Chapter Title: Dreaming Out Loud
Fandom: Sherlock (TV)
Fic Summary: After Lestrade breaks up with Mycroft for refusing to open up, it takes nine months and the supposed death of a detecting genius for them to find each other again. Alternative timeline and character study for Mycroft and Lestrade from pre-"Scandal in Belgravia" to "The Reichenbach Fall".
Chapter Summary: Two months later, Mycroft's nights are occupied with nightmares, his days spent dealing with his brother, and his thoughts never far from Lestrade. Set during "Scandal in Belgravia."
October 15, 2010
It was nearly four in the morning when Mycroft finally allowed himself to indulge in his allotted forty-five minutes of sleep. For the past two months, this was the longest period of repose he was able to manage; it was as if Lestrade's departure had severed the last restraint tethering him to anything resembling a normal sleep schedule.
His days and nights blurred together into a never-ending stream of work and worry, punctuated by the occasional power nap and not-so-occasional dose of high-grade, caffeine pills. And then there were the dreams.
Mycroft had never been much of a dreamer, had always thought his mind far too disciplined to require that sort of outlet. Yet now it seemed the less he slept, the more he dreamt - always nightmares, and always about that damned plane. Flight 007 seemed more and more to be his personal poltergeist, haunting both his waking and sleeping selves.
On this particular night, he was stumbling his way down the aisle of the plane, navigating only by the twin tracks of emergency lights on the floor as he clutched at the threadbare seats. Suddenly, there was a loud rattle, like some ancient piece of machinery starting for the first time, and a few of the overhead lights came flickering on.
Mycroft's gaze swept over the passengers, their faces thrown into sudden, harsh relief by the shuddering light of the overheads. It took only a few seconds for him to realize, to his horror, that not only did they all share the same face, but it was one he knew all too well: Lestrade's.
The scream which escaped him as he stared, transfixed, into his former lover's dead, accusing eyes was almost entirely drowned out by the sudden, deafening whirr of the engines. Then the world tilted as the plane began its descent down, down, down toward the cold, watery depths of its intended destination.
Mycroft felt himself tumbling down the now vertical aisle, grasping uselessly at the armrests of the seats as he plummeted past them. His body ached from buffeted from one block of seats to another, and by the time he slammed his eyes shut to brace for the final impact, Mycroft was already doubled over in pain, clutching his aching stomach.
When the pain had subsided enough for him to open his eyes again, however, Mycroft was shocked to find himself no longer in a Seven Forty-Seven headed straight for the ocean, but safe and sound in his own bedroom. Before Mycroft had time to contemplate this, however, the burning in his stomach returned with a vengeance, and he found himself scrambling ignominiously out of bed in the direction of the bathroom.
His hands were shaking as he pried the top off a bottle of Prilosec and let four pills tumble into his hands, swallowing them just before another wave of nausea brought him to his knees on the cold, tile floor.
He knew that four was too many, just as he knew that being trapped in an endless cycle of ulcer preventatives that gave him the nightmares, which in turn aggravated his ulcer was a patently unsustainable health plan.
Still, curled up miserably in the corner of his spacious, tidy bathroom, Mycroft could not bring himself to care about the long term consequences of his pain management strategy. Nor could he muster any appropriate guilt over what he knew he would inevitably do next.
Trying to ignore the continued unsteadiness of his hands, Mycroft fumbled for the sleek, silver phone mounted on the wall just above his head. Though a couple of the very select number to have seen his bathroom had questioned the necessity of such a device in the era of the omnipresent mobile, Mycroft had responded, quite coolly, that as there were times when his being reachable could quite literally mean the difference between life and death, he thought it only prudent to take every precaution.
Now was not, of course, such a time, but as he frantically punched in the appropriate numbers, Mycroft could not help feeling a homologous level of urgency.
It took until the third peal for the ringing to be abruptly cut off by the voice of Gregory Lestrade. "Hey," he said, sounding groggy, but unsurprised, "just give me a minute."
It had begun two months prior, the first phone call following the first nightmare, only a few days after the two of them had parted ways. On that night, it had been the image of Lestrade trapped and screaming inside a slowly sinking plane which had seared itself into his memory.
At the time, Mycroft had utilized everything at his disposal to try and chase away that image, from knocking back several scotch and sodas to scanning the endless inanity of late night television in search of distraction. None of it even made a dent. He would have gladly accepted the cold comfort a few sleeping pills would have brought him had he not been terrified that the accompanying hallucinations would jumpstart the whole cycle over again.
So it was that Mycroft had found himself curled up in the corner of his closet like a frightened child, extracting a burn phone from a seemingly innocuous shoebox, and dialing Lestrade's number as if his very life depended on it.
The relief which had flooded through him upon hearing Lestrade's voice - confused and rough with sleep, but so undeniably his - had been so prodigious that Mycroft had nearly broken down and sacrificed the anonymity the burn phone afforded him for the comfort of a real conversation.
Yet there was still just enough of his customary composure in place that he had remained silent, letting the comforting timbre of Lestrade's voice wash over him as he listened to the other man attempt to ascertain who could be calling him at such a late hour from an unlisted number.
The first name Lestrade had tried, however, came as a complete surprise to him. "Mycroft? Is that you?" To this day he was still not entirely sure how the other man had known it was him, but from that time on, despite Mycroft's continued silence, Lestrade had never behaved as if he could have been anyone else.
So it had gone on for the two subsequent months. There would come another nightmare, another horrifying picture he couldn't banish from his mind, and Mycroft would find himself giving in once more to his need for human connection.
There was little variation in the content of these conversations - though indeed, Mycroft sometimes wondered if they could, strictly speaking, be called conversations when only one of them ever actually spoke - and the one they were now seemed to be no exception to this rule.
"It's been a couple weeks," Lestrade began a couple minutes later, the weariness in his tone causing a pang of guilt to blossom in Mycroft's stomach beside the dull ache already present there, "I'd hoped things had gotten better." He waited a beat before adding, "I hoped you'd finally gotten some real help."
Though he never answered Lestrade aloud, Mycroft sometimes couldn't help filling in what his responses should have been. Don't be like that, he pleaded silently, you know it's not that simple.
"This can't go on forever, Mycroft," Lestrade said, "Don't you see that? Sooner or later you're going to do some permanent damage to yourself."
I know, Mycroft thought despairingly, but what can I do? If I don't take this on, people will die. Can't you see that?
Hearing only silence, Lestrade sighed and said, "All right, have it your way. It was gorgeous out there today - twenty degrees, nothing but sunshine. Light lunch - watercress on croissant, and a tangerine. Splurged a bit on dinner - chicken cordon bleu, spinach salad, pear tart. Then I finally started that Hunger Games thing all the kids are reading. Plucky underdog heroine decides to take on a corrupt, all-powerful system. You'd probably hate it."
Mycroft barely managed to sneak his hand over the phone before the teary laugh escaped him. This was always the part of these phone calls that cheered him up the most. Hearing Lestrade narrate the mundane, little details of his day made him feel, just for a little while, like everything was normal, like everything was going to be okay.
God, I don't deserve you, Mycroft thought at the phone, I know that. And I'm sorry I'm too much of a coward to tell you so.
"Well, I'm going to take that laugh you're trying so hard to hide as a sign at you're feeling better," Lestrade said, and Mycroft would have sworn he could hear the smile in his voice, "and that it's all right if I say goodnight. Just try to get some sleep, would you, My?"
Mycroft felt a sudden current of warmth shoot through his body. It was a remnant of a pattern from their time together - nicknames were only ever used in private, and only when they were feeling particularly fond of one another.
Though neither had ever quite articulated it in so many words, it became an understanding between them that the nicknames meant something rather close to "I love you." Hearing his now, after spending the last two months convincing himself that he had surely lost Lestrade forever, Mycroft found himself experiencing a rush of something dangerously close to hope.
Such was the elation that filled him that he allowed a few words to actually escape his lips, albeit only in the barest of whispers, "Good night, Greg." It was all he could manage to get out, though there was so much more that needed saying. Thank you. I'm sorry. I miss you so much.
Still, from the pleased tone in Lestrade's voice as he said, "Good night, Mycroft," before hanging up, Mycroft was able to cling to some small hope that the other man had been able to see past the words to the sentiment behind them.
Sufficiently soothed by the combination of Lestrade's reassurances and the slight overdose of Prilosec, Mycroft slowly extracted himself from his position in the corner of the bathroom - though not to return to bed, per Lestrade's advice.
Instead, he dressed in the black pinstripe suit and gold tie he had laid out for the day - with where he would be going later, he had deemed a little extra care rather warranted - and headed to the office. The ability to keep whatever strange hours he wished without comment or inquiry was one of the benefits of his vocation that Mycroft appreciated the most.
He made himself as comfortable as he could at his desk considering he had not even managed his customary two to three hours of sleep and endeavored to occupy his mind with any of the hundred meaningless, bureaucratic tasks he was required to complete on an average day.
It was in this way that he passed the few hours remaining of the night, and a couple of the morning, until his stream of industriousness was interrupted by a light knock on his office door, signaling, he could only assume, the presence of his invaluable amanuensis.
"What is it, Hippolyta?" he asked, glancing up from his computer screen to look at his assistant who, as of the previous Monday, had chosen the name of an Amazon queen as her current moniker.
She paused for a split second before explaining, "That confidential file you told me to send round to the Detective Inspector's place yesterday? He won't be there to receive it. My sources tell me that he's in Paris until the end of the week."
Her slight reluctance in communicating this seemingly innocuous, if surprising, information led him to make a most troubling deduction. "With whom?" Though he made sure to keep his expression blank to cover the wave of nausea now sweeping over him, Mycroft knew that no pretense on his part could escape the keen gaze of his indispensable second-in-command.
"His ex-wife," she said briskly, making a point to direct her attention to straightening the already perfectly arranged papers on his desk before inquiring, "Shall I forward it on to our contact at the Surete?"
"No," Mycroft replied with a taut smile and a slight sigh. "No need to bother him on holiday. Just send it by the usual address on Monday - I trust he will have returned by then."
"Of course," she murmured demurely, "Consider it done, sir."
"Thank you, Hippolyta," he said, his smile loosening a bit to become genuine, albeit still half-hearted. She only ever called him 'Sir' when she was feeling especially facetious or especially fond, and judging by the barely perceptible softness permeating her tone, he deemed the latter more likely.
"Your car is waiting for you downstairs," she continued, before typing a few keys into her omnipresent Blackberry, "And it appears that your brother and Doctor Watson are en route. Shall I tell Mr. Carrington-West that you're on your way?"
"Yes, thank you," Mycroft said, letting the weariness which was only just now hitting him seep into his tone for a moment, it being just the two of them.
"Here," she said quietly, reaching up to straighten his tie, which Mycroft realized with some dismay must have somehow become askew. After applying her efficient fingers to giving his handkerchief and lapels the same treatment, she smoothed out his jacket and declared, "Now you're ready."
"What would I do without you, Hippolyta?" Mycroft asked, and though his tone was teasing, the sentiment was sincere.
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, sir," she said, the barest hint of a smile lurking at the corners of her mouth. "You'd best be off - it wouldn't do to keep them waiting too long."
"No, it certainly would not," Mycroft agreed, indulging in a single, deep breath before erecting his customary, impervious exterior once more. No time to indulge in self-pity, he told himself firmly, not when there's important work to be done.
At least this was what he said to himself before the half hour limo ride afforded him ample time for self-reflection. Intellectually, he understood that Lestrade's week en vacance was none of his concern, no more so than the apparent resurgence of his interest in women. Consequently, there was also no reason he could conceive of for deploying an MI-5 surveillance team to keep an eye on him...as much as he might want to.
What bothered him almost as much, however, was Lestrade's now glaring omission of the information during their last phone conversation. The last thing a man trying to rekindle an old romance needed was a former paramour calling him in the middle of the night - Mycroft knew Lestrade would have been well within his rights to tell him as much at the time.
In retrospect, he supposed there were little hints that he had decisively chosen to ignore. For one, Lestrade had never before asked for a few minutes upon answering the phone - clearly he needed the time to find a secluded location. Then there had been the day's menu; chicken cordon bleu and pear tart were decidedly not on the Detective Inspector's regular gastronomical rotation. Finally, there was the simple, irrefutable fact that the weather in London had not been beautiful and sunny that day at all - indeed, it had been raining steadily since Tuesday.
The only actual result of all these ruminations, which might have been construed by a man of lesser intellect as brooding, was to put Mycroft in an even more impatient frame of mind. Consequently, seeing his brother seated on a seventeenth-century chaise in a room designated for only the most honored guests of state while clothed only in a bed sheet was rather more affront than his temper could bear.
After his polite attempts to compel Sherlock to observe what should have been automatic social niceties were predictably rebuffed, Mycroft felt that darting his foot out to catch his sheet mid-stride was rather a restrained response, all things considered. And if his tone as he shouted, "You are to be engaged by the highest in the land. Now for God's sake, put on your clothes!" was rather less restrained, well, it was clearly merited.
Even after his recalcitrant sibling had complied, albeit with great reluctance, with his orders, Mycroft was in no better frame of mind to receive him, particularly after his crack about Mycroft playing mother. "Don't be alarmed," Mycroft found himself saying, in response to Sherlock's inquiry about Irene Adler's work as a dominatrix, "It's to do with sex."
When his brother rather unconvincingly responded that sex didn't alarm him, it was pure reflex for Mycroft to smile smugly and inquire, "How would you know?"
The brief flicker of hurt and self-consciousness that passed over Sherlock's face caused the dull ache in his stomach to flare into something sharper and more painful, a symptom, no doubt, of the regret that had filled him the second the words had passed his lips.
It had been cruel, he knew that now. Even with the extensive surveillance he had constantly trained on 221b, Mycroft could only make an educated guess at what exactly had been going on between John and Sherlock on a personal level. He had little doubt, however, that the subject of sex was surely a tricky one between them, and him calling Sherlock's bluff on the subject in such a public manner can't have helped.
Ordinarily Mycroft would have had enough presence of mind to easily parry Sherlock's half-hearted attempts to insult him, but something about seeing him, sitting there with John, looking so horrifically happy as they giggled and smiled at each other like even the posh surroundings didn't matter in comparison just brought out the worst in him.
In an attempt to pay what penance he could by shifting the focus of the conversation back to its intended subject, Mycroft quickly offered Sherlock the publicity stills of Irene Adler he had procured for the occasion and continued describing the particulars of the case.
He watched his brother's initial indifference slowly blossom into interest, until it was patently obvious to Mycroft that he would be taking the case. Ordinarily it would have brought him tremendous satisfaction to have maneuvered his brother so neatly into doing what he wanted. Yet on this particular occasion, he found that he could summon no great pleasure from the triumph.
On the contrary, as he watched Sherlock dazzle Harry Carrington-West with his usual observational conjuring tricks before making a theatrical exit, Mycroft felt a strange sense of foreboding wash over him.
Such inexplicable sensations of the sort that lesser minds would deem as belonging to "intuition" rarely plagued him, but on the occasions they did, it was always as a harbinger of something dangerous to come. As he grimaced at the familiar twinge of pain in his stomach, signalling the activation of his ulcer which intense worry always brought about, Mycroft could only hope that just this once, his instincts were wrong.