"A woman? Are you sure it wasn't a… a transgender? A woman? With Mycroft?"

John Watson looked up from his smartphone in surprise, his blonde eyebrows (which had just begun to take on the slight tinge of salt-and-pepper) raised high on his forehead. He eased his thumb over the touch screen and ceased looking at whatever had preoccupied him

Sherlock chuckled. "My thoughts exactly. But, no, I think that I can safely say that she was all woman."

"Blimey," he muttered.

"Again, not something that I thought would be to his tastes." Sherlock paused and scratched at the back of his neck. "Then again, I've never inquired about his love life. It's never been of any consequence to me what he goes for."

"And it is now," John interrupted, "because he brought her here. Obviously, he was looking for your involvement in some way."

"Quite so. But in all honesty, I'd say it was nothing more than a deliberate gesture on his part at a time of personal weakness."

John's eyebrows went down again in confusion. "Weakness? Mycroft?"

"We are but human." Sherlock hummed. "Oh, he was shot yesterday. Sorry, I didn't mention it?"

With a click of his tongue, John's mouth dropped open in surprise. "No, you didn't mention it," he said with an edge to his voice. "Shot how? Where?"

"At work," Sherlock said with a sigh. "You've read the news about Thierry Kipler, no doubt? Or, should I say, you read the wrong news about him?"

"Killed in a café this morning," John replied with a wary glance in Sherlock's direction.

"He was killed yesterday, during a run through the park. Because the assassination went unconfirmed, today's deception was for the purpose of capturing the criminals responsible-the result of Mycroft's masterful abilities in his field. He does have a knack for that."

John sat back in his chair and gave his head a slight shake, then let out a small hum of acknowledgement as he settled back into his chair, and resumed playing with his phone. But while his eyes focused on the random items, his mind pieced together the random bits of information dumped onto him by Sherlock and process them.

"So," he asked after a moment, "I assume you're bringing this up because…?"

"Because now that Kipler's assassins have been identified and imprisoned, Mycroft is off recovering from this latest adventure, and he has asked us to visit him. He's up north, at a posh but rather isolated country estate provided by the Crown, along with his female co-worker and a few other select bodyguards. I do hope they have internet service," Sherlock added as an afterthought.

John stuck his tongue into the side of his cheek for a second. "You'd think it would be the time to not want company," he murmured.

Sherlock gave a shiver and stood up. "Spare me the mental image," he replied in a low tone. "Anyway." He clapped his hands together. "What say you? Are you up for some 'R&R,' as it were? He has invited you and Mary as well."

"I suppose so. Seems quite an odd request, though. You always keep each other at arm's length at the best of times." He paused. "There's something more going on, isn't there?"

Sherlock flashed a brief smile, walked over to the window and locked his hands behind his back. "Mycroft is courting me."

John blinked. "Beg pardon?"

"Courting. He's courting me. This isn't the first time, by the way. It's happened before. He tried to pull me into his world when I was halfway through university. Started suggesting that my talents would be best utilized in the service of Queen and country, rather than towards my own pursuits. 'Once you've completed your education,' he told me, 'I suspect we might find quite a use for you in our operations.'"

"And you never took him up on the offer?"

"No, of course not. My brother's path has never been, and will never be, my own. But I have no problem with humouring him." Sherlock shifted his stance. "I suspect this recent episode has him concerned for the future of Britain. What if there's not a Holmes in a significant position of power to safeguard our national security? It would be a tremendous loss for our country."

John cleared his throat. "And you say that with all humility."

"I state it as a fact. When he obtained his position, Mycroft became the successor to an equally influential and knowledgeable powerhouse of a man. I daresay those before him were likewise in my brother's class. I'm not perfect," Sherlock added. "But my imperfections are not critical to the country. Mycroft has had to strive for a level of excellence that I have not proven myself capable of."

"And yet..."

"Yes. Well, perhaps he's faced with a lack of other potential employees. He does operate in the deep end of the gene pool, as it were. There are few who can ever hope to attain our level of intelligence." He paused. "He has experienced something in the past few days that he's never had to face before, John. His own mortality. I came to grips with mine years ago, shortly before I rejected his offer." He cleared his throat and walked over to his chair, seating himself across from John. "So?"

"I… guess that it's not such a bad idea."

"Should be interesting."

John smiled. "You're still going to say 'no,' aren't you?"

"Oh, of course. I could never survive in the straight jacket that he's grown to know and love. I think we both know that. Although I think he enjoys being in that jacket, with the arms of Mother Britannia wrapped firmly around him. The only woman he's ever loved."

"Perhaps that will change now?"

"Not in the least, no. But one must have distractions once in a while. Even Mycroft is subject to diversions."