Ceramic teacups clinked and shifted on saucers like music from a glass xylophone. Paul coughed uncomfortably, Eva and Peter fidgeted, Beatrice was a picture of serenity but it was Maisie who broke the awkward silence.
"So..." Every eye in the room turned to her. "why do I get the feeling that you're more upset at Mycroft, than Sherlock, Greg?"
Lestrade just shrugged. "Don't be ridiculous, Maisie." Maisie raised her eyebrows challengingly, Lestrade glared back, and his sister childishly stuck her tongue out at him.
"I hear you're a doctor." Eva blurted to John before the silence could overtake them again.
"Eva was a nurse." Peter smiled encouragingly.
And just like that, conversation bloomed around the Lestrade sitting room. Eva and Peter were talking to John and Maisie, Paul, and Beatrice were talking to Sherlock about his adventures during the three years he had been gone.
Which left only Mycroft and Lestrade.
"So, how have you been?" Lestrade asked slowly, sipping at his tea.
"Very well, thank you." Mycroft replied politely. "Peter tells me you are quite the mechanic."
Lestrade shrugged modestly. "I do my best."
"And next thing you'll know, they'll be talking about the weather." Sherlock said idly to Maisie. Both Lestrade and Mycroft looked over at them. "Oh, don't mind us, we're not talking about you." Sherlock said sarcastically.
"Not at all." Maisie agreed unabashedly.
Lestrade rolled his eyes, then he turned back to Mycroft. "Speaking of which, I was going to ask you, where's Anthea? She didn't tag along?"
Mycroft shook his head. "Unfortunately, I was forced to leave her in London to take care of... things."
"Ah." Lestrade grunted flatly. "But, let's be honest, she refused to come because of all the excess snow." He nodded his head at the frosting window.
"She hates it." Mycroft agreed grimly. "The streets are icy and her stilletos are no shorter for it. Let's just say that the outside world is a dreary place for her right now and I was forced to suffer my brother's company alone."
Sherlock snorted. "See, there's the weather talk."
Maisie giggled. "Greg? I like your friends." Then she stood up. "I'll be right back, I just need to check on the scones Mum was making." And she disappeared into the kitchen.
Lestrade jumped up the moment she left their sights. "No offense to her, but I don't trust her in the kitchen alone." And he sidled off after his sister.
"He's going to make a break for it." Beatrice announced serenely as she took a graceful sip of her tea. "You might want to go after him if you need to talk." She said to the room at large, but everybody knew she was talking only to Mycroft.
Mycroft stood and strode out after Lestrade. The last thing he heard from the sitting room conversations was Eva urging Darren to try to say 'Sherlock Holmes' and got an adorably baffled 'Home?' in reply.
Maisie didn't even look up from the oven she was crouched in front of. "Ran out the back door." She said, waving vaguely in the direction of the still swinging door.
Mycroft walked out to find himself in a lovely little garden and saw Lestrade disappear hurriedly through a gate beside a row of rhododendrons. There was an empty kennel nearby and Mal was loping loyally by Lestrade's side. It had been a bit of a surprise to hear that the dog belonged to the Lestrade family and not the garage owner.
Mycroft frowned a little, berating himself on his own negligence as he propped his umbrella up across one shoulder and pursued slowly, testing the waters.
"Gregory." he called out to the man walking away from him, trying to ignore him. Lestrade didn't reply. "Are you just going to refrain from speaking to me for the rest of your life?" Mycroft asked, tone forcibly light.
Lestrade threw a rude gesture over his shoulder and continued walking.
"Not that I can blame you." Mycroft sighed back.
Suddenly, Lestrade hopped a little, ripping one of his shoes and socks off his feet, then the others. He tied the shoelaces together and draped them over his shoulder, stuffing his socks into their respective shoes. Mycroft walked after him, confused.
They reached a small stream and Lestrade rolled up his jeans a little before he stalked through the ankle-deep water to the other bank, obviously intent on losing Mycroft. Mal sniffed conteptuously but followed for fear of being left behind. Mycroft just walked on his respective side of the stream until he found and bridge and crossed it.
"As I was saying, I realize that you have every right to be upset at me." Mycroft said, falling into step a few feet behind Lestrade again. "And I really am sorry for trying to make you lie about Sherlock to John. I should have honestly known better."
Lestrade turned his head a little just in time for Mycroft to see him roll his eyes in high profile. He crossed through the stream to the other side again. "Yep, you should've." he grumbled, mostly to himself, but Mycroft heard it.
"And I can only apologize for it." Mycroft called out to make sure Lestrade could hear him. "I don't know how else to make it up to you." He reached a bridge and crossed over the stream. "Can you please say something, Gregory?"
Lestrade stopped and whirled around angrily. "Oh, so now we're on speaking terms again?"
Mycroft blinked blankly. "Excuse me?"
"You don't contact me after Sherlock's death, I track you down at the Diogenes Club, we have a row, you change your phone number, Anthea says it's for security, and when I try to get a message through her to you, you don't respond. I'm so sorry I misunderstood the situation and thought you didn't want to talk." Lestrade inhaled a large breath at the end of his rant. "And then you have the audacity to suddenly waltz back into my life as if nothing had happened. You want me to talk to you now, and it's sort of sending mixed signals."
Lestrade glared, Mycroft stared back, startled. Mal, possibly sensing her friend's hostility, curled her lip back and growled low in her throat.
Mycroft swallowed. "I'm sorry."
"You know, Mycroft, I'm kind of tired of you saying that. 'I'm sorry this' and 'I'm sorry that'. It doesn't really mean anything now." Lestrade had a weary look about him. When Mycroft didn't immediately respond, he turned and began walking again.
"Stop following me." Lestrade growled without looking back.
"No." was Mycroft's curt reply.
He heard Lestrade sigh and sensed him roll his eyes in exasperation. "Why not, Mycroft?"
"Not until you tell me how I can make things right."
Lestrade snorted. "Easy, Mycroft. You don't."
"I'm afraid that is also not a very pleasing option." Mycroft sighed.
"And I get no say in the matter?" Lestrade asked wryly.
"Please, Gregory." Mycroft said. "You must know how much devastation a Holmes may cause when they lose a friend."
Lestrade stopped and turned again. "Yeah, because Sherlock faking his death and you disappearing from the face of the earth was a very clever ploy to subtly 'keep your friends closer'." he scoffed sarcastically.
If Mycroft had anything to say in reply to that, he kept his council to himself guiltily. "Would you try to punch me if I apolgized again?" he asked finally after a pregnant pause.
"Probably." was Lestrade's clipped reply as he trotted off across the stream again. "You're not exactly on my favored list right now."
"Then, what would you have me do?" Mycroft asked him with a slight exasperation in his voice.
"I don't know!" Lestrade called back, annoyed. "You're the genius, you figure it out."
Mycroft was silent for a long time as he walked and crossed over to Lestrade's side of the stream. Lestrade, feeling slightly stifled with their proximety, as far as it was, moved to distance himself. "I could tell you that I'm sorry, and that Sherlock's disappearance was necessary-..."
Finally, it was too much for Lestrade and he whirled around in the middle of the stream, flicking little droplets of water. "But we've already been through that, haven't we?" he shouted angrily. "And I've already made it very clear what I think about that."
"Yes," Mycroft retorted, raising his voice a little, "and I would spin a lie so well that any lesser man would forgive me instantly!" He continued ranting over whatever it was Lestrade was about to say. "And a man of my position would have to be a glib speaker to be competent at his job and I am well versed in the art of lying and manipulation. But I am aware that you are not a 'lesser man', and have you ever once considered the possibility that I have no idea how to handle such a man other than offering my most pathetic apologies?" Mycroft questioned heatedly.
"Well of course I haven't!" Lestrade was quick enough to retort, foot splashing in an honest-to-God stomp. Like an immature little boy. "After all! You're the Great Mycroft Holmes with a 'minor position in government', you're the Iceman, the politician with a quick and clever quip ready for every situation, you got yourself into this mess so you can damn well get yourself out of it!" he 'harrumph'ed stubbornly.
There was a prolonged moment of silence in which the two remembered, in the privacy of their own minds, that they were civil and mature grown-ups who should not shout and stamp their feet like spoiled children.
That was Sherlock's job.
The tense anger spilled out of their shoulders and fisted hands hung open as they stood in awkard silence and calmed themselves. Mycroft was the first to speak.
"Please. I need you to tell me, Gregory," he said humbly, walking down the bank to stand by the water's edge. "how I can make it up to you. Because I honestly don't know what to do..." He gestured toward the empty space between them. "I don't know how to fix this. And please don't tell me that I can't."
Lestrade was silent for a long moment. "Alright, explain, why the sudden radio silence?" he finally asked.
Mycroft tensed almost imperceptively, then relaxed in resignation. "I was... afraid." he admitted slowly. Lestrade raised his eyebrow. "If a man like Moriarty would kill Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Watson, and yourself simply because you are Sherlock's friends, I couldn't bear to think what my enemies would do to you if they knew you were mine."
"And cutting off all ties with me would resolve this problem?" Lestrade asked dryly. "I don't know if you've noticed, Mycroft, but I know the risks. I knew them when I first became your friend."
"That was still when I thought your friendship was pleasant, but still unessential. True enough, there was a great risk and I went through great lengths to keep it at bay. It would've been very unfortunate if something befell you, but Sherlock and I would've moved on." Mycroft pursed his lips. "But... then I realized that this isn't about keeping you safe for Sherlock's sake anymore." he intoned slowly.
Lestrade stared in silence, wondering what reaction was socially acceptable in a situation like this. Really, what was he supposed to say in reply to that?
He settled for immature teasing. "Ha! Sentiment!" He crowed suddenly, and very loudly, pointing at Mycroft as if proving a point. "I knew you had it in you somewhere!" he allowed a goofy grin.
Mycroft stared for a moment in startled silence, then rolled his eyes in exasperation, but there were a few faint tugs at the corners of his mouth. "I was trying to be serious, Gregory." he said in a long-suffering way.
"Alright. ...Um, thank you?" Lestrade responded, more as a question.
Mycroft huffed out a short laugh and averted his gaze almost sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I'm afraid I've made things very awkward."
"Yeah." Lestrade grimaced. "So, you didn't-..."
"No." Mycroft shook his head quickly, cutting him off. "I would never." He fidgeted with his umbrella handle.
Lestrade nodded back, gazing intently at his submerged bare feet. "...Good, because I was beginning to think - um - that you... hated me." Their gazes met, Mycroft's horrified, and Lestrade's sheepish, and they fell into a fit of awkward chuckles. "Just know that all future attempts to sever contact with me to protect me will not be appreciated."
"Duly noted." Mycroft grinned a little at his own stupidity.
"So..." Lestrade prompted, kicking at the shallow water pooling around his ankles. "...what happens now?" Between them, he meant.
The truth was, Mycroft did not know. But he remained staunchly obtuse on the matter.
"Well, I know that Sherlock will demand you return with us to London and to your former postion as Detective Inspector of the New Scotland Yard, John will hope eagerly for someone to help him handle Sherlock, I'm sure your mother, at the very least, will wish you to stay, and I will agree with whatever you decide." he told Lestrade. "You have the tie-breaking vote, Gregory."
Lestrade sucked in a breath, and released it slowly. "Can I think about it?" he asked.
"Of course, I would hate for you to make snap decisions about something so serious." Mycroft nodded thoughtfully, then his eyes flashed humor at Lestrade. "Now get out of that freezing water, Gregory, before you catch a cold."
"Yes, Mum." Lestrade rolled his eyes.
"Oh, no." Mycroft shot back, a sly glint in his eye. "Save all that for Beatrice." Lestrade scowled at him. "I'll tell her." Mycroft threatened at his hostile look.
"You wouldn't dare." Lestrade growled back.
Sum it to say that Beatrice made Lestrade feel like a scolded six-year-old boy again by the end of the night.