect it all to go pear-shaped." Greg checked his gun and ammunition and readjusted his pack.
Sherlock nodded. "It's always a possibility. Best to be prepared for it. She's hired experts, and I'm here. We'll commence operations soon."
"In broad daylight?" Greg asked. "Wouldn't it make more sense to go in at night?"
"Infrared," Sherlock said with a shrug. "We'd be even more visible at night. The ambient temperature during the day is an advantage. They'll not be expecting anything and we'll take out the sensors before they realize what's happening."
"This site," Radu said, "it's obvious they don't think anyone knows about it. It's not on the lists of known black sites. It's about half the size of the smallest known facility. It's well-secured, but a lot of that is anonymity."
Greg nodded, sighing. He'd seen the surveillance photos. There were three buildings, one of which housed the security and the CIA personnel. The other two were where the prisoners were kept. There were cameras, tripwires, and other boobytraps around the perimeter.
One of the other men pulled out a tablet and said something in a language that Greg didn't understand. "Are you ready?" Radu asked. Greg nodded.
"He's going to jam the cameras and their communications," Sherlock added. "He'll move into range first. We'll take care of the agents once their systems are down. You and your escort are to find him and get him out. That is your only concern."
"Got it," Greg said, grim. His chest was tight and his gut was filled with butterflies. He was about to invade a black site authorized by the US government on the soil of a third country and he knew that if anyone ever found out about this, he would disappear, permanently.
Mycroft. This was for his friend. Andrea had been adamant that this extraction was the only way to save the man's life. Greg didn't know what it said about him that Mycroft Holmes was the only person on earth he'd do this for. Watching the silent departure of their tech, Greg wondered when he'd started to care this much for Mycroft.
He suddenly understood why Sherlock and Mycroft had never told John that Sherlock was alive after his leap from St Bart's. They'd wanted to avoid him doing some lunatic thing like this. It turned out Greg was the actual lunatic. Who would have guessed.
Greg tried not to think too much of what they were likely to find. He wasn't sure he'd be able to function if he did. The signal came for them to move in only a few minutes later.
The small, fenced compound was very low profile. Greg was busy trying to watch for the CIA agents, and Radu grabbed his shoulder to keep him from stepping into a tripwire. He pointed to the trap Greg had nearly set off. Greg blew out a startled, uncomfortable breath when he realized he'd almost got himself killed, and they weren't even in the compound yet.
There was already a hole in the razor-wire topped fence, and the two of them ducked and followed Sherlock and the fifth member of their team through the opening. There were three stone buildings; a car was parked near the operations building. He and Radu ducked into the closest structure. The place reeked of feces and the ammonia stench of stale urine. Greg had to fight not to retch, glad his face was covered with a balaclava.
The room they entered had three doors, two of which were locked. The tech came hurrying in behind them, and tossed Radu a key ring. He said something Greg didn't understand and hurried back out as Radu started trying the keys.The first room had a naked, brown-skinned man, bound and chained kneeling in a puddle of filth on the floor with a black bag over his head. Radu quickly unlocked the chains and pulled the bag off the man's head, but didn't do anything else. Greg reminded himself that he was here for Mycroft, and the others would take care of the two other prisoners. The man barely responded, shivering in the chill of the wet stone room.
The second room held Mycroft, chained by one arm to the ceiling, his toes barely touching the floor. Like the first man, he was naked and blinded, his legs shaking with his effort to hold his body upright, trying to take stress off his shoulder. His head turned slowly at the sound of the door opening, shuddering and muttering to himself.
Greg and Radu hurried over to him. Greg put his arms around his naked, shivering friend as Radu unlocked him from the ceiling, then he pulled the bag off Mycroft's head. Mycroft slumped into Greg's arms, mumbling, "Not real… can't be real…" His voice was rough and pained and Greg could feel his skin was cold and clammy. He dragged Mycroft away from the puddle of excrement he'd been dangling in and dropped his pack on the floor, pulling out the coveralls they'd brought. He'd known this sort of thing was a common CIA torture technique, but seeing Mycroft dangling there had driven a knife through his gut.
They didn't have time to clean him. He was bruised everywhere, probably hallucinating from sleep deprivation, and had lost a fair amount of weight in the two weeks he'd been missing. Greg didn't think they'd fed him very often. He and Radu stuffed Mycroft into the coveralls despite his condition; there wasn't any choice and at least he'd be warmer. "We take the car," Radu said. "He won't be able to walk."
Greg slung the rucksack back over his shoulder and they picked up Mycroft between them, carrying him to the car. He could hear fighting and muffled shots coming from the main building. He wanted desperately to get Mycroft out of there fast. The car wasn't locked, but none of the keys worked in the ignition, so Radu hot-wired it and rammed the locked gate to get them out. It crumpled and gave way. Greg held onto Mycroft for dear life, both of them bouncing in the back seat. Mycroft moaned in pain as Greg held him.
"It's okay," he said, "we've got you. You'll be safe now."
Mycroft's voice was weak and raspy. "You sound like… sound like Greg."
Greg pulled the balaclava off his head. "It's me," he said. "I'm here. We've got you." He ran one shaking hand through his hair.
Mycroft's eyes closed and he shook his head, making a small, pained sound that tore Greg's heart out. "Not real…"
Mycroft probably didn't know what was going on. Greg was certain Mycroft thought he was imagining the rescue; Andrea had said he might not be able to understand when they got to him. He'd been hoping she was wrong.
"Where are we going now?" he asked. He heard the sound of explosions in the distance and instinctively hunched protectively over Mycroft, startled. When they said they'd be destroying the site, he hadn't realized they meant physically.
"I will need to get rid of the car, and the one we came in with, so I am taking you to the cave. We should pick you up soon." Radu's eyes were tight, his shoulders hunched as the car juddered along the ruts in the earth. "I will need to come back with another vehicle and arrange to get you over the Serbian border to a place where you can be flown back to England."
"Someone will be looking for us."
Radu shrugged. "There are ways. You won't be seen crossing the border. Too many papers needed, too much explanation."
"Do I want to know?"
"It won't be comfortable. Probably in the back of a commercial vehicle. Not large, but something that goes in and out frequently, so it won't be checked. Someone will be paid to look the other way."
Human trafficking. He knew it was probably the only way he'd get Mycroft out of the country alive. 'Gerald Hawley' would disappear, a ghost in the Romanian border records. Greg and Mycroft would not exist in Serbia, and would likely travel into the UK under new false identities. It was risky, but this whole thing had been a risk from top to bottom. He still wasn't sure any of them were getting out alive. He held Mycroft in his arms, trying to cushion at least some of the bouncing of the vehicle along the rutted track through the forest.
About twenty minutes after they left the compound, Radu turned the car off the track and deeper into the trees. They traveled through rough terrain for another half hour or so until they stopped near the edge of a cliff. "We have to walk from here. The cave is not far. Maybe five minutes. We can carry him."
Greg helped get a limp and unresisting Mycroft out of the back seat. The ground was solid enough that the car hadn't left much of a track behind it, so he hoped they wouldn't be traceable if there were any CIA survivors. Mycroft's thin, stinking frame was lighter than it should have been as they hauled him along the rocky, wooded mountainside. Greg didn't see the cave until they were right on top of it. The floor was muddy and there was a tarp inside pitched over a cot, water jugs, and some small plastic crates of supplies. A cluster of tiny stalactites dripped slowly into the mud below.
They lay Mycroft on the cot. Radu reached into his pocket and handed Greg an electronic device, about the size of a flash drive. There was a little hinge and Greg flipped it open to find a button underneath. "If no one has come back for you in two days, use this," Radu said. "Your people will be able to find you."
"Jesus," Greg muttered.
"So far, the operation has been relatively smooth. You shouldn't need it. Stay low. There is a gas burner in one of the crates so you won't have to make a fire in the open. I will be back as soon as I can. Tomorrow or the next day."
Greg nodded. "Right. We'll be here." There was no way he'd be making Mycroft move if he didn't have to.
Radu turned and left, and Greg started going through the supplies. There was enough water to clean Mycroft, as well as for drinking and cooking, which was a relief. Clean clothes were bundled inside, along with food and blankets. There were a few bin bags as well, and Greg figured they'd have to carry everything out with them when they left. Leave no evidence, or at least as little as possible. With a nod, Greg put the propane burner together and started heating water so he could wash the filth from his friend's battered body. He set out clean clothing and shoes on top of one of the crates. The mud inside the cave was sticky but not very deep, thankfully. Greg tried to keep everything out of it. Mycroft lay on the cot, unmoving and silent.
The only sounds aside from Greg's own were birdsong, the breeze in the trees, and the tiny splat of water slowly dripping into the mud.
It took about twenty minutes to get the water heated and to get Mycroft clean and dressed. Mycroft wasn't particularly responsive at first but, as the bathing went on, Mycroft struggled back to consciousness. "It's all right, you're safe," Greg told him.
"Not real," Mycroft croaked again.
"It is. I'm real, I promise you. We got you out of that awful place and we're going to try to get you home." He set the sponge down and took Mycroft's face between his hands. "Look at me. It's me, Greg Lestrade. I'm real. I'm actually here. You're not hallucinating. Look around you." He went back to the gentle washing as they spoke.
Mycroft's eyes closed for a moment but when he opened them again, he seemed a little more focused. Looking around, he asked, "Where?"
"Someplace in Romania. Carpathain mountains, but that's about all I know."
Mycroft took a shuddering breath. "How long?"
"A little over two weeks. Took a while to find you."
"Neilson?" There was fear in Mycroft's eyes as he spoke.
Greg shook his head. "Don't know yet. That was somebody else's job. Mine was to get you out of there and take care of you until we get you home."
Mycroft's body went lax again and he moaned when Greg cleaned carefully over a particularly nasty bruise. "Two weeks," he whispered. His eyes met Greg's. "Why you?" Mycroft's voice shook as he asked.
"'Cause you know me. Nobody was sure what condition you'd be in or if you'd try to fight if you didn't know it was a rescue. Andrea asked, and I came."
"She's alive. You came…"
Greg rolled up the filthy coveralls and the sponge he'd used to bathe the man into one of the bin bags and sealed it up, tucking it into one of the crates, and washed his hands. He helped Mycroft dress, then wrapped him in a blanket and started making some tea.
"You've probably not had proper food or much to drink in most of that time. Did they even let you sleep at all?"
Mycroft lay in the cot, clutching the blanket around him. "Very little. Maybe… maybe drugged as well. I feel… awful."
Greg sighed. "Drugs or not, you'd feel awful after what you just went through. We'll get some tea and a little food into you, then you can sleep as long as you need. I'll be right here. You'll not be alone. You're safe."
"Tea," Mycroft whispered, a note of longing in his voice.
"Good for what ails you," Greg murmured in return. When it was done, he helped Mycroft to sit, one arm around the man's shoulders as he perched next to him on the little cot. He held the mug as Mycroft's hands trembled, steadying it so that his friend could drink. Mycroft leaned into him, exhausted and shaking.
He managed to finish the tea and Greg set the mug beside the propane burner. Mycroft sighed and tried to sit up. Greg let him make the attempt, but it didn't last long. "Just rest. There's nothing you have to do except eat a bit and sleep, nothing at all."
"They'll surely come looking." His voice sounded better, though still rough, now he'd had something to drink.
Greg thought about the explosions he'd heard. "I don't think that'll happen right away, if it does at all." He got up and dug around in the crate, pulling out a box of what looked like combat rations. He wasn't sure what language they were labeled in; it looked Cyrillic, but that could be any of several languages.
"It's Russian," Mycroft said.
"But it's food, yeah?" Greg held the box out to him.
Mycroft raised one tired eyebrow. "Debatable."
Greg smiled at him. "There you are, at last," he murmured, relieved. He opened the box. "What here, if anything, do you think you could swallow?"
Mycroft poked carefully through the box, his movements slow and slightly exaggerated as he attempted to still the shaking of his hands. He held one packet up. "This one is beef soup."
"Right." Soup would be easy on him. "Can you pick out something a little more solid for me?" Greg took the soup while Mycroft looked again, and started heating it for him.
"This is chicken," Mycroft said, handing him another packet. Greg took that and the box from him and set them down on the crate he was using for a table. One thing at a time.
Mycroft slowly sipped at the soup, which was more like a thin stew, and nibbled on crackers while Greg heated up what turned out to be some kind of chicken with rice thing. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't very good, either. When they were finished, Greg cleaned up as best he could and stowed things. With a tired sigh, he sat on a crate.
"Get some sleep." He wasn't sure what he was going to do when it got dark. Probably just sit on the crate all night with a blanket wrapped around him. The cot might have been big enough if Mycroft wasn't hurt, and they were much closer friends, but that's not the way it was. It was only mid-afternoon.
Mycroft eased himself carefully down onto the cot. "That will be miserably uncomfortable sometime soon," he said, looking at Greg.
"You need the cot more than me, and there's not a lot of space." Greg stood and stretched his back. "Maybe I can find enough branches and stuff to make some kind of a mattress to keep me out of the mud."
Mycroft reached for him with one hand in the dim, wet light of the cave. "Don't go out. Don't disturb anything near the cave. There could be drones. Surveillance. Just… just come sit with me. If we're careful, there's enough room for both of us." Mycroft's grey eyes were haunted, and Greg could hear an edge of fear in his voice.
"Right, then." Mycroft asking for Greg to be near him like that -- he'd never done it before. Greg had occasionally offered some contact, especially right after Sherrinford. Mycroft had accepted a few times, but had never once asked for it himself. This was… Greg knew the man was shaken to his core. The tightness in his eyes, the way he shook, the lines of pain on his scruffy, bearded face, it rattled Greg. Seeing his friend like this woke something deeply protective in him and he crossed the small, muddy space and sat carefully on the cot near Mycroft's hip.
Mycroft relaxed slightly as Greg settled next to him, and eased himself down into the cot with Greg's assistance. His voice was steadier but he was still very weak. "Do you need anything for the pain?" Greg asked. Mycroft just nodded. Greg reached over and snagged his rucksack off the top of the bin where he'd left it and fished around inside until he came up with a tiny packet containing two pills. He opened it and gave them to Mycroft, with a little water.
"Thank you." His response was soft, his voice hollow. Greg lay a hand carefully on Mycroft's shoulder, uncertain what to do.
"Do you think it's dislocated?"
Mycroft shook his head. "There's a great deal of pain, but I don't think so."
"If anything I do is hurting you, please, just say."
Greg ran his hand gently up and down Mycroft's good arm, trying to be soothing. "You should sleep if you're able."
"It's been days," Mycroft said. "I'm still not entirely convinced I'm not hallucinating. It... doesn't seem possible that you'd be here."
"I'm here," Greg murmured. "I'll be here watching over you. Sleep."
With a last, hesitant look up at Greg, Mycroft sighed and closed his eyes, shiftling restlessly as he tried to find a comfortable position. A few minutes later, Mycroft groaned quietly. "Perhaps… perhaps we could bind my arm so that the joint won't bother me as much while I try to sleep," he said.
"Makes sense." Greg dug around in the medical supplies again and found a sling and some bandaging so that he could bind Mycroft's injured right arm close to his body to support it. He had to wrap it around Mycroft's shoulder and chest, his arms embracing his friend as he wound the bandaging. It brought his face close to Mycroft's each time he had to reach behind, his cheek brushing Mycroft's. He fastened the end securely. "Better?" His voice was soft and tentative, this close to Mycroft's face.
Mycroft's eyes had widened. "I…" he cleared his throat. "Yes. Yes, I think so. My shoulder feels more stable now. Let me try lying down again."
He helped Mycroft to lie down again and this time the man settled more quickly, and drifted off as Greg gently rubbed his back with one hand.
Greg could hardly believe he was in a cave in Romania after rescuing Mycroft from a CIA black site. The cot was close enough to one of the cave walls that he could lean back against it but the wall was uneven and uncomfortable, so he didn't lean back for very long. Nothing in the small, dim space was comfortable. He wasn't about to sit down in the mud. Sitting on one of the bins was going to be even less comfortable than trying not to disturb Mycroft in the cot. And he was really not eager to go outside and take a chance on being seen by a drone or some other kind of surveillance, given that he was part of a force that had, he was pretty sure, just blown up a CIA installation.
He sat for as long as he could before he got up to pace the small space that wasn't taken up by the cot and crates. He said nothing. His feet made quiet, sticky sounds in the mud as he moved. The stalactites continued their slow dripping. Greg's distress over Mycroft's condition drove him restlessly back and forth. He wasn't a doctor, so he had no idea how badly Mycroft was actually hurt, and no way of finding out until they got back to London. He didn't know how long it would take to get back home. At this point he wasn't even sure if they'd make it out of Romania.
Small, quiet sounds pulled Greg's attention back to the cot. "Mycroft?" He went and sat with him again, passing the backs of his fingers gently over Mycroft's temple. No fever, at least. "Mycroft, wake up." The quiet sounds became a frightened moan. "Wake up, Mycroft." Greg ran his hand down Mycroft's back. "You're having a nightmare."
Mycroft jerked awake with a startled gasp, then groaned with pain and grasped his injured shoulder. His breath came harsh and quick.
"It's all right," Greg murmured, trying to soothe him. Mycroft said nothing, but looked up at Greg with tears running down his face. He pushed himself up with one elbow and tried to sit. Greg helped him upright, and Mycroft leaned into him, wrapping his good arm around him. He held Mycroft, heart aching. "You're safe. We're getting you out of here."
"I didn't believe you were real," Mycroft said, his voice muffled in Greg's shoulder. "I didn't believe any of it was real. I thought it was … I thought it was a false rescue, intended to make me hope it was over."
Greg got Mycroft some more water and helped him drink it. "That's why Andrea sent me along. So you'd know it was real."
"You shouldn't be here. You've put your life at risk. If anyone finds out you were part of--"
"I'm here," Greg said. "There's no putting that back in the box. Andrea said there wasn't anyone else she could trust."
Mycroft stared at him. "What about Sherlock?"
"Who do you think found out where you were being held?"
Mycroft took a deep, shuddering breath, then coughed, eyes squeezed tight shut. "He's here, isn't he?" he asked, after catching his breath.
Greg nodded. "Yeah, he was part of the team. He's the one who was going to deal with Neilson."
Some of the tightness around Mycroft's eyes eased. "I doubt I shall have to worry about a recurrence, then." He let out a slow, silent breath. "I thought I would die there. I thought they'd keep me there for … months. I don't know. Years. I thought it would never end."
"You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. You never said much after Sherrinford. It's okay if you don't now."
"I should have. When you asked back then, I should have. Maybe… maybe I'd know what to do now. How to handle this."
Greg slid his arm around Mycroft's back and let him lean against his body again. "You don't have to 'handle this,' Mycroft. If you want to talk, I'll listen. If you want to sleep, I'll watch over you. If you need to cry, I'm here for you. Whatever you need, I'm here."
Mycroft shook his head, trembling. "I don't know what I need. I don't know how to talk about this. I don't even know if I can."
"The words don't have to be perfect. It's okay if I don't understand at first. It's okay if I never understand. Sometimes you just have to get it out." Greg threaded his fingers with Mycroft's and squeezed gently. "The only important thing to me right now is you and what you need to get through this."
He wasn't just saying it. Right now, Mycroft getting through this was the only thing that mattered. Two weeks of torture were going to have repurcussions that even Sherrinford hadn't. When he thought about the kind of trauma Mycroft had been dealing with all his life, Greg wanted to weep.
"I can't even start, Greg. My mind won't clear. I can't think."
Mycroft hesitated a moment, his fingers tightening in Greg's. "Would you… lie down with me?"
"If that'll help, yeah. Of course."
"Please," Mycroft whispered, his eyes closed, head bowed.
He'd been so fragile since Sherrinford, Greg thought. He helped Mycroft lie down, then carefully tucked himself in behind the man. It wasn't going to be the most comfortable thing, but it was better than lying on the hard, muddy floor of the cave with nothing but one of those little foil survival blankets to work with. He tucked one arm under his head and rested the other over Mycroft's waist. Mycroft sighed and the tension slowly left his body. Eventually, he relaxed and his breathing evened out into sleep again.
It was strange, having Mycroft's body tucked under his arm, his thin frame pressed tightly against the entire length of him from his chest to his feet. He rested his forehead against the back of Mycroft's skull, eyes closed. The intimacy of it lay heavy in his chest, burrowing into feelings he'd been suppressing for a long time.
There had never been a right time for the way he felt about Mycroft. He'd been married when they met. The divorce had been rough on him and it had taken a while for him to even want any kind of a relationship again. He'd tried dating; nobody had ever felt right, and Mycroft, though a friend of sorts, was completely out of reach, nothing more than an idle fancy, a thought in the back of his head now and then.
Then there was Sherrinford, and Sherlock's request for him to look after Mycroft. He'd done it, willingly. Mycroft had tried to maintain some distance, though Greg always made himself available. Their friendship had become closer since then, but Mycroft had been brittle and Greg had never wanted to push him to speak about what had happened. He still wasn't entirely sure, though he'd heard some details from John. It was obvious that Mycroft was suffering, but there was little Greg could do when Mycroft was unwilling to let him in.
It all came roaring through him now, triggered by proximity and Mycroft's vulnerability. He'd always respected Mycroft, even when he'd been angry and frustrated with him. After their awkward first meeting, Greg had eventually come to like him and to care about what happened to him. Sherrinford had brought out a deeply protective impulse that he'd done his best to moderate because he'd known that it would make Mycroft uncomfortable. This… this was giving those feelings steroids and having them swell in his chest until it made him want to scream.
Greg wasn't sure how to handle it. He didn't know what to do with how bloody much he cared about the man. He was injured and in pain and barely holding it together, and Greg had to somehow see him through and get him home in as close to one piece as they could manage. There was no room for Greg's feelings in any of this.
It seemed like there was never room for Greg's feelings.
Dwelling on it would only make him miserable and it would be blatantly unfair to Mycroft, who'd never asked for Greg's affection. Greg held him and drifted into a restless, hypervigilant sleep, sensitive to every twitch Mycroft made.
For too long, Mycroft's world had been pain and cold and confusion. Everything hurt, though the pain in his wrenched shoulder was the most intense. His nose was filled with the scent of wet limestone and mud. Half-asleep and still reeling from the echoes of a nightmare, he was conscious of a solid warmth at his back, and a weight around his waist.
He lay still, barely breathing, like some small prey animal, not wanting to attract attention. He remembered stinking of feces and stale urine, but that odor was gone. His head wasn't covered anymore. Cautiously, Mycroft opened one eye. It was dark, but he could hear the sound of a breeze through branches and night insects. After a moment, he realized he could see a hint of moonlight.
He was in a cave, not a cell. Someone was holding him.
Mycroft couldn't help the small sound he made, uncertain whether it was pain or relief. He wasn't locked in a room, dangling from the ceiling, his shoulder screaming in agony. He hurt, but not like that.
"It's all right. You're safe." Greg's voice, soft and gentle, was close to his ear.
Mycroft could feel the man nod against the back of his head. "Yeah, it's me. Do you want some light?"
"No. No, if anyone is looking--"
"You're right." Greg's arm tightened slightly around Mycroft's waist. Mycroft shivered. "Are you cold?"
"It's more.. I remember being cold. Naked. Terrified." He shifted slightly closer to Greg, though there honestly wasn't any space between them to begin with.
"If I could see anything, I'd get you another blanket. I still can if you're willing to take a chance on about a minute with some light."
"No." Mycroft curled slightly into himself and Greg's body followed, holding their heat between them. "I can't let him find me again." The thought sent Mycroft's pulse rocketing and he trembled in Greg's arms.
"Hey, hey, breathe with me, Mycroft. Easy. Just breathe." Greg started breathing, slowly and audibly, and Mycroft struggled to follow along, to match his breathing with Greg's. He couldn't stop shaking, but he could feel his heart rate slowing as they inhaled and exhaled together. His lungs tried to object, but he suppressed the urge to cough. "That's better," Greg whispered when Mycroft had finally calmed again.
Mycroft shifted his weight, trying to get a little more comfortable. He wanted to lie on his back but there wasn't much room on the tiny cot. "I can move, if you want," Greg offered.
"Don't go." The thought of Greg being anywhere but right next to him was distressing.
"I won't. But if we get up for a minute, I can lie on my back and you can rest on me. We can rearrange the blanket we do have so that we'll both be covered. I'm a little chilly myself, actually."
Mycroft hesitated, then nodded. "All right." He needed help to get up, and his legs barely held his weight, but Greg made quick work of moving the blanket and then settling them both again. Mycroft lay on his good shoulder, his head resting on Greg, their legs tangled together. The thin emergency blanket covered both of them, and Mycroft felt himself slowly getting warmer.
"I was colder than I realized," he murmured.
"You've probably been near hypothermic for a while, if you spent the last couple of weeks the way we found you."
"Not the entire time, but much of it," Mycroft said. "Barely enough food, barely enough water. Cold. Sleep deprived." And beaten and mocked and threatened, waterboarded, and stretched to the point where joints were damaged but Mycroft didn't dare speak of that. Not yet.
"Do you need water?"
"Not as much as I need sleep."
"Then rest. I'll be right here. I've got you and I'm not letting you go." Greg held him, one hand gently caressing his back under the blanket. "It's all right to wake me if you have a nightmare, or if you need me for anything, okay?"
Mycroft nodded. After a few moments, he whispered, "Sometimes… I wasn't sure if it was Neilson or my sister."
"It must have all blurred together."
The idea of going back to his life in London after everything that happened seemed impossible. "I don't think I can do this anymore," Mycroft said.
"What, sleep?" Greg sounded confused.
"No. I don't think… I don't think I can go back to the way things were, back to my life. I don't have any idea what to do."
Greg nuzzled Mycroft's hair, his breath warm against Mycroft's head. "You don't have to do anything. You don't have to make any decisions right now. Once we get you home, we'll get your docs to check you out. You might be in hospital for a while. You'll need to be treated for whatever injuries you have. I think you'll need to talk to some counselors. You don't need to do anything else until you're well again."
"Will I ever be?" It seemed inconceivable to him that his life should just resume, that he'd be as he was before -- before Euros, before he and Andrea had been assaulted on a street corner, before he'd been drugged senseless, to wake in an anonymous room somewhere to be tortured.
"That's not a question I can answer," Greg said. "But whatever happens, I'll be there for you. You'll never have to do it alone, Mycroft."
"You can't promise that. You have no idea what this entails." Mycroft felt panic edging into his chest.
"Maybe not, but I can promise this: I promise that I will do everything in my power to help you get through this." Greg's voice was strained and full of some emotion that Mycroft couldn't place. "You're my friend, Mycroft, and I am not going to abandon you. I care about you. I care what happens to you. I'm not going to let you face it all alone."
Greg's eyes glittered in the dim moonlight. It was all Mycroft could see in the near-total darkness. "What is it like?" he asked.
"Is what like?"
"What is it like to not be alone? To have a friend? To have someone who… who cares about you?" The very idea of letting anyone in was terrifying. The vulnerability. The potential for manipulation. Yet here he was, lying in Greg's arms, and it was comforting.
He heard Greg's breath catch. "Like this." Greg's voice rasped, harsh. "It feels like this." His arms tightened around Mycroft. "It feels like me holding you here in the dark in a fucking cave in Romania, where we don't know if we're going to live or die, but I'm here anyway, because I care and because you're my friend."
Mycroft's tenuous hold in his emotions snapped and he wept silently into Greg's shoulder.
"You are not alone right now. Do you think I'm just gonna walk away when we get home? That I'm going to leave you to cope with this by yourself? I kept some distance after Sherrinford because that seemed to be what you wanted, not because I didn't want to be there. I showed up as often as you'd let me. I'd have been there every time you asked, if you'd just wanted me there." Greg swallowed, rough, and kept on. "Fucksake, Mycroft, I saw what you were going through and it was breaking my heart, but you wouldn't let me in. Whoever taught you to push everyone away, they were wrong and they have so damned much to answer for." Mycroft couldn't speak, not without his voice breaking. He needed to regain some control. "You should have had friends, Mycroft. You deserve friends. You deserve to have someone who cares about you, someone who loves you, and I don't mean like Sherlock, who tries to pretend none of it matters. I mean somebody who's willing to let you see it, someone who can care about you in public and not be ashamed of the fact."
Mycroft opened his mouth to say there was no one, but he suddenly understood that it wasn't true. His voice shook when he said, "You do."
Greg froze. He took a few shuddering breaths. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do."
"How did neither of us know?" His head spun. Mycroft's entire world had just been turned on its head. So, apparently, had Greg's.
"It's… it's kinda rude to just spring that on a bloke, but since we're in a cave in Romania and we might die tomorrow, I'm willing to let it slide."
"Generous of you."
Greg's laugh was just a huff of air. "Dunno what it is about the dark that makes this kind of conversation happen."
Mycroft felt unmoored from his senses here in the darkness, held in Greg's embrace. "The unreality of it, I think. The drifting. The lack of reference to anything but the sound of voices and the warmth of bodies."
Greg's fingers threaded through the thin hair at Mycroft's temple. "A few hours ago, you were hallucinating. How do you manage to be so lucid right now?"
"The pain, I think. It's a focus." His shoulder was throbbing and he wasn't entirely certain that it was focusing him, but at least he was fairly sure Greg was actually there now.
"You want something for it? I have a packet with a couple of paracetamol in my pocket."
Mycroft sighed. "I would, but I've never been able to take pills without something to drink."
"It's okay. I put a water bottle next to the leg of the cot here. Just let me get it for you." Greg let go of him and wriggled around for a moment. There was a quiet sound of a packet being torn open, and Greg took Mycroft's hand and placed two pills in his palm and closed his fingers around them. "Water next," he said, leaning over and reaching in the darkness. A moment later, he said, "Do you do water first or after?"
"After." Mycroft put the pills in his mouth and took the bottle Greg handed him, carefully drinking so that he'd spill as little as possible from the awkward angle he lay at. After swallowing the pills, he slowly drank as much as he could of the rest.
"That's good. You need it. Drink it all if you can. Hand me the bottle when you're done." When he'd drunk all he could, he handed the bottle back to Greg, who closed it and set it back down. "I hope that'll help," he said, finally shifting them both back into a more or less comfortable position. "Please, try to get some more sleep. I'll be right here. Not going anywhere, okay?"
"Thank you." Mycroft wanted nothing more than to just hold Greg, and be held. Sleep would come if it came. At least he wasn't alone.
"Mycroft." Greg's voice was an urgent whisper in Mycroft's ear. He struggled to wake and orient himself.
"I heard a motor off in the distance. Might be our ride out of here. Might not. I have to go find out."
Mycroft's heart jumped. "But--"
"I have a gun," Greg said. "If it's not our contact, I won't hesitate to use it. I'm not letting them take you again." Greg was already shifting his weight to get out of the cot. "They'll have to get through me to get to you."
Greg was willing to kill for him. To die for him. It was terrifying. "Do you have a gun for me?"
"Can you shoot with your left?" One gentle hand rested on Mycroft's bearded cheek.
Mycroft hesitated. "No. Not really." Greg sat up. "I just thought… if you didn't come back, if it was the CIA, that…" He didn't want to be taken again.
"Don't even think that." Greg's voice was strained. "If I don't come back, if it's them and they find you again, Andrea will send someone else. Sherlock will come for you." The sound of the engine in the distance died. "Hush," Greg whispered. "I'll be back as soon as I can. Stay put."
Mycroft couldn't have got up to run anywhere if he tried, so he nodded. He could see the fear and determination in Greg's eyes in the soft, dawn light that filtered into the cave. Greg gave Mycroft's good shoulder a squeeze and hurried off.
The idea of Greg being killed twisted his gut. He didn't think he could handle the pain or the guilt of it. Greg was a good man, and more than Mycroft had ever deserved as a friend. Mycroft hated that he might be the death of him.
He listened silently to the sound of Greg moving through the vegetation until he'd gone too far for the quiet rustling to carry. He couldn't remember how far they'd carried him yesterday. Mycroft's bladder was full and he was miserable. His entire body was betraying him, and his emotions were in no better shape.
The wait was interminable, but the more time that passed without gunshots, the less frantic Mycroft became. He focused on trying to steady his breathing, deliberately ignoring his helplessness. If he was going to survive this, he had to trust that Greg would get him through it.
Eventually, he heard movement again. Not long after, he heard Greg's voice in the distance. "It's safe." Mycroft didn't respond. There was no need, and it was best to make as little human disturbance as possible in case of any potential surveillance.
A few minutes later, Greg and another man entered the cave. "Okay, let's get you up and out of here, then we have to haul the gear out as well."
"If I could beg your indulgence before I'm carried anywhere, I do need to heed the call of nature." Mycroft angled himself up on his good arm.
"Yeah, we can do that," Greg said, helping him to his feet and supporting him as he staggered out of the mouth of the cave into the early morning light. Mycroft blinked. "Can you deal with this if I lean you up against a tree, or do you want my support?"
Mycroft thought for a moment and shook his head, embarrassed but aware that he wasn't feeling stable enough. "I would rather the tree, but I'm afraid it's unrealistic at this point."
"Okay." Greg helped him over to some bushes and held him up while Mycroft emptied his bladder and got himself zipped up again. Greg turned away during the process to foster at least the illusion of privacy. "We'll get you out to the car and settle you in, then the two of us will break this down and get it packed away. Two trips, at most. We'll be on the road soon."
Mycroft still wasn't able to walk more than a few feet. They put him on a makeshift stretcher and carried him away. It was slightly more dignified than being dragged between them last night, but only slightly. They tucked Mycroft into the backseat of a little Dacia 1300 that had obviously seen far better days. The ride out of the forest was going to be uncomfortable. At least the seat was softer than the cot had been, and they propped him on a pillow when they left.
The pack out took two trips. Fortunately, everything fit into the boot of the vehicle.
"I will take you to your transfer point," the Romanian said. "Your transport will get you into Serbia. From there, you have contacts waiting to take you home."
Serbia. Mycroft's last visit had not been one he wished to dwell on. He still had occasional nightmares about extracting Sherlock.
"You want me in the back with you, or in the front? You can probably stretch out a little better without me," Greg said.
"If the choice is between stretching out or your company, I'd rather your company."
"Let's get some paracetamol into you before we get started, then." Greg gave him the pills, and then offered him a pastry that the driver had brought. "There's coffee, too, if you want it."
Normally, he didn't care much for coffee, but the caffeine would potentiate the pain medication. "Yes. Thank you." The coffee was black and bitter, but there was enough sweetness in the pastry to make it tolerable. Greg slid into the back seat beside him and let Mycroft lay across his lap.
"Sleep if you can," Greg said. "It's going to be a long day."
They didn't talk as the little car bumped through the woods and eventually out onto an unpaved road. The jarring was agonizing but there was nothing to be done about it. All he could really do was suffer, stifle the pained sounds he couldn't help making, and let Greg cushion him as best he could.
It was about two hours before they got to their rendezvous. They arrived at a small, isolated farm in the foothills. The people at the farm offered Greg and Mycroft showers and clean clothes. The shower threw Mycroft into a panic, so Greg got in with him and helped him, sheltering him from the falling water while helping him to get clean. The two of them were fed as the farmers prepared their tiny lorry for transport. Greg helped Mycroft into the back, where a mattress and some blankets and pillows had been laid out. There were a couple of bottles of water, as well.
"The trip will take four hours or so. The border crossing should not be a problem. These people cross regularly," their driver assured them.
Mycroft eyed the crates of chickens near the truck. "And this?" He gestured at the crates.
"Cover. We put the crates all around you. No one will hear if you are quiet." Mycroft wrinkled his nose at the whole thing. The smell of the birds and their excrement wasn't going to be pleasant, but the cover made sense.
"Try to get comfy," Greg said, sitting against the back of the cargo space.
"You'll need to lie down," the farmer said in Romanian. "We have to cover the top of you as well."
"I understand," Mycroft replied. He turned to Greg. "We won't be sitting."
"Don't tell me, you understand Romanian." Greg sighed and lay down on his side.
"Of course. Thankfully, it should be tolerable for the few hours we'll be in transit."
"Your people will meet you just over the border," the driver said. "It is all arranged."
"The border crossing?" Mycroft asked.
"Dealt with. They are not going to unload the chickens to look for anything."
The farmer and his son tucked a wooden frame around the space in the back and then began loading in the chicken crates all around it. There was just enough light and air flow to let them breathe comfortably and to see within the enclosed space, but the autumn weather was going to make the space quite cold once they got moving. Mycroft was glad that they had blankets. He was more pleased that Greg would be there with him through it all.
"Will you be comfortable enough?" Greg asked as they were slowly enclosed by crates of cackling poultry.
Mycroft nodded. "While not ideal, it is, in fact, more spacious and far more comfortable than the cot we shared last night. Perhaps both of us will get something resembling actual sleep until the border, since we have nothing to fear for the moment." He hoped, at least, that this was the case. Greg's eyes were underlined with dark shadows and he looked stressed and exhausted. Mycroft was certain that he looked even worse himself. He was desperate for a shave, but he hadn't even considered trying to do it with his trembling left hand and his right arm in a sling.
He heard the last of the crates being slid into place and the back of the lorry being closed. A few moments later, the doors of the lorry shut, the engine started, and they were on their way.
"It's a good thing I'm not claustrophobic," Greg muttered. He lay next to Mycroft on his back, staring up at the boards above them. Mycroft grunted assent and did his best to get comfortable. It was a chore with only one arm. Greg rolled to his side and helped Mycroft settle. "You gonna be okay like this?" He rested one broad hand on Mycroft's chest.
"It's going to get cold when we reach the highway."
Greg nodded. "I think we have enough blankets. We can always tuck up together like we did last night if you want. Warmer that way."
"I shouldn't object."
After a moment's hesitation, Greg took his hand. "Didn't mean just the cold, though. I'm guessing they did some pretty awful things to you. I mean, you don't need to talk about it, but I'm worried about you."
"Yes." The lorry rumbled along, bumping over the rough rural road. Mycroft was glad the mattress was reasonably comfortable. "They did. There's not much to say about it. I have no wish to burden you."
Greg sighed and rolled a little closer. "Not a burden, Mycroft. Never."
"I'm feeling very… distant," Mycroft told him. "Dissociative, perhaps."
"Shutting down is a defence mechanism."
"Reasonably effective when one is helpless and has no options." He wasn't like Sherlock. He had no illusions that provoking his torturers would distract them sufficiently for him to escape, and Mycroft hadn't even known where he was.
"People were looking for you from the moment you went missing." Greg's eyes tightened.
"I hoped, but had no reason to imagine that I'd be found." Mycroft shuddered. Greg wrapped an arm around him and tugged him into a close embrace. "You needn't feel guilty. I have enemies, Greg. I always have had and, after Sherrinford, I was seen as weak. Assailable." He shivered in Greg's arms. "I may work behind a desk, but I've never been under the illusion I would die in my sleep of old age."
"You're not going to die," Greg whispered, fierce. "You're going home and, if you'll let me, I'll do my best to take proper care of you."
"I'm an utter wreck," Mycroft snarled. "I'm useless and damaged and apparently entirely expendable. The idea of going back to my office leaves me a shuddering mass of anxiety."
Greg didn't snipe back at him as Sherlock would have. He didn't pull away, but kept holding him. "Then don't go back."
"Don't go… don't go back?" Mycroft shook his head, uncertain at first he'd heard correctly. "Why would I not go back? I have responsibilities. Duties. I'm expected to have answers to everyone's pressing problems. They may despise me, but it's obvious they need my guidance."
Greg shook his head. "You're traumatized and you're not thinking clearly right now. You've just described yourself as necessary and expendable in damned near the same breath. You don't have to make a decision right now -- we're buried in chickens here, for god's sake. You don't have to make one when you get off the plane back in London. The only thing you have to do is hold on. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you're well enough again to decide what you want to do, or what you're able to do. And if what you want to do is to walk away, to retire, or to go entirely over to consulting instead of showing up at an office every bloody day, you can do that. The most important thing is, if the idea of going back is that upsetting, you don't have to do it right away. Andrea can hold down the fort until you know what you need."
"She…" Mycroft sighed. He'd been worried about her after they'd been attacked, not knowing if she'd survived, but the fact that she'd been in good enough shape to arrange a rescue heartened him. "You're right."
"Shocking, I know."
"Not really. You're an eminently sensible man, and I am exhausted and in pain. My mind is not operating with anything approaching its normal efficiency." Mycroft would have curled into himself, but Greg was holding him close.
"Try to sleep."
"Why do you care so much? No one else does." His own family was an overwhelming argument for Mycroft to spend the rest of his life alone.
"Mycroft, you're the most amazing person I've ever met. I mean, yeah, you're utterly brilliant, but it's a lot more than that. You've always kept some distance between us. I know now that it was because of Sherlock and your sister. I know you were worried that anyone who got near you might be a target the way I'd been a target when that loon Moriarty was alive. You care so much more about others than you ever wanted anyone to know."
"It's a liability. Look where it's got me -- kidnapped and tortured. Betrayed by someone in my own offices. Despised by my own family."
"Not as despised as you think. Sherlock did come to get you, after all."
"You don't know what it was like. I tried so bloody hard, all the time, and nothing I did was ever good enough."
Greg raised a hand slowly and took Mycroft's cheek in his palm. He ran one gentle thumb along Mycroft's scruffy cheekbone. "You're good enough for me. More than. We've known each other for years but I don't know you half as well as I'd like to." Greg's brown eyes gazed into Mycroft's, and he could see the genuine depth of the man's concern. There were no lies or exaggerations in them, just care and -- dare he say it -- affection.
"I don't deserve your affections. All I've ever done is bring you trouble."
"That's bollocks. You don't get to tell me who I can or can't care for. I care for you -- you know that. Someday, after this is over, I hope that you'll let me be more than… more than just your friend. When you're ready. When you think you can accept that I care for you." Greg's voice was rough with emotion, but he didn't look away.
Mycroft's head spun with it. Trying to have a cogent conversation in his current condition was like trying to piece together a jigsaw with most of the pieces swirling in a whirlwind. His mind and his emotions skipped and stuttered like a badly-buffered video file. Greg cared about him but he shouldn't. It made no sense. There was no benefit in it for the man, only danger and misery. Even Andrea, his faithful shadow, had been harmed. She, at least, was paid for the risks she took, but Mycroft's hyperactive sense of guilt wouldn't allow him to let go of responsibility for that, either.
The pain of it all was too much. It felt like a vise around his heart and Mycroft shuddered in Greg's arms. He felt tears falling, unbidden. He hated being seen like this. Part of him wished that it was Sherlock here, but Sherlock would just mock him for his weakness. Mycroft's breath came in gasps and he fought to control it.
"I'm sorry," Greg whispered. "I didn't mean to snap at you or overwhelm you. You're safe with me, I promise." Mycroft shook his head, not in denial but from a momentary inability to even form words. His awareness swirled, uncontrollable. "Try to focus on me. Just try. Try to slow your breathing. I think you're having a panic attack."
Mycroft pushed himself to focus on Greg, but it wasn't his breathing that steadied him. The warmth of his arms was easier to focus on, and the scent of him that blotted out the smell of feathers and bird excrement. He tried to narrow his awareness, to shut out everything but warmth and the smell of clean clothes and skin. His eyes closed tight against light and chaos and memories, Mycroft dove deeply into the darkness of his face pressed against Greg's chest and shut down entirely.
Greg was relieved when Mycroft finally seemed to sleep. He sighed and relaxed a little, trying not to think too much. He thought maybe Mycroft had finally realized that he was safe enough to just collapse for a while, or at least he hoped that was what had happened. With one hand, he absently caressed Mycroft's back and wondered what would change when they got back to London.
Would Mycroft finally let him in? Would he willingly accept help instead of pushing Greg away again? Assuming Sherlock had survived, would he be more help or hindrance? He'd been trying to be a better brother since Sherrinford, but Greg could see that a lifetime's patterns were hard for both of them to break. While they had both been working on it, they still tended to snipe first and cautiously smooth things over after. He wasn't sure that was going to be a viable path after something like this. Mycroft needed safety and support, not casual -- if unintentional -- cruelty.
He wasn't sure how much help Mycroft would let him offer. Greg's instinct was to stick close, to offer physical reassurance, but Mycroft was really introverted and that in itself might just add to the emotional overload for a while. Sometimes the most healing thing was silence and insulation from perceived chaos. He had no idea where Mycroft's balance point would be, and that would probably change from day to day, or hour to hour.
Then there was Greg's own daily life to consider. He was already on a week's holiday for this. How much more time could he reasonably expect to be absent from the Met before something had to give? He wasn't sure he cared, but it had to be considered. Mycroft's shoulder was a mess and he suspected the man would need to spend some time in hospital, but how much? Depended on what damage had been done, of course, and Greg couldn't be certain of that. Mycroft needed a doctor, no question.
Ultimately, Mycroft needed someone who loved him. The more Greg thought about it, the more willing he was to take on that role, if Mycroft wanted him to. He'd seemed astonished when he had realized Greg's feelings for him, but hadn't exactly said whether they were welcome or not, much less whether they were reciprocated. The fact that they'd been a bit opaque to Greg himself prior to that moment was neither here nor there. If Mycroft needed him, Greg would be there.
He pulled the blankets more tightly around them, chill in the moving air coming into the lorry. He settled in as best he could to keep Mycroft warm, and to wait.
Greg was uneasy when they stopped at the border, but they made the crossing without incident. Mycroft slept through the whole thing, and Greg let him. He had debated it with himself but decided against waking him, knowing that if they were stopped, there wasn't going to be much they could do except ask to be put in contact with the British Embassy and pray that they'd be found by whoever had been sent to Serbia to collect them before any of Mycroft's enemies were informed of his situation.
They drove for another twenty minutes or so before the lorry came to a halt on a rural road and the back doors opened. Greg gently shook Mycroft's arm. "Mycroft, wake up. We're here."
Mycroft startled awake, silent. It took him several moments to orient himself before he calmed. The driver and his son pulled the chicken crates out of the back and removed the frame that had created and concealed their small compartment. Greg blinked in the sunlight as he helped Mycroft out of the vehicle, glad they were no longer surrounded by the smell of feathers and chicken shit. Andrea, dressed in jeans, a jumper, and a heavy jacket, waited for them, accompanied by two young men in similar clothing. They stood near a small blue panel van.
"Oh, god, am I glad to see you," Greg said as they approached.
Mycroft leaned against Greg, still sitting on the back edge of the lorry, his good arm slung over Greg's shoulder. "Andrea," he rasped.
Andrea spoke to the driver and an envelope, presumably containing money, changed hands. She turned to Mycroft, silently assessing him for a moment. "Let's get you to the van."
One of the men took the driver's seat. Andrea and the other man helped Mycroft into the back of the windowless van and Greg accompanied them. Mycroft was laid on a small bed. There were seats along one side for Greg and Andrea. Once the doors were closed and the van was on the road, Andrea introduced their companion as a doctor. Greg didn't pay attention to his name, just the fact that he was going to work on Mycroft while they were on the move. He hoped the doctor would be able to do more for his friend than he'd been able to.
Mycroft was still in really rough shape and not very coherent, though he was doing his best to respond to the doctor. "He's had more sleep in the last two days than in the last two weeks, I think," Greg said. "I managed to get a little food and water into him, and some paracetamol. Wrapped his arm, but don't know how bad the damage is. I haven't seen anyone from the extraction team except my contact since we left the compound."
"Sherlock's reported in," she said. "He's fine. He was asking if we'd heard from you yet. I'll call him soon to let him know what's happened. How are you holding up?"
Greg sighed and shook his head, his eyes still on Mycroft, who was now hooked up to an IV. He'd tried to get as much water into him as he could, but he suspected the man was still seriously dehydrated. "Exhausted, but I'll live. How the hell are we getting back into the UK?"
"We've a diplomatic flight waiting for us out of Belgrade. We'll leave as soon as we're all in the plane. The drive will be about an hour."
Mycroft reached out with his good arm and took Andrea's wrist. "Who?" he asked.
"Sir Edwin, along with a few others," she said. "Their betrayal has been dealt with at the highest level."
Mycroft let go of her. He sighed and leaned back into the pillow, his eyes closing. "I knew I'd fallen out of favour after the Sherrinford incident. I'd hoped that none of my closest associates would be involved." He sounded utterly defeated, and it broke Greg's heart.
Andrea leaned toward him. "It's safe for you to return home now. You'll have time to recover from your ordeal."
"I'd like something for the pain," Mycroft said, subdued. "It's really... quite agonizing."
"We'll take care of that," the doctor said.
"He needs rest," Greg insisted.
Andrea nodded. "So do you, Greg." She lay a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I knew you were the right man for this job. You've done well."
"He's not home yet." He didn't feel like he could let his guard down in the least, even with Andrea here.
"We'll be back in London this evening," she said, quiet. "He'll be taken directly to hospital, where he'll have a full examination and any necessary treatment will begin."
"His shoulder's a mess."
The doctor turned to him. "You did a good job stabilizing the joint with what you had. I can't be certain without an MRI, but I suspect a torn rotator cuff, probably severe enough to require surgery." He turned his attention back to Mycroft. "That, at least superficially, appears to be your worst physical injury. Making a complete examination here isn't possible, of course. There's a great deal of bruising and muscle strain. There could be some broken ribs or slow internal bleeding, but I can't be certain under these circumstances."
Mycroft just nodded, the pain medication the doctor had given him already working on his overstressed and battered system. "Will you try to sleep?" Greg asked him, as the doctor, having done all he could for the moment, climbed into the empty front seat of the van.
"We're too exposed here," Mycroft murmured, insistent.
"We're not, sir." Andrea leaned toward him again in her seat. "We are as safe as I could possibly make us for this trip. Do you trust me?"
Mycroft paused, his mouth slightly open, confusion in his eyes. "Y-yes. Of course I do."
"You're exhausted, sir, and not thinking clearly. If you trust me, then trust me to get you home safely, as I have so many times before."
Greg could see Mycroft take a deep, rasping breath and put his armor back on, transforming in a moment before his eyes. "Of course," Mycroft said, his voice cold and steady. "I need to cease this ridiculous emotional wallowing." Greg's brow wrinkled with concern.
"That's not what she meant," he said, careful and quiet. "We just want you to get through this. We're here to help. You don't have to slam the gates shut, Mycroft. You don't have to face this alone." He reached across the small space in the back of the van and took Mycroft's hand. "We talked about this. We can't help if you won't let us in. We want to help you. We want to take care of you."
Mycroft's fingers tightened around Greg's hand. Jaw tight, eyes squeezed shut, he shuddered and took another deep breath, releasing it slowly. When his eyes opened, he was calmer, but the ice had definitely melted. The emotion there was raw and painful. "I know. This… this situation has been… difficult."
Greg nodded. "It's all been rough on you. Nothing's been certain. But we're on the home stretch now. Once we're on the plane, everything will be fine. You'll be all right. It'll all be over and you can just focus on getting better. Remember what I said. You don't need to make any decisions right now. Wait until you're doing better. Whatever you want, whatever you need, we'll be here for you." He tossed a glance at Andrea, who nodded her assent.
"Anything you need," she said. "Whatever it is, we shall see to it."
Mycroft locked eyes with Greg. "And if… what I need is you?"
"I'm here. I'll be right beside you, I promise." Greg meant it with every cell in his body and tried to let that shine through his eyes, through his posture, through the warmth of his hand holding Mycroft's.
"It would not be difficult to imagine that as a miracle," Mycroft whispered.
"We've got all the time in the world to talk about it, alone, in private." Greg wanted to reassure Mycroft, but he also didn't want to expose either of them so much emotionally. Sure, he could trust Andrea with their physical safety, but what he felt for Mycroft was still too newly discovered, too raw, too intense to lay out in front of an audience.
Mycroft nodded. "I understand and we… are in accord."
"Then try to sleep for me, okay? I'll be right here the whole time. I'm not going anywhere. Let the meds do their job and help you with the pain."
"Yes. Yes, I'll try."
"Good." Greg leaned forward and raised Mycroft's hand, pressing a gentle kiss to his knuckles. He rested Mycroft's hand back on his chest, then leaned back into the seat as Mycroft looked up at him, an unreadable expression on his face. A moment later, Mycroft settled and closed his eyes with a sigh.
A while later, when Mycroft had fallen asleep and Greg was nodding in the quiet sound of the road, Andrea leaned over and whispered into his ear. "What happened out there?"
He didn't try to pretend he didn't understand. "Something that's been a long time in coming, though I don't think either of us really understood that until yesterday."
"What's your assessment of his mental state?"
Greg sighed. "He believed he was going to die, that no one would come for him. Like you figured, he thought he was hallucinating when we showed up to get him out. He's… not stable right now. You've seen it, just in the last few minutes."
"Sherlock reported that the operation went without a hitch."
"Glad to hear it. Nielson?"
"Dealt with," Andrea said, and the tone of her voice told Greg that he didn't want to ask any further questions. He was surprisingly content with that.
"Mycroft's enemies at home?"
"Will be unable to touch him again."
"He… doesn't know if he can, or even if he wants to go back to work again. I told him he didn't have to decide yet. He's got too much recovery to deal with to make that kind of a choice right now."
She nodded. "That was wise. And you were right -- I'll do anything I possibly can to help him, and to help you help him."
"I think it's going to be an uphill fight."
"Much as I respect the man, I have to admit it frequently has been. He and his brother are both stubborn, and neither of them believes that they need help."
Greg snorted. "Tell me about it."
"After the Sherrinford incident…"
"Nothing's been the same, I know."
"He's been…" She drew in a breath, eyes cast to the floor of the van. "He's been very brittle since then." Andrea sighed. "Yes, he was able to do his work. If anything, in the office he was colder and more distant than ever." She raised her head and looked at Greg. "You were one of the only people able to reach him, to have a comforting effect on him."
"I didn't know."
"I've worked with him for nearly fifteen years. He would never have regarded me as a friend, but I've always respected him. His dedication to a government that sees him only as a valuable resource, and a family that never truly understood or accepted him was… He cares so much and hides it so deeply. It took me several years to see it."
"Took me a while to get past the barriers," Greg admitted. "Sherlock wouldn't like to hear it, but his being a pain in my and Mycroft's collective arse for so many years was what showed me who he truly is. I think he'd deny it to his dying breath, but he loves his family. I saw how Sherlock used to treat him. Sure, he's got better over the years, but Christ, the way he acted toward him every time I saw them together. And there's Mycroft, sharp as a razor and faithful as a hound, where his brother was concerned. He never gave up, long after sanity should have let him. We won't even try to address the sister."
"I think… if he lets you, you could help him learn to not be a martyr, learn to let himself be human." She paused. "He cares for you, you know."
"Yeah," Greg murmured, nodding. "It's not like I didn't know all along that the only reason I still had a job after Sherlock's swan dive off a building wasn't all down to him. He could have just stood back and watched me get shredded, but he didn't. Oh, he never said anything, but I knew. Felt guilty as hell about it until Sherlock near gave me a heart attack in that car park, too. 'S what he does for people he cares about. Tries to take care of them, protect them."
"I'll do anything I can to help," Andrea said. "I think you'd be remarkably good for him."
Greg sighed. "If he's recovering at home, if… if he decides he doesn't want to go back to it, are you even going to be around?"
"Recovering at home, he'll still be under the aegis of the services, and I'll be there. I work for him, not the office. If he decides he doesn't want to go back--" She shrugged. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. That decision is unlikely to be made for some weeks yet, unless I miss my guess. Ultimately, I'm less concerned about his return to work than I am about his mental state, and his happiness."
"Makes two of us."
"I know," she murmured. "He's very lucky to have you."
Mycroft woke, disoriented, in a private room. He had an IV in his arm and he could hear the beep of monitors. He felt awful. Uncertain exactly where he was, his eyes scanned the room, lighting on Greg, exhausted and asleep in a chair next to Mycroft's bed. The lights were dim, and there was a window reflecting the light of the room.
Hospital. Late night. At least a day, possibly two after their escape, buried in poultry crates. When he tried to speak, the only sound he could make was a quiet moan, and Greg's eyes snapped open. He blinked for a moment, then reached out to take Mycroft's hand gently.
"Hey, easy, Mycroft. How do you feel?'
Mycroft moaned again and coughed. Greg held out a cup of water to him, and Mycroft sipped through the straw. "Awful," he croaked, when he'd had enough to drink.
"What's the last thing you remember?"
"The lorry. The crates. Being helped out."
Greg nodded. "Do you know what day it is?"
Mycroft shook his head gingerly. "Lost track of time."
"Understandable. You've been in hospital three days now. You're going to recover. You had surgery for a badly torn rotator cuff. You've got three broken ribs and you had quite the concussion. It's... " Greg swallowed and took a deep breath. "They really hurt you. It's going to be a while before you're okay again, but you will be. You should be able to go home again in a day or two, if you have someone to look after you." His fingers tightened around Mycroft's hand. "If you're okay with that, I'd… I'd like it to be me."
"You'd… do that?"
Greg smiled sadly and shook his head. "I went on what might have been a suicide mission to bring you back. You think a little looking after you is going to bother me?"
"But… what about work?"
"Andrea's got me on indefinite leave. Family emergency."
Family? "I don't understand," he said, confused.
"You, Mycroft. You're the family emergency."
Although Mycroft could make no claims to be thinking clearly, this was important and obvious. "You… you wish to begin a relationship with me." It was obvious, but it didn't make sense. "Why?"
"Seemed like both of us wanted that. If I'm wrong, it's okay. I'm not going to push you for anything. I still want to help, though. I still want to be here for you."
Mycroft shook his head slowly, exhausted. "How could anyone not want you?"
Greg huffed a humourless laugh. "I'm sure my ex can give you an itemized list."
"You'll be... disappointed if you spend time in my company." Pushing through the mental dullness caused by the medication was hard, but Mycroft needed to see him. Needed to feel Greg's hand in his. Even if it didn't last.
"I doubt that." Greg sighed. "You have a lot of recovery ahead of you, Mycroft, both physical and mental. All I ask is that you don't try to push me away. Just let me be here for you. The rest of it will happen or not. If anything happens, we can just let it." Greg lifted Mycroft's hand and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. "The only thing that you should be focused on is getting through this. I'll be here as much as you'll let me."
Exhausted, Mycroft nodded. He had no idea how he would cope with this, but with Greg by his side, he could try.