The waiting room was nearly empty when Lestrade arrived at the hospital. The television had been turned off, and the only soundtrack to the early morning hour was provided by the buzz of the fluorescent lights suspended above their heads.
Sherlock was seated in a corner, eyes on the floor, with his fingers laced together and his forearms resting on his thighs. He was bent nearly double, and his head hung so low that his chin nearly met his chest. Lestrade would have assumed he was asleep, except for the dulled eyes that were wide open and fixed on the ground. Sherlock was so absorbed in his thoughts - or, as was more likely, stuck in an endless loop in his brain - that he didn’t register Lestrade’s presence until the older man was kneeling in front of him.
“Sherlock,” he said softly so as not to startle him, putting a hand on his knee. “You with me, lad?”
It wasn’t often Lestrade pulled out the endearment in public, but he wasn’t a DI tonight. He had abandoned his usual work shirts and sharp shoes for a jumper and a pair of beaten-up trainers that he’d found in the back of his closet. It was a hastily thrown-together outfit, dragged on as he was stumbling out the door after the unexpected phone call from Mycroft Holmes, but he hoped it would serve its purpose. He was here for Sherlock because he wanted to be, not because his job required it.
Sherlock gave an almost-imperceptible shake of the head and a tremor ran through his thin frame. His shoulders sagged and he tipped forward to press his forehead against Lestrade’s, all the strength gone out of his limbs.
“It’s all right,” Lestrade murmured, pressing his fingertips into the bony knee. “I’ve got you. Has there been any news?”
“John’s out of surgery.” Sherlock’s voice reminded Lestrade of sandpaper. “They say he will make a full recovery.”
Lestrade let out a slow breath as relief warmed his chest and pulled back to look at Sherlock properly. “Right. Good. Can you tell me what happened? All your brother said was that he’d been stabbed.”
Sherlock nodded slowly, rubbing his hands together as his eyes drifted out of focus while he recalled the night’s events. “He interrupted a mugging on the way home from the surgery. I...only found out myself through Mycroft; he caught it on one of his surveillance cameras.”
He raised red-rimmed eyes to Lestrade’s. “I wouldn’t have known, if not for that.”
“Don’t think about that right now,” Lestrade urged. “Fact of the matter is, your brother did see it happen and was able to alert you. I’ll talk to him about getting hold of those tapes; see if we can’t figure out who did this. But John’s alive, Sherlock. He’s all right. Focus on that.”
“Yes,” Sherlock murmured with a frown. “He is.”
“But?” Lestrade pressed, hearing the tone of uncertainty in his voice.
“I’m not to see him.”
It took a moment for Lestrade to make the connection. “Oh. Family only?”
Sherlock nodded again. Of course. That was why he hadn’t been called the moment John had arrived at the hospital, and why he was still sitting out here in the waiting room even though John was long out of surgery. Lestrade cursed himself for not realizing earlier.
“Right,” he said briskly. “Give me a moment.”
Lestrade pushed himself to his feet, swallowing a groan as his knees protested the movement, and walked over to the lone nurse on duty. He leaned in and, in an undertone that Sherlock would probably hear anyway (or deduce), dropped a few insinuations involving the Yard, the British Government, and a time-sensitive case that required interviewing John Watson as soon as he was stable - and he was stable, wasn’t he, and expected to make a full recovery?
“Come on,” Lestrade said as he came back over to where Sherlock was sitting, having secured the nurse’s reluctant permission to leave the waiting room. He gave Sherlock’s sleeve a tug. “Let’s go see John.”
John was unconscious when they finally tracked down his room, and if not for the bandages on his hands Lestrade would never have guessed that anything was the matter. The real wounds were hidden under his hospital gown and the thin layers of blankets, so that he looked for all the world like he was sleeping as opposed to recovering from major surgery.
Lestrade pulled up a chair to the side of the bed and pushed Sherlock gently into it.
“Can I get you anything?” he asked softly, bending in order to meet Sherlock’s gaze. The detective still looked glassy-eyed and lost, and shook his head mutely. “All right.”
Several long moments of silence passed; then, Sherlock reached out hesitant fingertips and pressed them to John’s hand, as though to assure himself that he was real.
Lestrade couldn't say, even now, what exactly the two men were to one another, but he knew that the term friends had been wholly inadequate for some time. He had seen how John had suffered after Sherlock’s presumed death, and had watched as whatever they had going on between them deepened after Sherlock’s return. Lestrade was certain that love factored into the equation somewhere, even if neither of them had said the word aloud.
“You should look into getting added as his emergency contact," Lestrade said in an undertone, but set against the hospital-quiet of the room his words echoed like a shout. "Might make things easier in the future when - if this happens again.”
“We’re not -” Sherlock began, the age-old protest slipping automatically from his lips before he realized what he was saying.
“Yes,” Lestrade said softly, “you are.”
Sherlock sat by John’s bed long after Lestrade had gone, processing the older man’s words.
No. It wasn’t quite good enough. Anyone could be an emergency contact, and he most certainly wasn’t just anyone to John.
And John wasn’t just anyone to him. John was everything, every point of Sherlock’s existence, beginning, middle, and end. John was yellow where the rest of the world was gray, dull, slow - except for Lestrade, who was blue, but blue couldn’t even begin to compare with John’s yellow-almost-to-the-point-of-gold. And it burned, John’s yellow, and Sherlock knew if he drew too close he would be harmed, which was thrilling because he couldn’t pull away, either. He was trapped in orbit around John, and John was everything, and he wanted to know everything about John. He hadn’t finished his cataloguing yet - how did John taste in the rain? What was his heart rate during intercourse? What did it look like when he cried - what did it taste like when he cried? How did the patch of skin at the base of his neck feel under Sherlock’s fingertips? How did the humidity affect the way his hair fell across his forehead?
No. He wasn’t John’s emergency contact, nor was he his boyfriend or lover or friend or even flatmate. He was a little of everything and, at the same time, none of everything. He was Sherlock and John was John and it worked only because it was them.
Sherlock left John’s side only once that day, and returned with a small box nestled in his pocket.
John drifted in and out of consciousness for what felt like only a few hours; when the remainder of the medicine cleared his system and he regained enough coherence to make sense of the world around him, he found out that he had actually spent the better part of the day suspended between wakefulness and sleep.
Sherlock was by his side when he woke, and he got the impression - from the state of his clothes and from knowing how Sherlock’s brain functioned - that the detective hadn’t left his side from the start. Or, if he had, it hadn’t been for very long.
“Hey,” he whispered as the hands on the clock inched toward evening, though how many days had passed since the stabbing he still didn’t know. He tried to reach out to Sherlock, but all he managed was a twitch of his fingers. Sherlock understood anyway, and covered John’s hand with his own. “Long?”
“You were stabbed two days ago,” Sherlock supplied. “It’s Wednesday evening.”
“Christ,” John whispered. “Bad?”
“Yes. But you will recover fully.” Sherlock’s hand tightened around his. “John -”
“Shh,” John hushed him. “m’fine.”
“You almost weren’t.”
“And you...” he paused for breath. “You don’t like to dwell...on outcomes that didn’t happen.”
“I find myself unable to let this one go,” Sherlock admitted. “It’s baffling, to be honest.”
“Maybe to you,” John said around a smile. He slid his fingers through Sherlock’s. “Not to me.”
“They wouldn’t let me see you,” Sherlock said suddenly. John frowned.
“What? Ah - family only?”
Sherlock nodded, and explained about Lestrade’s intervention. John smiled.
“Well, I suppose that just means we’ll have to put you as my emergency contact. Not that I’ll be needing it in the near future. Or ever,” he hastened to reassure at the pained look on Sherlock’s face.
“No?” John felt ice slide into his stomach. “Oh. All right. Sorry, I didn’t realize. I just assumed...well.”
“No, you can’t be my emergency contact - and I can’t be yours,” Sherlock pressed. “It’s not enough.”
“Sorry, Sherlock. I don’t follow.”
Sherlock huffed impatiently. “How can you not see this? It’s not enough, John. You and me, reduced to a few banal pieces of paperwork. A signature on a dotted line. It isn’t enough.”
“Oh...kay,” John said slowly. “So...what would be enough?”
Sherlock drew a deep breath. “We must get married.”
“You heard me perfectly well,” Sherlock said defensively, lifting his chin. “Married. Committed.”
“Yeah, committed, that’s a better word,” John grumbled. His head was throbbing; there was no way he could keep up with Sherlock’s thought processes on a good day, let alone one like this. “Take me through it. What do you mean, married?”
“I mean,” Sherlock ground out, “that this inconvenience will not happen again. I mean that we will have joint accounts. I mean that you will never be separated from me and I never from you. We will belong to one another in every possible way, and not even the government will have the power to intervene.”
He lowered his voice; dropped his eyes for a brief moment before looking at John again. “I mean that you will be my husband, and I find I’m...fond of the term.”
John regarded him carefully for several long moments, turning the phrases over in his head. Marriage. Husband. “All right, then. Go on.”
Now Sherlock looked confused. “I don’t understand.”
John smiled gently. “I’m a very ordinary man, Sherlock. Very traditional. I think you should ask me.”
And it took everything he had to keep from laughing, because traditional was the furthest thing from John Watson. He was a man in love with a self-diagnosed sociopath, a detective who created his own job because he could and who didn’t care what anyone else in the world thought of him.
Anyone except John.
Sherlock was considering him, very solemnly, and then said, “I believe you’re extraordinary, John. Don’t ever think of yourself as less than that.”
He pulled a box from his pocket, opening it to reveal the two rings nestled inside.
“Like you said, John,” Sherlock said softly. “You are traditional. I thought these would be appropriate for when the day comes, yes?”
“You haven’t asked yet. Skipped a step,” John said hoarsely around a mouth gone dry with surprise. He reached out and brushed light fingertips over the warm metal, entranced.
“Quite right.” Sherlock set the box aside, and covered John’s hand with both of his. “John, would you marry me?”
“We’re getting married.”
“No, we’re not,” Lestrade answered promptly without looking up from his paperwork. He heard a scoff from the doorway, and a moment later Sherlock was sprawled in the chair in front of his desk. He slouched in it, draping one leg over the armrest while he tugged off his gloves.
“I didn’t mean to you, Lestrade, honestly.”
“Oh, well, that’s a relief,” Lestrade said, feeling a smile tug at his lips. “Thought you might, I dunno, have been investigating a case or something. Or experimenting. Right, then, d’you want me to play ignorant for a bit longer so you can do your big reveal, or are you gonna go ahead and tell me why you’re marrying John?”
Sherlock blinked at him; Lestrade spared him a glance and added, “I have to say, if you’d wanted to marry the man, you could’ve probably not faked your death and he still would’ve said yes. For future reference and all. Actually, come to think of it, John could also have just asked you instead of going out and getting knifed. Saved us all a bit of trouble. Are you going to say anything here, or shall I just keep talking?”
When Sherlock continued to look dumbfounded, Lestrade bit back a comment about how he managed to strike the great Sherlock Holmes speechless and said instead, “That’s good news, Sherlock. Whose idea was it?”
He’d suspected that might have been the case. In truth, he had been waiting for news of this nature ever since John had been discharged from the hospital.
“When’s the wedding?”
“Civil ceremony,” Sherlock corrected distastefully. “And sometime in May.”
“That’s oddly poetic,” Lestrade said, remembering a May not all that long ago when he’d buried the man sitting in front of him.
“Yes. John felt that it was fitting.”
“Ah. Not letting you forget, then. Good for him.”
“I did not come here to be criticized, Lestrade,” Sherlock snapped. “I’m tired of having to explain my decisions to the two of you, and wish you would realize that I did what I felt was necessary in order to protect those I’m...close to. And I will not be apologizing for it any longer.”
Lestrade wisely knew when to drop the thread of conversation. The argument was old - stale, even - and none of them had made any headway in the time they had been having it. Instead, he said, “Well, either way, a wedding’s always a good thing. Congratulations, Sherlock.”
Sherlock grunted and nodded, but didn’t move.
“All right, out with it. What else is on your mind?”
Sherlock breathed a sigh through his nose. “John is, inexplicably, unendingly sentimental. He wishes for the ceremony to be as traditional as is possible. And, to that end, I would require a best man.”
“Ah,” Lestrade said, realizing where Sherlock’s hesitation was coming from. “Well, if that’s what John wants, then it’s best just to go with it. Small price to pay, I’d say. I know you don’t get on with Mycroft, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion you’re actually more fond of one another than you would have people believe. It’s only for a short while, anyway.”
“Sometimes, Lestrade,” Sherlock sighed, sounding incredibly disappointed, “you are truly as thick as you look.”
“I don’t want Mycroft. I bring it up because I’m asking you, you idiot.”
“Oh. Oh.” Lestrade blinked. “Well - um - are you sure?”
“I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t,” Sherlock pointed out.
“S’pose not, no, you wouldn’t,” Lestrade mused. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, contemplating Sherlock, watching as sunset from his office windows lengthened the shadows that fell across the other man’s face. His was a sharp silhouette in the growing darkness, all hard edges and smooth lines, the tightness around his mouth the only indication that he was tense.
This was the man who had pulled him back together in the year after his son’s death - the genius who, despite his erratic nature, had provided the anchor that Lestrade needed as everything else in his life crumbled and drifted away. He hadn’t been able to figure it out then, and couldn’t puzzle it through now, but Sherlock had, somehow, been there for him in a way no one else had managed.
And he could be here for Sherlock now.
“Yes,” Lestrade whispered. “Yes, of course I will. Be an honour.”
Sherlock nodded. “I appreciate it, Lestrade.”
“You’re welcome, git,” he said fondly. “Anything else I can do for you?”
“Oh, an interesting murder would be nice,” Sherlock said as he got to his feet and strolled to the door, all tension gone from his limbs now that Lestrade had given his assent. “John’s out of town for the week, and it’s painfully dull at the flat.”
“Ah, so that’s why you’re over here, being bothersome,” Lestrade said, a smile tugging up the corner of his mouth. “Sorry, mate, I’m afraid I don’t have that kind of power. I can’t just ask the murderers to be more clever.”
“Pity. Mrs. Hudson’s walls would certainly appreciate it if you could.”
The first time they were called out to a crime scene after the engagement was in March, and by that time the news that Sherlock shared with Lestrade had leaked to the rest of the team. Not a one of them was surprised, but John still felt the curious glances and whispers and noticed how the entire scene went silent whenever he and Sherlock spoke to one another. It was as though they were being studied, he realized. As though the rest of the team were trying to figure out what it was that made them work; trying to figure out what John saw in Sherlock, and trying to pick up on any outward displays of affection Sherlock might direct at the doctor.
John had never felt so scrutinized in his life, and more than once he caught Lestrade shooting sympathetic looks his way.
“Bet he’s a wild one, isn’t he? In bed, I mean,” Donovan said quietly to John as he was bent over the corpse while Sherlock prowled the other end of the room, examining the walls.
“I wouldn’t know, actually,” John said distractedly, lifting up the dead man’s hands to peer at his fingertips. “We don’t have sex.”
He got to his feet, ignoring Donovan’s shocked look and feeling the eyes of the rest of the team on his back - his words must have carried more than he expected that they would. He had found long ago that it took too long to explain the nature of their sex life to anyone on the outside and it usually degenerated into discussions about the validity of Sherlock’s asexuality. To save pain all around John’s standard answer had become We don’t have sex. He found he actually rather enjoyed the stunned expressions such an admission garnered.
“Body’s too badly decomposed to get fingerprints from right now,” John told Sherlock and Lestrade. “You’d have to take him to the morgue and get the prints once the skin sloughs off. You won’t have anything usable for a while.”
“Looks like it’s on you, then, Sherlock,” Lestrade said. “Come on, let’s have it.”
Sherlock launched into his findings with zeal, pausing only briefly to flash John a smile - the corners of his eyes crinkling, mouth quirking, blue eyes dancing - that was only meant for him.
Lestrade and John made an impromptu visit to a pub one Friday evening, John having called upon Lestrade in desperation because Sherlock was boiling something downright foul in the kitchen and he needed an excuse to escape. John found a table in the bustling place while Lestrade went for drinks, and when he returned John noticed for the first time that he appeared troubled - his brows were drawn together and he handed John his drink with little more than a nod at John’s thanks.
They gave a quick, “Cheers,” and drank deeply.
“You look like a man with something on his mind,” John commented, his eyes straying to the television set mounted on the wall. Lestrade turned in his seat so that he could see the screen as well. They watched until the match that was being broadcast became truly cringe-worthy and Lestrade was forced to tear his eyes away from it.
“S’pose you could say that,” Lestrade said softly, casting his eyes to the table. He picked absently as a crack in the wood. John raised an eyebrow; he knew that look.
“Things going all right with Dana?” he asked carefully. Lestrade’s eyes snapped to him; he looked alarmed.
“How the hell do you know about that?”
John smirked. “I’m not nearly as oblivious as Sherlock is - or chooses to be, at least - when it comes to these things. It’s obvious the way you look at her when we come to the Yard.”
He took another sip of his drink. “Plus, Sally’s got a big mouth.”
Lestrade snorted. “I’ll keep that in mind next time I see her. But no, things are fine there.”
“Really?” John asked. “You look rather down for a man who landed a woman like her. Unless...you don’t know how to tell Sherlock?”
Lestrade grunted. “Actually, no, but now I’m curious - why would Sherlock finding out be a bad thing?”
John smirked. “How does any child take it when a parent starts dating again?”
It was worth it for Lestrade’s splutter, and him nearly choking on his drink. John laughed and slapped him a couple of times on the back until Lestrade gained his breath back.
“W-what?” he stammered. John continued to grin.
“You heard me,” he said. “But all right - I’m game. If it’s not a girlfriend issue, it’s probably a Sherlock one. What’s he done now?”
“Nothing, actually,” Lestrade wheezed. He took another swig from his glass. “Look, John, about the wedding -”
“Oh, God.” John stared at him. “I’m about to get the hurt-him-and-regret-it talk, aren’t I? Greg, I promise you - all that stuff is in the past. Or, you know, we’ve worked through it. I’m - I’m not going to leave him over the whole...sex thing.”
“I’m not saying that you are,” Lestrade said. He set his glass down and pushed it aside, cast a glance around at the crowd, and when he ascertained that it no one was paying them any mind said, “I’m actually more concerned about Sherlock hurting you.”
John blinked. “Me?”
“Yeah,” Lestrade said. “John, you know how he is. He’s - he’s got this intensity...”
He trailed off, obviously uncomfortable about talking about Sherlock when the man wasn’t there.
“He gets bored,” Lestrade said finally. “He finds something interesting, and focuses on it with all the energy he possesses. It’s like - he’s like fire, John, you know this. And what happens - what happens when it isn’t enough anymore?”
He looked timid when his eyes finally met John’s again, but John only nodded solemnly.
“I know,” he said softly. “God, Greg, I - I know. I think about it all the time.”
But what he didn’t tell Lestrade was that he didn’t think he could leave if he wanted to - and he figured Lestrade knew what he meant, anyway. He was still here, too, after all. Pulled into Sherlock’s orbit, the both of them.
“I’m not saying he’s going to get bored with you,” Lestrade said. “At least...Christ, I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Just - he doesn’t do well, pinned down.”
“Believe me,” John huffed, “it’s all I’ve been thinking about lately. But I don’t think - Greg, there’s no way I could leave him. It’s just - this is...fuck, I don’t believe in this ‘one true love’ shit. Never have. But this is inevitable. It’s just...gonna happen. I’ve given him every out, which is the best I can do. I can’t - I’m not strong enough to just walk away. I don’t want to. I love him.”
“I know,” Lestrade said. “Just be careful. Watch out for yourself the way you watch out for him. He adores you, truly he does, but that’s not always enough for Sherlock. Wanting something isn’t enough to make it true. Yeah? So...just, I’m here. Here for you as much as I am for him.”
Lestrade cleared his throat suddenly and reached for his drink, apparently embarrassed at having been so open with his thoughts.
“Thanks, Greg,” John whispered when he could manage speech again. “That - that really means a lot.”
Lestrade nodded, John cleared his throat, and they both turned back to the television.
The morning of May fifth dawned blustery and overcast with a promise of rain later on in the afternoon. The air carried with it the sharp, sweet smell that accompanied spring showers and made Lestrade’s drive from his flat to Baker Street a pleasant one. He was arriving slightly earlier than expected, he knew, but he had been weighing a decision on and off for the past two weeks and had only reached a conclusion about it this morning, necessitating a quick meeting with Sherlock prior to the ceremony.
“Morning, Greg,” John called from the kitchen as Lestrade stepped into the flat and shut the door behind him. “You’re early.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” he said apologetically. “I wanted to see Sherlock about something before we left.”
“Oh, no.” John stuck his head around the corner, looking alarmed. He was already dressed for the ceremony, apart from his shoes and suit jacket, and Lestrade suppressed a grin. “What’s happened? Case?”
“No, no,” Lestrade assured. “I just wanted to give him something. Is he upstairs?”
“Yeah, getting ready still, vain bastard,” John said affectionately, tension melting away immediately when he realized Sherlock wasn’t going to be called away. “Go on up.”
Lestrade took the stairs two at a time up to John’s - no, their - bedroom and rapped sharply on the door when he reached the top.
Lestrade rolled his eyes - of course Sherlock would know it was him.
“You decent?” he asked though the door.
There was a pause, and then Sherlock said, “Come on in.”
It occurred to Lestrade, as he stepped into the room, that he had never before seen Sherlock in a suit. He wore the outfit well, as though he was born into it - it became an extension of himself. The trousers had been perfectly tailored, and the shirt was as immaculate, white and gleaming. His collar was popped, and he was in the process of tying his tie. A pair of smart shoes some sizes too big to be John’s were sitting by the bed, and the cuffs of his sleeves had yet to be done up. A suit jacket was slung over the back of a chair. And yet, even in this state of only partial dress, Sherlock looked ready to step out into public.
And though his face was impassive, Lestrade could tell that he was pleased. There was something about the lines around his eyes and mouth that betrayed his happiness, and something about the ease in his shoulders; the looseness of his limbs. Lestrade could also tell that he was slightly - well, uncertain wasn’t quite the right word. But the hand working on his tie did so with the slightest of tremors, and Lestrade would go so far to say that, perhaps, Sherlock was a bit nervous.
“Well,” he said finally, pushing the door closed, “you, getting married. Never thought I’d see the day. Exciting, yeah?”
“Don’t fool yourself, Lestrade,” Sherlock said calmly, straightening his tie in the mirror. “You’re just in it for the party.”
“Cracking jokes, now, too? Where is Sherlock Holmes and what have you done to him?” Lestrade strode over to Sherlock and pulled down his starched collar, straightening it and smoothing it out in the back. “Good?”
“Good.” Sherlock nodded briskly, apparently satisfied. He finally turned around to look at him. “Was there something you needed?”
“Yes, actually, and no, it’s not a case.” Lestrade dug through his pockets and fished out a small box, which he handed to Sherlock.
“These were my dad’s,” he said as Sherlock popped open the lid to reveal a pair of silver cuff links. “He wore them the day he married my mum, and she passed them along to me when he died. Wore them when I married Cheryl, and I - well, I want you to have ‘em, Sherlock.”
Sherlock stared at the cuff links for a long while, reaching out a long finger to trace the edge of one. When he finally spoke, he said, “You had intended to give these to Jack.”
“Yeah,” Lestrade said softly.
“And yet -” Sherlock stopped, frowning at the cuff links. “And yet, now that’s no longer an option, you had no desire to keep them. You don’t wish to keep them for your nephew; you’d rather give them to a non-family member. That’s curious. I’ve always...assumed that such items are cherished and supposed to be kept within families, even if the intended recipient is no longer able to take them. It’s traditional.”
“You’re right,” Lestrade said, plucking the two cuff links from the box and taking Sherlock’s right sleeve in his hand. He slipped a cuff link through the two holes and fastened it before moving onto the left sleeve. “And I’m keeping with that tradition.”
“But you’re giving them to me.”
“Yes, I am.” Lestrade finished doing up Sherlock’s other sleeve and stepped back. Sherlock still looked puzzled; Lestrade didn’t suppress his smile. “It’ll come to you. Now come on, sunshine; John’s waiting.”