He accidentally catches sight of Greg about six months in, in Turkey of all places. He is there for about five different reasons, only two of them official, and on the second day he is tired enough to turn on the television between two meetings while he showers and changes. It's a pre-digested news channel and one of the endlessly repeating clips is a Scotland Yard press conference, with Greg looking crumpled and annoyed while fending off the reporters and saying all the things he shouldn't.
Mycroft makes himself watch the whole clip while he rearranges things in his head, forcing himself to stop seeing a pale and tired Greg and concentrating on seeing DI Lestrade instead.
He is almost late for his meeting. But not quite.
Two of the first things he did was making sure Greg would not be touched by the fallout and setting things in motion for clearing Sherlock's name. The former was comparatively easy and required little personal attention, unlike the latter. It will be easy enough now to actually unleash a media storm of "genius detective returns from the dead, was innocent all along" once the time is right but Mycroft knows the dangers of playing hide and seek with the press all too well: any hint of the story before it's due to be "leaked" and his plans will crumble like a house of cards. He switches phone numbers and offices twice that month.
He measures the ebb and flow of Sherlock's mission by the tone of his text messages and calls. Taunts and short-tempered squabbling mean things are going well. Terse demands can mean both imminent success and crushing, dangerous failure. The most dangerous are the near-silent calls when Sherlock won't even bother to be rude. Those spell coming disaster.
The year after Sherlock's "death" Mycroft travels more than he has in decades. Turkey and Switzerland to pass on information and documents, Spain and Bulgaria to retrieve evidence and three corpses, the US to retrieve a live capture and once, briefly, Germany for an actual face-to-face meeting.
Mycroft has an irrational moment of panic when he sees Sherlock almost unchanged, coat and curls and all, before he realises that most people in the too expensive Berlin café are dressed in a similar enough style, if not in detail then certainly in attitude. He very carefully does not imagine Greg's reaction, the amused exasperation, the curl of his lips.
"John," is the first thing Sherlock says. "How is John?"
Mycroft silently hands over a surveillance report: printouts all, easy to burn, after. He orders for them both while Sherlock reads. His brother is thinner, harder, the sulking burnt away by rage.
"You need to remember that it is impossible to go back," he cautions when Sherlock finally looks up from the papers. When Sherlock scoffs impatiently Mycroft holds his gaze, makes him listen. "No, understand this. He would have forgiven you for dying, but he might never forgive the deception. You need to keep that in mind."
Sherlock sneers, his face turning twisted and ugly, but he does not reply.
Maybe something can be salvaged from the whole mess after all, Mycroft thinks, but doesn't quite dare hope.
He never saw work as anything but an inherent part of its result, never a thing separate from the other parts of his life, nor from the goals it was aiming to achieve. Nevertheless he is glad that Sherlock's crusade has added so much to his daily workload. He finds he doesn't like being alone without the distraction of work any more. The house is oddly empty in all the ways it never had been before Greg's very brief, all things considered, occupation of it: just a few months compared to the years he has lived there on his own.
Mycroft has always been focussed, can work past almost any distraction, can multitask without getting distracted. His work, any of his work, does not suffer for the two threads running through his thoughts, like a faint imaginary toothache. He is worried about Sherlock, of course. He always is, it's something that has defined most of their lives, except now the worry is sharper, better informed, sometimes spiking sharp and biting.
Then there is Greg. It's ridiculous, to spend so much time thinking about a failed relationship, and a brief one at that. They had known each other for over six years but they hadn't been more than mutually wary acquaintances for much of that time. The whole affair took very little time from start to finish.
The line between working through the early hours and insomnia blurs then disappears entirely. He sleeps when his body refuses to go on or when the shadows in the corners start to quiver in warning. Hallucinations are distracting.
He double and triple checks his work, goes through all of his conclusions again and again. He could never afford mistakes easily but now the cost would be entirely too high.
His health takes a downward turn, between the missing sleep, the irregular meals and hours spent at various desks. He all but lives on a steady diet of ibuprofen, antacids and laxatives, except laxatives have unpredictable action times and if he takes enough ibuprofen to actually get rid of the pain in his head and back his indigestion gets even worse. It's utterly humiliating to be betrayed by his body to such an extent, at a time when he can least afford it. It also makes him more than a bit of a hypocrite, considering all the things he's said to Sherlock on similar topics over the years. Only it doesn't matter, nothing matters until Sherlock is back and safe.
The months stretch on and on and on. Mycroft measures time in events rather than days: the Leveson Inquiry, the Olympics, France, America, Russia, Syria, Bahrain, the coalition.
And, always, Sherlock.
He starts relishing the days when Sherlock's texts are short and mean-spirited, treasures those in an absurd, illogical fashion. Sherlock never fit into anyone's expectations, after all. Sometimes Mycroft wonders what their lives would have been like if their age difference hadn't been so big, if they had been able to go away to school and later to university together. Would Sherlock have started to resent him earlier? Would they have grown closer? Would Sherlock have turned to him for help before the whole situation got so utterly out of hand?
It doesn't matter, of course. Mycroft doesn't have time for ill-timed nostalgia; he barely has the attention to spare for the necessary what-ifs that make up most of his actual work. Still, sometimes when he is too tired or too ill to sleep thoughts crowd in from the corners of his mind. What if Sherlock had told him about Moriarty instead of baiting him with the Bruce-Partington plans? What if Mycroft had told Greg the truth when Sherlock jumped?
There are no answers, of course, but it's surprisingly difficult to stop wondering.
The text message comes almost exactly eighteen months after Sherlock's fall: a single name and a short code. Mycroft wastes thirty valuable seconds staring at his phone in something like disbelief; after all these months of waiting and worrying the suddenness of the resolution is startling. Controlling his breathing with an unfamiliar effort he makes three phone calls in rapid succession and then sends for the car.
There is no exciting stand-off or shots being fired, just a quick raid and a man being led away in handcuffs in a hood. They need him alive, but fortunately not for long.
Sherlock is waiting for him in Mycroft's own sitting room, not quite unexpectedly. They look at each other across the stretch of faded Persian rug and one and a half years.
Mycroft doesn't say a number of things. Such as: I'm glad you are alive. Such as: you are important to me. Such as: do not ever do this again, I would not survive it.
What he does say is, "You are welcome to stay the night. I trust you remember where the towels are."
"Thank you, brother," Sherlock says with something that sounds like heavy-handed sarcasm, except in all the ways it doesn't.
Mycroft nods. It is enough.
Sherlock moves back into 221B and contacts John, resulting in happy tears for Mrs. Hudson and two black eyes for Sherlock. Mycroft keeps his distance.
His workload's reduction was supposed to be a relief. Instead he watches the recordings of Moran's interrogations obsessively, unable to settle down in either mind or body. His insomnia is worse than ever now that he isn't working twenty-hour days, which shouldn't be possible but still feels like it's tearing his brain apart neuron by neuron. He tries to watch his diet, now that he has the attention to spare, but the odd anxiety won't let him concentrate on unimportant things. When he does sleep he wakes up to the images of Sherlock falling more often than not, which does not make any sense: his nightmares while Sherlock was on the run had been entirely different.
When it happens Mycroft is entirely unprepared. He is leaving the Baker Street flat, having dropped off a file for Sherlock, when he sees the very familiar figure waiting next to his car. He should have expected to run into Greg one day, he tells himself sternly. Why hasn't he?
They look at each other silently. Greg looks older, a bit more tired, his hair greyer than it was.
He looks wonderful.
Greg is also the one to break the silence. He grimaces up at the windows of the flat and turns to Mycroft. "Can we talk?"
Mycroft thinks he should claim an urgent appointment. It would be the sensible thing to do. Instead his nods and holds open the car door in invitation.
The ride is too short and every time he tries to decide on a course of action he is thwarted by the simple fact that he is sitting almost next to Greg for the first time in almost two years. Close enough to touch, except that there is a lot more distance between them than a leather car seat can account for. Mycroft still has no idea what to say when they arrive at Greg's building and take the lift up to his flat.
Greg flips on the kettle automatically and fidgets with mugs and the sugar bowl. There is a pile of newspapers on the table, everything from the Sun to the Guardian, the issues featuring Sherlock's resurrection and redemption, all the essentials of a modern-day religion.
"You knew," Greg says as he pours the tea. "Those stories must have taken some planning."
Eighteen months of it, Mycroft thinks and nods. "Yes. Not in advance, however."
Greg frowns. "I'd assumed you planned it together."
Mycroft tries to smile. "Hardly. He informed me after the fact, when I was called to identify the body."
"I'm sorry," Greg says with a wince.
Mycroft shrugs, too tired for a display of proper manners. "Sherlock can be rather short-sighted."
Greg snorts and looks away for a moment, then narrows his eyes in determination and turns back. "Look, I used to think you were upset, grieving. When you, well."
This is the conversation he does not want to have. He should leave, Mycroft thinks. Instead he takes a sip of the too hot tea.
Greg rolls his eyes and the expression is so familiar that Mycroft has to look away. "I'm not a teenaged girl, you know," Greg says drily. "You made it perfectly clear that you were breaking things off and I wasn't about to chase after you and sob into my pillow at night. I was sorry you didn't want me around, but what you said – that hurt."
It had been calculated to. Mycroft remembers every well-rehearsed word, every "only for my brother's sake, really", every "a man in my position", every "I'd assumed you had a similar lack of expectations".
"I apologise," he says now. "It seemed the wisest course of action at the time."
"Why?" Greg asks curiously, but with a touch of anger. "I may not have your resources but I could have helped. I owe Sherlock a lot more than that. Why keep me in the dark? You know I can be discreet."
Mycroft is tired, which is why he says "Indeed, but you were still being watched at that time and," before he stops, appalled at himself.
Greg is anything but stupid; it only takes a few seconds before his eyes widen in understanding. "You bastard," he says quietly. "You absolute idiot. Were you trying to protect me?"
Mycroft throws caution to the wind; it is too late for that. "You were one of the primary targets Moriarty used to threaten Sherlock," he says precisely. "Telling you would not only have put you into danger but would also have jeopardised an already hastily thought out and badly executed plan that I had very little influence on."
Greg doesn't say anything for a long time, long enough for Mycroft to finish his tea. The silence stretches and finally he stands up, fumbling a little for his umbrella. His head hurts and he can't tell whether what he is feeling is hunger or heartburn.
"For what it's worth, I apologise for hurting you," he says haltingly. "I deeply regretted the necessity at the time, and although I maintain that it was the right decision, I—"
"Save it," Greg says tiredly.
Mycroft nods and lets himself out.
Two months later, with spring finally settling over London, Mycroft walks out of 221B to the strains of Scarlatti being tortured upstairs. He ducks under the awning of the café to open his umbrella against the drizzle when there is a familiar hand on his elbow.
Greg looks different somehow, and it's not only the off-duty combination of jeans, leather jacket and rain-damp hair. His expression is a strange mix of hesitant and boyish.
"So," he says. "Fancy meeting—oh, bugger this. Do you, well. Do you want to get a cup of coffee?"