Lestrade steps out into the corridor discreetly, shutting the door behind him. Sherlock's waiting with his back against the wall and his arms crossed against his chest. Lestrade leans in close to murmur in his ear. "You get five minutes. Don't misbehave."
Sherlock doesn't answer. When he lifts his chin up, Lestrade sees that his face is cold and stony, the way it frequently appears in public and almost always at the Yard. Lestrade stands back, and Sherlock slips into the interrogation room. The DI enters the adjoining observation room to watch Sherlock through the one-way window. He can hear everything said between Sherlock and Rupert Sherman via the audio transmitter.
Sherlock sweeps around the small, dimly lit room, the hem of his long coat fluttering as he moves. Sherman's sitting at the table in the center of the room, facing the mirror. Sherlock stops opposite of him, his back to Lestrade, blocking the older detective's view of the man who stabbed John.
"Do you know who I am?" Sherlock says, his voice dangerously cool and nonchalant. To a stranger like Sherman, he sounds calm. Lestrade knows better.
"Of course," says Sherman. "You're Sherlock Holmes. The man who found me out."
Six weeks ago, Sherlock took a case involving the gradual poisoning of a wealthy thirty-something businesswoman named Bea Sherman who had eight months worth of mysteriously off bank statements. She didn't know she was being poisoned until Sherlock told her. She'd been undergoing an assortment of treatments and doctor visits for a laundry list of false diagnoses. Rupert is Bea's estranged husband.
"I remember you from the other day," he says to Sherlock. "Your friend got in the way of my knife. Is he dead?"
Sherlock's jaw ripples when he clenches it. "No. Lucky for you. One attempted murder charge and robbery will be enough to put you away."
"You were my target," says Sherman.
"I'm aware," says Sherlock.
Lestrade grimaces behind the mirror-window. Sherlock's guilt doesn't need any encouragement.
"There isn't any evidence to convict me without you there to explain it," Sherman says. It nearly sounds like a compliment.
Sherlock doesn't smile. He only stares at Sherman in the eyes with relentless focus. After a moment's pause, he closes the gap between him and the table, leans forward with his hands flat on the tabletop, and hunches his shoulders like a lion crouched in wait for the moment of attack. "You don't know it yet, Mr. Sherman—but your gravest mistake was nearly killing the man with me. For that, you will pay beyond the law's ability to punish. I don't forget faces worth recall."
Sherman looks up at him in silence, and Sherlock lingers only long enough to glare. When he leaves the room, Lestrade doesn't follow. The DI bows his head, arms crossed over his chest.
When Lestrade arrives at 221B that evening, John is alone in the flat, sitting on the sofa with his legs stretched out in front of him and his computer in his lap. He looks up and smiles when Lestrade comes in, and Lestrade smiles back, barely attempting to hide his weariness. He has one grocery bag in his hand, filled with food for dinner, and he takes it into the kitchen without pausing.
"How are you feeling?" he asks John, taking the ingredients out of the bag on the counter. Chicken breast, yellow squash, carrots, broccoli, and a sack of brown rice.
"About the same as I did when you asked me this morning," says John, his tone good-natured and almost affectionate.
"Mrs. Hudson's kept you off your feet?"
"More than necessary, though I won't complain about her tea. How was work?"
Lestrade sighs and braces his hands against the edge of the counter. "Oh, you know. Slogging through reports." He wonders whether he should mention Sherman or Sherlock's chat with the man. He knows if he doesn't bring it up, John will. Sherman was only caught last night. It's the reason John looks lighter in spirits today than he did yesterday. "Where's Sherlock?"
"Haven't the faintest. I tried calling him but straight to voicemail. Have you seen him today? He left early this morning, I assumed for a case."
Lestrade scratches at the back of his head and moves to stand in the threshold between kitchen and sitting room. He looks at John with his hands on his hips and a tired expression. "I saw him. Not for long. He came by the Yard this afternoon to see Sherman."
John blinks at Lestrade with alert eyes. "And?"
Lestrade shrugs a little. "Nothing. Just—the sort of go at intimidation you'd expect."
"He can't have been in a good mood," says John.
"He wasn't. And he left right after they spoke. I let him go because I thought he needed breathing room."
"When was this?"
"After three? Maybe four?"
John checks his watch. "It's half past seven. Should we worry? No, he's probably just blowing off steam." John shuts his laptop and sets it on the coffee table, then swings his legs off the sofa and sets his feet on the carpet. He winces as he adjusts his position. It's been almost three weeks since he was stabbed. He's on Ibuprofen now, instead of the prescription painkillers he started off with. The stitches haven't come out yet, and the wound sites are still sensitive.
Lestrade crosses the room and sits next to John, their bodies touching at multiple points between shoulder and knee. They look at each other. John holds his mug of lukewarm tea with both hands, between his knees. There isn't much left.
"What's wrong?" John says.
"Have I been here enough?" Lestrade asks softly.
"For you, since you came home. Have I been here enough? Christ, what am I saying, of course not." Lestrade rubs his face into his hands. "Work every day the same hours as always."
"Hey," says John, putting his mug aside on the table and cupping his hands around Lestrade's knee. "You've been really good. Perfect. I'm a grown man, Greg. And a doctor and I've been hurt before. I don't need a nursemaid. And anyway, if I did, Mrs. Hudson's here all day."
Lestrade looks at him again.
John's face is kind and earnest. "Don't beat yourself up about this. I'm serious. I'm healing up rather nicely, and I'm not in want of food or company. It's nice to have the time off to myself, honestly."
"I know you don't want someone hovering over you every moment, but—I just don't want you to feel like I'm neglecting you or that I don't care about what happened. I do take it seriously."
"Of course you do. Greg, you're not capable of negligence. Your name and that word in the same sentence is absurd. I'm completely taken care of. All right?"
"All right," Lestrade says skeptically.
John gives him a look.
John wraps his arm around Lestrade and leans his head against the other man's.
"I'm not good at this," Lestrade murmurs. "Taking care of people. Never really had to do it. I'm not even any good at taking care of myself."
"You're a DI," John says, lowering his tone to match Lestrade's. "All you do is take care of people."
"Not the kind of care you need, doctor."
"I just need you to be yourself."
They sit together like that for a few minutes, John's arm across Lestrade's back and his thumb rubbing a spot on his shoulder. Lestrade lays his hand on John's knee, warm and steady. They don't speak, and the flat is absolutely quiet.
"I don't want to lose you," Lestrade says, almost whispering. "Ever."
John swallows the lump in his throat and doesn't reply.
Lestrade lingers against him for a moment more. "I'll make dinner."
He gets up and returns to the kitchen, unable to decide if he now feels more energized or exhausted than he did when he walked into the flat. John clears his throat and fishes his mobile out of his trouser pocket, checking again for word from Sherlock.
"If he's not back by ten, I'm calling Mycroft."
"Mycroft would call us if Sherlock was in trouble," says Lestrade, cutting open the plastic on the chicken breast package with a kitchen knife. "Or just stop by unannounced."
"I don't like it when he disappears like this," says John. "In a bad mood. No telling where he's got to."
"He could be scoring somewhere." Lestrade's tone is casual and nonchalant. "Or going one too many rounds in the boxing ring. Or he may just be on a very long walk."
"Was that your attempt at soothing my worry?"
"No. That was thinking out loud."
John sends Sherlock a text—Just let me know where you are—and Lestrade starts chopping the vegetables.
"What are you doing, Sherlock?"
Sherlock turns to find Mycroft standing near him, hands in his coat pockets, watching his younger brother with all-knowing eyes. Sherlock looks back at him, discovers he has no impulse to snap at Mycroft at the moment, then faces the Thames again and the lights of the cityscape across the river. The air is cold, his breath white and the skin of his cheeks and nose slightly pink.
He's been wandering London for hours now. At one point, he found himself suddenly at the intersection where John was stabbed, without an idea as to how he got there. There was no trace of blood. Sherlock crouched on his haunches and looked into the grout and the crevices in the stones, ran his fingertips along the ground but they came only wet with water. He doesn't know why he expected to see the blood. It's been weeks since the incident, with several rainy days, and some public service employee was no doubt charged with the task of cleaning up so citizens wouldn't be disturbed.
"You know very well," Sherlock says.
Mycroft steps up alongside Sherlock to stand at the barrier with him and look at the view. "I find it hard to believe that Rupert Sherman genuinely unnerved you."
"The only thing unnerving about him is the fact that he's still alive."
"So why the sulking? At the very least, you could do it at home, where John and Lestrade are currently waiting for you."
Sherlock's icy contempt melts from his face and he lowers his chin into his scarf with downcast eyes. His hands, in their leather gloves, rest on the barrier in front of him. His body feels stiff and aching from standing up too long. "I needed to think."
"You still haven't forgiven yourself," says Mycroft, eyes scanning the river. "Killing Sherman would give you some satisfaction, but it wouldn't relieve you of your guilt. And considering you have no way of killing him, I suggest you do the reasonable thing and cease the self-loathing, before it leads to any more distance between you and your partners."
"You could arrange it for me," says Sherlock. He glances briefly at his brother, then away. "Sherman."
"I won't. His death would serve no purpose but your pleasure, and I do not abuse my position for the sake of petty, personal favors."
"You abuse it whenever you like."
"You can't destroy everyone who threatens the people you value, Sherlock. There are too many."
Sherlock doesn't respond for a beat, then says quietly, "Do you think I'm a fool—for getting so involved with them?"
"Most love is foolish."
"But is it irresponsible? Haven't I put them in more danger?"
"You have been looking for excuses to shun human intimacy your entire life," says Mycroft. "Own up to your fears for what they are. You've been wondering whether to leave them not because it would ensure their safety but because you doubt your ability to be a suitable companion. You're afraid they'll find you continually disappointing or worse, that they'll leave you."
Sherlock has shut his eyes against his brother's cool and clinical tone, his perfectly accurate assessment. "Any person in his right mind would leave the man who almost cost him his life."
"You and I both know that isn't true. Not to mention, standard rules don't apply to your situation. You're talking about a soldier and a detective inspector with the Yard. Men who chose potentially fatal professions. One of the reasons John decided to live with you in the first place was because he missed danger."
Sherlock turns his head to look at his brother in slight surprise.
Mycroft continues to stare into the distance. "It's also one of the reasons he stayed."
Sherlock blinks as he considers the information. "If they're too willing to tolerate my shortcomings and occupational hazards, then it does fall on me to make the fair choice."
"For all the wrong reasons," says Mycroft, looking at Sherlock with raised eyebrows. "You're petrified. There are too many uncontrollable variables in personal relationships. Too many ways for it to go wrong. And you don't want to be left. You'd rather be the one to leave."
"Pulling out when the stakes are too high is undeniably rational."
"Perfectly rational." Mycroft looks away again, chin raised. "And prudent."
The brothers stand beside each other for a beat, and Mycroft pivots without warning and begins to walk away. Sherlock stays where he is and calls after him. Mycroft stops and looks back.
"Are you telling me to go?" Sherlock asks.
"You and I both know that whatever you do, you'll suffer," says Mycroft, smiling with a touch of pity. "Your mistake was becoming so attached in the first place. Caring is not an advantage—remember?"
Sherlock stares at him with wide, lost eyes. Mycroft walks down the street to the idling black car and disappears into the backseat. Sherlock watches as the car drives away, red tail lights swiftly withdrawing the color from his face.
Lestrade waits up for Sherlock on the sitting room sofa, after John goes to bed. He sits in silence, without the television or radio on for distraction, thinking. Occasionally, he sips from his glass of red wine. He's in the perfect mood for a cigarette, but he quit for good two years ago. It's only half past ten, but John's needed more sleep than usual since the stabbing. Lestrade tucked him into Sherlock's bed, where John's been sleeping since he came home because it's too inconvenient for him to go upstairs to his own room with those stitches in his side.
Lestrade always pauses for a moment or two when he goes into Sherlock's room, noticing the sparseness of it as if for the first time. He's so accustomed to John's because that's where the three men normally sleep together. Sherlock only ever uses his bedroom to retreat when he needs privacy. In comparison to Sherlock's, John's room feels lived-in, littered not only with his own things but some of Lestrade's and Sherlock's. The sheets and blankets are warmer, the wardrobe and dresser more accommodating of their possessions, the atmosphere more comfortable overall. It isn't heavily decorated and yet feels less Spartan than Sherlock's room. In fact, there's only one framed photograph in John's room: he and Sherlock and Lestrade together, smiling with a rare ease and genuineness on a day Lestrade can't remember in detail despite the fact it was only a few months ago.
"Will you come in later and let me know Sherlock's got here?" John whispered to Lestrade as the older man leaned over him and smoothed his hair. He was already beginning to fall asleep.
"Of course," Lestrade said and kissed John's hairline.
Sherlock slips inside the flat like a cat, his footsteps silent on the stairs somehow, but Lestrade isn't startled. He only looks over at the other detective as Sherlock pauses when he notices Lestrade. "You waited for me."
"Unnecessary," Sherlock murmurs with no real irritation, turning around as he pulls his scarf from his neck and hangs up his coat on the hook stuck to the door.
"Where've you been?" says Lestrade, as he drinks more wine. He has his left arm stretched out along the length of the sofa back and his left ankle resting on his right knee.
Sherlock faces him again and inclines his head slightly to one side. "Lestrade, I've already one father, I don't need a second."
"John said you hadn't been home all day, and last I saw you was six or seven hours ago. We were wondering if you were into trouble."
"A grown man can't be away from home without accounting for his every activity?"
Lestrade looks away from Sherlock again with an entirely neutral expression and not even a sigh. "Your dinner's in the refrigerator, if you want it."
"Did you shag her?" Sherlock blurts.
"What are you talking about?"
"Snooping through my phone again, are you?"
"I overheard you mentioning her to John."
"I'm sure you can deduce the answer without any verbal help from me," Lestrade says but deliberately avoids Sherlock's gaze. He never did see Ashley. Instead of texting her a rejection, he called her and politely explained that he's taken. He has no idea why he told her that instead of the standard "too busy with work." He didn't even think it through. The strangeness of it only struck him after he hung up on her. He didn't say a word about the conversation until a few days ago, when he brought it up to John.
"I don't know why I said no," Lestrade told him at the kitchen table. "I've been thinking about it for days. There's no reason for me to say no."
"Sounds like you said no because you didn't want to have sex with her," John said.
"Why not? I mean, you still want to see women. And you do, as much as you can, given the circumstances."
John scoffed at that with a skeptical look over the rim of his tea mug. His sex life has been steadily declining since this thing with Lestrade and Sherlock, though not for lack of interest. He just has less and less time and space.
"What does this mean?" Lestrade asked him, genuinely uncertain for the first time in recent memory.
John shook his head. "I don't think it has to mean anything other than you aren't interested in sex at the moment. And that's okay. Look at Sherlock, for God's sake."
"That's different. I'm not... I've always been interested in women, sexually."
"No one's debating your interest in women. We're talking about your interest in sex."
"I haven't had a shag in a year and a half," Lestrade confessed. "And before that, it was almost a year. Isn't that... A problem?"
"Are you upset by it?"
Lestrade paused to think. "I guess I'm... not."
"Well, there's your answer. You've never had an overactive sex life, have you?" John asked.
"That depends on what we're comparing it to, doesn't it?"
"I haven't gone a year without sex since I lost my virginity at sixteen." John sipped at his tea. "I think the longest was nine months, while I was in Afghanistan."
Lestrade kept his eyes on the tabletop, worrying.
The two men made eye contact.
"If you're trying to have an identity crisis, stop it," John said. "Not wanting sex with women right now doesn't mean you want sex with men, if that's what you're thinking. If you wanted to shag me or Sherlock, I think you'd know it by now, considering how much we touch each other." John put down his mug, laid both hands flat on the table, and leaned toward Lestrade. "It's okay to feel satisfied with the way things are. I think you told this girl you're taken because you are... in your heart. But that doesn't make you any different than you were before, Greg."
Lestrade stared into John's reassuring blue eyes, his chest tight with gratitude for him. He could never talk to Sherlock about something like this, but John was someone who could understand him completely.
After a pause, Sherlock says, "Are you staying here tonight?"
Lestrade meets his gaze. "I don't know. Do you want me to?"
Sherlock stares at him with his lips pressed together, and there's something in his face that makes Lestrade uneasy. Sherlock draws himself up, lifting his chin, lowering his eyes to the floor. "No," he says. "No, I don't think I do."
Lestrade's chin sinks to his chest and he looks down at his lap.
"But—" Sherlock continues, closing the space between them with steady steps. "It might make more sense for me to spend the night at yours and you stay here with John." He stops at the end of the coffee table and holds out his hand, still gloves, for Lestrade's keys.
The older man looks up at Sherlock in surprise, quickly frowning with eyebrows knit together at the bridge of his nose. "You can't be serious."
Sherlock doesn't reply, his hand still outstretched.
Lestrade gets on his feet, wine glass still in hand. "Sherlock, you're not doing this. You're not tip-toeing your way out of our lives. If you honestly don't give a damn for us anymore, then be honest. But I'm not dealing with this childish behavior: staying out all night, sleeping somewhere else. I can't decide if you're acting like a rebellious teenager or a scorned spouse."
Sherlock lowers his arm but shows no visible emotion. "Well, you and I both know how easily I can pick your locks, so I suppose if you're going to be difficult..."
"What is going on with you? I thought we had this all solved. You thanked me for shaking some sense into you when you wanted to end it a few weeks ago, and now you're disappearing?"
"I need to think," says Sherlock.
"Haven't you been thinking for the last seven hours? Why won't you talk to me?" Lestrade says. And God, he sounds like a rejected housewife on one of those bloody awful TV programs.
The DI puts down his glass on the coffee table and moves toward Sherlock. He grips both of the younger man's slender shoulders, feels the way Sherlock's whole body tenses, feels his own unexpected hurt at that reaction but doesn't let go. Sherlock looks like he wants to pull away but doesn't.
"What are you so afraid of?" Lestrade murmurs, hoping to God that John stays asleep. "One close call and you're completely thrown off? That's not the Sherlock I know."
"I'm not who I was," Sherlock says, without thinking. "No, that's wrong. I haven't changed. I'll never change."
"Why do you refuse to accept that we don't need you to?"
Sherlock looks at Lestrade silently for a beat, before finally stepping out of Lestrade's hands. He collects his coat and scarf again and disappears out of the flat just as he entered it.
Lestrade rests his hands on his hips and hangs his head with a sigh.
When he reaches into his trouser pocket for his keys, he doesn't find them.