The autumn evenings had turned cool a month ago, but that didn't stop them from enjoying the back garden. John laid cord wood and twists of newspaper in the metal fire pit and methodically started the blaze. It had taken a long time for him to get over the trauma of that long-ago Guy Fawkes Night, but he had, and he once again enjoyed a good bonfire on the Fifth of November. They would not be burning any effigies tonight, however.
Greg sighed and reached out the hand that didn't hold a glass of whiskey. His fingers were bent a bit with arthritis and he stretched and flexed them slowly in the heat. Firelight caught his silver hair and turned it pale gold. "Nice one, John."
Sherlock shifted his garden chair closer to the growing warmth. He'd become more susceptible to chill as he'd grown older, although he'd never admit it. He wrapped his woolly cardigan about him. It had been a gift from John two Christmases past.
John took his own seat, not bothering to stifle his sigh of relief. His joints ached more every winter, and his shoulder only got stiffer as the years went by. He poured himself a measure of whiskey, offered a top up to Greg, who accepted, and to Sherlock, who did not. Closer into town folks were undoubtedly whooping it up at much bigger bonfires, but here it was quiet. The hives were dormant until warm weather returned. The night breeze carried only the rustling of dead leaves and the crackling of the fire.
John's thoughts of times past took him a step further than he'd ever gone before. "You know," he said eventually, "I don't think I've ever heard how you two first met."
"'First met' is redundant. One can only meet a person once," said Sherlock.
John ignored him. He'd had decades of practise at it. "So, cough it up. How'd you two meet?"
"I caught him with his pants down. Literally," Greg said with a smirk.
John's eyebrows leapt high. "Oh?"
"It's nothing so sordid as you imagine. I was urinating," Sherlock clarified.
"Against the wall of a crack house," Greg added.
"It was a squat."
"It was a shit-hole full of junkies."
Sherlock barely paused. "Point."
Greg went on and John heard a wealth of emotions in his voice. "I was a sergeant then in the drugs division. We'd had a series of worthwhile tips on a number of dealers and meth labs. Finally, we got an unusually thorough tip on a place in Crouch End. It had a bit of everything going on in it, according to our source. We kept an eye on it for months and it certainly seemed to be the case. Finally, our source cued us hit it, so we did. Our team broke in and we snagged a meth-maker in his lab, a couple of the larger dealers, and a half a score of addicts, including him." He nodded across the fire at Sherlock. "He was higher than a kite on I don't want to know what. He was a sorry, skinny mess. Too young to look as old as he did."
"Just telling it like I saw it."
"It was luck on your part that you caught me at all. Had I not been indisposed, I'd have legged it before your clumsy lot had even lumbered through the doors."
"Please. You could barely stand up to pee. I had the dubious good fortune to be the one to cuff you, so I recall it clearly."
"It was still coincidence that I was there at all."
"Hardly. We knew you were inside."
Sherlock froze and pinned Greg with a hard stare through the rising wood smoke. "You what?"
John watched the exchange in rapt fascination: Sherlock's genuine surprise; Greg's nonchalant shrug. He sipped his drink and sat forward to enjoy both the warmth of the fire and the show.
"I just told you, our department had a tipster. Anonymous at the time, of course, but he'd been rock solid with everything he'd ever given us. The department looked to make a good score on this one, so my boss at the time took his word on the strike. Paid off for me and for you. For my boss, too, since he got promoted after that."
"That doesn't answer my question."
Greg put on a mocking interpretation of an upper-class dialect. "Brother of a mid-level government official. Son of the gentry. Terribly embarrassing if he continues on his present course."
Sherlock's eyes went wide, their blue gone practically translucent in the firelight. "It was chance," he insisted.
"It was Mycroft," answered Greg smugly.
"I don't believe you."
"Believe what you want. It doesn't matter to me. I know what really happened."
"How convenient of Mycroft to have passed away before we had this conversation. He can neither confirm nor deny your story from beyond the grave."
"How do you know he didn't make me promise not to tell you until after he'd died?"
Sherlock dismissed the question without comment. "All these years, I thought-- That interfering--" He huffed with disgust.
"You can't blame Mycroft now for orchestrating it," said John. Sherlock challenged him with a glance.
"Can't I? It's the presumption on his part that I object to. That I have always objected to."
"Yeah, but it all worked out in the end." John reached out his hand and after only the slightest hesitation, Sherlock grasped it in his own. "It's not really the presumption that infuriates you, is it?"
Sherlock relented a bit. "No. It's the fact that he was right."
John kissed Sherlock's palm, squeezed his fingers gently, and then released his hand. "There are worse things in the world than an over-protective big brother."
Sherlock said nothing.
Greg chuckled. "You've silence him, John. I think for the first time you've found something he can't argue against."
"I could," countered Sherlock, "but I'd be a fool to do it." He smiled finally and raised his nearly empty glass. "To Mycroft."
John and Greg mirrored him and echoed the toast. "To Mycroft."