Had you pulled Gregory Lestrade aside at any point during the first fifty years of his life and told him he would one day be a third in a ménage-a-trois with two other blokes, where nobody was fucking—he would've told you to go find your sodding mind wherever it was you left it.
Yet here he is.
Lying on his back in bed, with his left arm shoved underneath his pillow and Sherlock Holmes pressed warmly against his side, while John Watson covers the other half of Sherlock's body. It's almost like Lestrade and John form a cradle for Sherlock, which would be an entirely appropriate, subconscious enactment of their roles in this triangle. One might also, from an aerial view of the men, say that Lestrade is the anchor of late middle-aged wisdom and reliability Sherlock still needs as much as when the younger man was desperately addicted to coke and Lestrade's subtle attention. John's taken over for him there, and his attention is not so subtle. Yet as John Watson once said to him, not long ago, Sherlock Holmes leads a gravely desolate life when it comes to emotional bonds. In fact, apart from the unwanted biological connection with Mycroft, John and Lestrade are all Sherlock has ever had in recent memory.
"Do you know he's asexual?" John asked him one evening four months ago, when they met for a pint. Sherlock was out of town for the weekend on some foreign case in Norway, which is the only reason why the two men in his life could risk such a meeting without being found out.
"Well, I didn't know there was a word for it, but yeah, I guess I knew."
Lestrade's intelligence may usually pale when Sherlock's in the room, but he didn't become detective inspector without good reason (whatever Sherlock may say of the police force). Before John Watson moved into Baker Street, Lestrade knew Sherlock for five years, now seven. Not a remarkably long time but long enough to notice the consulting detective never gave so much as a lingering glance at anyone, male or female. Lestrade couldn't picture Sherlock as a sexual person. He was too caught up in his own head, for one; for another, he regarded the whole of humanity with contempt, boredom, and impatience. If Sherlock ever gave any thought to an ideal companion, Lestrade was sure the standards would've impressed God himself.
John sat next to him at the bar that day, leaning close for what could only be a confidential conversation, his arm nearly touching Lestrade's on the bar top, and he pursed his lips together before attempting to start.
"I've been thinking," he said. "About Sherlock."
At this point, Lestrade had no idea where John was going with this. For a split second, he thought he'd been asked for a pint so the good doctor could confess his shocking homosexual feelings for his flat mate. (Shocking only because John Watson, in Lestrade's view, was the straightest man he'd ever met. In all senses of the word.)
In retrospect, homosexuality would have been less shocking.
John proceeded to explain to Lestrade that he did love Sherlock, the way best mates do but with more intensity. It wasn't sexual, but it was different than John had ever felt for another man. The feelings he'd had for the men in his unit in Afghanistan came close but even that wasn't the same. Whatever the hell kind of love John felt, he knew Sherlock certainly reciprocated, as much as he could. Since John knew of Sherlock's asexuality, he could be sure that Sherlock's attachment to him wasn't sexual either. John had been chewing on all this for weeks. He and Sherlock never actually talked about their relationship or their feelings for each other—it was weird enough for John to be having this conversation with Lestrade—but he'd decided Sherlock needed more than he was getting.
"You mean intimacy?" Lestrade said.
John stared at him. "Yeah. Whatever the bloody hell that means."
Lestrade half-smiled into his beer. "What are you getting at, John?"
John scratched his head and stared down into his glass. "Before I came around, you were the only person who knew him apart from work."
"Okay, you knew him mostly through work, but you did see him when he wasn't working for you, yeah?"
Lestrade's face slowly wilted and grew somber. "On occasion."
Those occasions were all wrapped up in Sherlock's drug habit and Lestrade's divorce, times the detective inspector would rather forget. He and Sherlock never talked about any of it either. He doubted John knew specifics.
"I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that he has some attachment to you," John said. "And you to him. I can't imagine why anyone would still put up with him so nicely after seven years."
Lestrade smiled a bit at that.
"I've given this a lot of thought," John continued. "I want to see if I can make my relationship with him—more, somehow. I don't know what exactly. I suppose I'll have to see what he says, what he wants."
"Good luck getting a real answer on that one, mate."
John shot him a knowing look, but Lestrade figured he actually had a better chance than anyone else would.
"I'm sure he could do just fine with one good relationship, but I also think he'd better off with more."
Lestrade raised his eyebrows. "I'm not sure what you're inviting me to do, Watson."
"I'm not sure either. I can't be until I talk to Sherlock. All I'm saying is, I think if we could both figure out a way to give him what he needs, it would make him really happy."
God bless John Watson, Lestrade thought. There's a man to take with you into hell.
Lestrade contemplated his proposition for a moment, before assenting, though if he were honest with himself, he was signed on before John even articulated the mission. He would do anything to help Sherlock Holmes. He knew more than John did of himself that the doctor had no idea what he was doing, but Lestrade trusted him.
"Let me know when you want me to come in," he said. "And what I'm supposed to do."
Lestrade blinks at the ceiling, Sherlock's breath warm against his collar bone. He needs to go to his own flat and get ready for work. He doesn't know why he still insists on keeping all of his things at his place; John's advised more than once for him to leave some of his clothes in the closet here, so he doesn't have to worry about going back home in the morning. Lestrade just can't seem to impose that much of himself on Baker Street yet.
He closes his eyes, sighs with resignation, and pushes himself up on one elbow. Sherlock's head slides down to his chest and he begins to stir as Lestrade gently moves away. Sherlock tilts his head back a little to look at him, hand pressed to Lestrade's side.
"Yeah. It's nearly six. Go back to sleep."
Sherlock sinks down to the bed, to the warm space Lestrade's leaving behind, and rests his head on Lestrade's pillow. John wraps his top arm and leg around Sherlock more fully, now that he has the room to do so, his faced mashed into the back of Sherlock's neck. Lestrade straightens out his clothes (the shirt and trousers he wore yesterday), picks up his belt and jacket from the chair in the corner and slips into his shoes.
He pauses in the doorway, looking at John and Sherlock curled together, the bluish light of dawn creeping in through the window curtains still leaving the room mostly dark.
He goes down the stairs as quietly as he can and lets himself out into the cool air.
When Lestrade arrives at the Yard, there's coffee and paperwork waiting for him, another typical morning. None of his team are in yet; Lestrade is always one of the first to get in and the last to leave. He likes it in the mornings, when his floor is quiet and he can ease into work mode. His habits haven't changed since he started getting more involved with Sherlock and John; nobody at the Yard suspects anything. He's not sure why he ought to care whether people notice; what is there to notice, anyway? He's not shagging the other two men. None of them are shagging.
Maybe it would be more acceptable if they were?
Whatever lies between him and Sherlock, between Sherlock and John, between the three of them—there's no word for it. They themselves don't call it anything, don't stop to analyze. None of them are too introspective, much more action-oriented, and it's easier not to talk about it. Easier for Lestrade to show up on Baker Street with take-out and his brief case and fall asleep with his arms around Sherlock and Sherlock's arms around John and let it be what it is without giving a toss for labels.
Although, he has to admit, he's spent more time doing relationship talk in the last four months than he ever did in his seven year marriage. Maybe that's why he got divorced.
He rubs at his temple as he reads the latest report, feeling more rested than he was used to a couple months ago. Sharing a bed with Sherlock and John seems to help in some way. He tends to get more sleep with them than he does alone, simply because John will usher the three of them to bed at a reasonable hour and Sherlock will usually follow unless he's strung out over a case. Lestrade had formed a routine about staying at the office as late as he possibly could, go home, make himself dinner, and pore over his current case materials or research or brush up on law until he could barely keep his eyes open. Baker Street affords him no such opportunity for mixing work with downtime. Unless he counts watching Sherlock do his thing.
It's no secret Lestrade is a workaholic. He always has been, especially since making detective sergeant several years ago. Becoming detective inspector only increased his workload and his motivation to do more. He supposes himself grateful for his habit, since he would've been much less likely to form a solid working relationship with Sherlock in the first place, had he been on the job less frequently. He finds it ironic that John, of all people, has begun to voice concern for his physical and mental well-being. The doctor's a hard-worker too, and it must not be coincidence he's become deeply involved with two men who are practically addicted to working (though Sherlock errs on the side of addiction far more than Lestrade). Lestrade supposes John has simply taken notice of the fatigue indicators and his work habits, now that they're seeing much more of each other.
Jenny, his secretary and assistant, pops her head into his door and alerts him to a call waiting on line two. She also reminds him that report on the Tottenham robbery is due by two o'clock this afternoon and he has an appointment with a witness at eleven.
Around noon, he receives a text from Sherlock.
Lestrade's mouth barely flickers. He texts back:
What am I, your entertainment service provider?
A moment later:
Lestrade shakes his head.
You aren't paying me enough.
A few minutes later, when Lestrade's biting into his sandwich, his mobile buzzes again.
I would think my presence alone is more than adequate compensation.
If not, I'll talk to John about your bill.
Lestrade snorts, his mouth still full of sandwich and no one around in his office to think less of his manners. He picks up his mobile with one hand and texts with his thumb, sandwich in his other hand.
Go find out why the earth revolves around the sun and not you, or something.
And don't bollix up the kitchen. John'll have your arse.
Curse the bloody solar system.
Sherlock was skeptical, at first. John spoke to him alone, without Lestrade present, which was the smartest approach considering Sherlock was more likely to stay open emotionally with only John to consider. He may have known Lestrade longer, but he quickly developed an emotional attachment and trust in John he did not quite have with Lestrade at the time. His relationship with John was always more personal, whereas his relationship with Lestrade was a strange and delicate complexity: professional in nature, with touches of friendship and interdependence woven throughout.
John gave Lestrade a summary of the conversation afterward: he had expressed his feelings for Sherlock to the best of his vocabulary, Sherlock had been visibly touched and attempted to echo him, John gently broached the subject of altering their relationship to something more serious, Sherlock hesitated, John explained his feelings were completely nonsexual and probably not romantic either (though bugger if he could tell) and reassured Sherlock would be the one to chart their course.
"He needed to think on it," John told Lestrade, standing in the detective's office doorway. "Bit overwhelming for him, I guess. Anyway, I went to bed and left him to it. No idea if he got any sleep. Probably not."
"Definitely not," said Lestrade.
"When I woke up, he seemed to have got his head around it. He asked me if this meant I was staying with him, living with him—indefinitely."
John broke into an open-mouthed grin and bowed his head.
He made eye contact with Lestrade again. "Yeah. I think I am."
"And you told him that."
"I did. It made him really happy. So—it seems like it'll be business as usual except for the way we see each other? And affection. He wants affection."
"Yeah. Touching more. I'm going to let him do the asking."
Lestrade nodded, trying to picture John and Sherlock in a hug. It was a funny image, not at all natural to either of them, in his estimation.
"I mentioned you," John said. "In the morning. I didn't get too specific, I only said you cared about him and wanted to be friends some more off the job, that sort of thing."
"How'd he take it?"
"Well, I think? Christ, you never know what Sherlock's thinking."
"True. But it sounds like you're doing a good thing here, John. If he's receptive to you, that's a big deal. Keep going. See where he takes you."
John nods. "I don't know what he plans to do about you. Maybe you ought to say something first, give him a proper signal."
"Yeah, I think that's what I'm going to have to do."
At the end of the week, the detective inspector took his consulting detective to dinner at a relatively high-end restaurant, since he knew Sherlock's taste tended toward the expensive. It was a Friday night, John had a date he promised wouldn't keep him past ten, and the detectives had no pressing cases to distract them. Sherlock, who Lestrade had always known to be stoic and composed, appeared unsure of himself for the first time. Nervous, even. Lestrade was patient, indulgent like an old pro taking a new trainee for his first lesson.
They talked about work for the majority of their meal, which was no surprise. Work was the one thing they knew they had in common and in comparison to the black unknown of their relationship, it was also the safest territory to linger in for a while. Once their entrée plates were clear, Lestrade asked how things were going with John; Sherlock didn't give him any details beyond "good" and "fine" and had a hard time looking at Lestrade directly.
"You know, if this whole thing is too awkward or doesn't interest you, we don't have to pursue it," Lestrade finally said, during a pause in conversation. "I'm going along because John believes it to be in your best interest, but you get to decide what you want. I won't be offended one way or the other."
Sherlock was quiet for a moment, before he said, "I think John understands me in ways I don't understand myself. And he's right. I've been thinking about the situation ever since he presented it to me. I've been thinking of your part in it. I was surprised to hear of your interest."
Lestrade kept quiet, not wanting to jeopardize the line of communication. He watched Sherlock with his steady, dark eyes and waited for him to continue.
"What I'd like to know is why," said Sherlock, meeting Lestrade's gaze. "You're a middle aged man, heterosexual, divorced, childless, still have plenty of time and desirable attributes a new female sexual partner would appreciate. Forming some kind of unconventional, intimate relationship with me certainly doesn't prevent you from engaging sexually with women, but I wonder what value you see in going on this tangent."
"I'm not the unconventional type, you mean."
"No, you're not. Then again, John never seemed so either, but I was wrong."
The waitress stopped by with the check and Lestrade murmured a pleasant thanks.
"Well, you're right, as usual," he said to Sherlock. "It never would've occurred to me to take my relationship with you in a more personal direction. Mostly because you don't seem interested in people. If I had said something to you of my own volition, I'm sure you would've turned me to shreds with rejection." He gives Sherlock a placating smile but the consulting detective keeps his eyes lowered with a hint of chagrin. "But I've been thinking about this too, Sherlock. And I think John's on to something. It's good for you to have some intimacy in your life, some love, but hell, it's good for me too. Good for John. It's actually so bloody obvious, I'm surprised it never occurred to any of us before."
Lestrade sipped at his water.
"What are you picturing?" Sherlock said.
"You tell me," said Lestrade, reaching in his back pocket for his wallet. "John and I are here for you. We don't have any idea what the hell we're doing either, but we figured our best bet is to let you decide what you're comfortable with. It isn't about sex, obviously. I guess that means it can be whatever we want it to be."
Sherlock thought about this silently, then looked up at the older man.
Lestrade found that an odd question. "Because you're the only person besides my brother and my ex-wife I have any kind of non-professional relationship with. And because if I'm going to have a significant relationship in my life that isn't based on shagging, you're the only one I know who would even consider it."
They left the restaurant for Baker Street and when they arrived, John still wasn't home. It was a quarter to ten, so they expected him shortly. Lestrade hadn't planned for anything besides dinner and that conversation, which seemed to have concluded with a tentative agreement to see where Sherlock wanted to take things.
Lestrade surveyed the sitting room, as Sherlock shed his coat and his suit jacket and scarf, hanging them up. The flat felt much more like a home than his own did; Lestrade's flat was basically an extension of his office and a place he spent as little time in as possible.
"All right, Sherlock. I'm calling it a night. I'll let you know when I have something for you."
Sherlock whirled around at this, just as Lestrade was making for the door.
Lestrade paused and peered over his shoulder at the other man. Sherlock stood still, almost twitchy, clearly wanting something but hesitating.
"Will you—will you hug me?"
Lestrade straightened and shut the door again. He crossed the room to stand in front of Sherlock, who shifted on his feet as if he were anticipating a punch to the face. Lestrade held steady, gave him a nod when Sherlock glanced up at his face, and lifted his arms out just enough to leave room for Sherlock to circle his own around Lestrade's torso. Sherlock, a few inches taller than Lestrade, slid easily into Lestrade's space once he mustered the courage. With his right foot in between the older man's feet, his arms hovered uncertainly in the air for a few moments before Lestrade dared to lift his right hand up to touch Sherlock's back, pressing him closer. Sherlock completed the hug, tucking his elbows against Lestrade's sides, and Lestrade positioned his own arms around Sherlock's skinny frame. He rested his chin on Sherlock's shoulder, and they stood together in a quiet, tentative embrace.
Why did he want to do this? It was the strangest decision he'd ever made. He didn't even have words to describe what he and John and Sherlock were all about to attempt with each other, yet it felt right and easy and even logical.
Lestrade spent no time contemplating his own lack of a family or emotional intimacy; he never asked himself if he felt loved or even cared for. He just did his job every day to the best of his ability. He had built his life around his career and now, at fifty, it seemed a little late to wonder if he had made a mistake in neglecting the relationship area. He was alone, and he knew it. He didn't think he was lonely, but maybe he hadn't been paying enough attention to notice.
What he knew, as he stood there with Sherlock in his arms in one of the most intimate hugs he'd ever experienced in his life, was that he was alone and Sherlock needed to feel love and John did too.
Why shouldn't they have it?
He made no move to break out of the hug, letting Sherlock decide how long he wanted it to continue. Sherlock stayed still, hands warm on Lestrade's back, until they heard John letting himself into the building and calling out for Sherlock on his way up the stairs. Sherlock stepped away from Lestrade just before John let himself into the flat.
"Oh. Lestrade, you're still here."
Lestrade nodded. "I was just on my way out."
"Are you sure? You're welcome to stay, I'm just going to make some tea."
Lestrade looked at Sherlock, who was entirely unreadable and staring at some point on the floor before the fireplace, right hand on his hip.
"Some other time," the detective inspector said.
He decided to walk part of the way home, and he found himself smiling as he did.
On his way out of the office, Lestrade gets a call from John.
"The kitchen looks like an absolute nightmare," he says. "I'm making him clean it up but there's no way we're cooking in there tonight. Want to meet us for dinner? I was thinking some good pub food."
"Yeah? I could go for a burger," says Lestrade, smiling. "Meet you there."
Sherlock has been staring at the silver ball for hours. He arrived at Bart's with the package at a quarter to eight in the morning, with the entire building and indeed, the entire block and surrounding blocks on all sides evacuated on order of the SO19 squad who still surrounds the premises at this moment; it's now past nine. The tennis-sized ball sits in the groove of a large square platform; the ball is shiny and reflective, heavy according to Sherlock, who is the only one willing to handle it. Somebody delivered it to Baker Street this morning with a cheerful note indicating the ball was a gift and not a toy at all but a bomb of unknown power.
Naturally, Sherlock's been playing with it all day.
"Can we go home now, please?" says John, who's been dutifully watching over his flat mate here in the lab since he got off work at five. "I'm starving."
"Why hasn't it gone off?" says Sherlock, blue eyes intent on the object. He has his hands braced against the countertop of the island in the middle of the room and his leaning down with his face level at the ball. He looks like a cat.
"Who cares? You best be on your knees thanking Christ it hasn't gone off, you crazy git." John glances at Lestrade, who's leaning up against an adjacent counter and watching Sherlock as well. "I don't want to think about all the chemicals in here reacting with the explosives in that thing. You're not bringing it with us, Sherlock. Do you hear me? You're giving it over to the bomb squad or I'll bloody knock you out and do it myself."
Sherlock glares at John briefly, before refocusing. "He wouldn't give me a dud. It's going to go off, it has to go off. But when? And how? Is he controlling it? It doesn't appear to be timed, unless the timer is a part of the internal mechanism but it's highly unlikely. A bomb this small, this powerful, there's no room in it except for the actual explosives. Unless its technology is far more advanced than I imagine."
"Do you understand this could kill you? That thing goes off, we're all dead. You know that, don't you? No, wrong question: do you care?"
"No one's asking you to stay," Sherlock says, raising his voice as he straightens.
Lestrade sees the way John uncrosses his arms and steps forward in Sherlock's direction, the two men like birds about to enter into a fight. John's lost it. Lestrade can recognize the signs.
"Oh, of course, I'll just go home and make myself dinner while you get blown up because you care more about your damn puzzles than your own life! Do you have any idea how worried I've been all day? I could barely do my job, I was too wound up expecting to get a call saying my idiot partner had killed himself and taken our flat with him."
"Understanding why I had a sophisticated bomb anonymously delivered to my flat that hasn't detonated after fourteen hours and discovering the implications of said bomb are a bit more important than your peace of mind, Doctor!"
"All right, both of you shut up," says Lestrade evenly. Sherlock stares at John with resolute coldness, an astounding pride and insensitivity in his posture, while the heat of John's anger is almost palpable in the air. Lestrade glances from one to the other.
"Sherlock," the detective inspector says in his best authoritative, professional voice. "You've had all day to study this thing, whatever it is. You're done now. I let you have far more time with it than any sane person would allow. Christ, I managed to get the whole place emptied out just to appease you. We're calling the officers in and letting them take it from here."
Sherlock makes eye contact with Lestrade and looks reluctant and rebellious but doesn't actually protest. Lestrade can see his thought process. Sherlock doesn't understand why John's upset or why he should have to give up the bomb when he himself doesn't have any personal problem with it. Lestrade has noticed this a few times in the last four months, since they started deepening their relationship. Sherlock's weakness is his inability to comprehend other people's emotions, particularly when those emotions come into conflict with Sherlock's mind. John's spectacularly good with Sherlock, better than anyone on the planet could be, but even he has his limits. Lestrade has a natural calm about him the other men lack—and he's been reading some of those old relationship books his ex-marriage counselor gave him and his wife before they divorced, God help him.
"John's scared right now," Lestrade says, holding steady to Sherlock's gaze. "Do you get that? You may not be scared, but he is. I'm a bit uncomfortable myself, honestly. It's not just about self-preservation. If it were, he and I wouldn't be here right now. We're afraid for you, which is a realistic fear given the circumstances. You could die. That matters to us."
"The bomber gave this to me, Lestrade. It's much more than explosives, it's a message. And if I don't figure it out, the consequences could be far greater than my death. What's your bomb squad going to do with it? What if they blow themselves up? Are you going to take responsibility for it?"
"Yes." That came out far quicker than Lestrade could've anticipated. "Yes, Sherlock, I would. I understand that risk, but explosive officers exist for precisely this kind of situation. They're equipped to handle it, and even if they're not, you bloody well aren't either. I'd rather take responsibility for a failed deactivation than for civilian lives lost due to my own absurd permissiveness with you."
Sherlock visibly shrinks a little. John has calmed down too. Lestrade watches his consulting detective for a moment, gauging his facial expression and body language. He makes sure that he has Sherlock's full attention, his own eyes serious and firm.
"If anything happened to me or to John, you would be upset. We wouldn't endanger ourselves without taking your feelings into account; we're asking you to return the favor."
Sherlock holds eye contact with Lestrade, before sliding his gaze over to John, who appears to have been subdued by Lestrade's peacemaking efforts. Sherlock looks at the detective inspector again and gives a reluctant nod.
Lestrade nods back and leaves to notify the squad.
Lestrade and John, in the early days subsequent to their initial talks with Sherlock, wrestled with what exactly they meant to achieve within their relationships. They didn't have adequate language or any frame of reference, they didn't have examples to follow, and they didn't even have a clear concept of what they personally wanted. They knew they had desire for Sherlock and that Sherlock had desire for them. Their desire wasn't sexual in any way. They wanted to be closer, to feel more intensely bonded, but how was beyond any of them to describe. The method by which they could achieve this also remained ambiguous. It had to be more than just spending time together: John and Sherlock already lived together, for God's sake. They couldn't spend any more time together even if they wanted. At another secret meeting in a pub, John and Lestrade met to discuss the problem of these ambiguities.
"It must come down to vulnerability," Lestrade suggested, a quarter of the way through his pint.
"What do you mean?" said John.
"I mean, not quantity but quality. It isn't how much time we spend together or how much we talk to each other—it's the kind of talk. We have to—deal in feelings."
John stared at him.
"God, that sounded gay, didn't it?" Lestrade said, which made them both chuckle slightly.
"So, give me an example," said John.
"Well—there's the obvious bit: we tell him how we feel about him, he tells us how he feels about us, and after that, I guess we expand to how we feel about everything."
"Christ, I don't know if I can do that."
"You're telling me, mate."
"Is this how marriage works? Because if it is, I'd rather bloody well not."
"Don't ask me, I failed the one time I tried."
Lestrade takes a drink.
"How are we gonna get him to do all this?" John said. "Sherlock Holmes isn't exactly in touch with feelings."
"I'm going to go with lead by example. He'll get the hang of it, the more we practice."
John shook his head. "There's gotta be something else. I mean, talk is important, yeah. But you said it's how we talk, so that must mean how we spend our time is up for revision too."
Lestrade considered this a moment. "How we spend our time is already accounted for, mostly. We spend so much bloody time working…."
"I almost think that's how it should stay, don't you? I mean, Sherlock is Sherlock when he's solving a case. He hates downtime. And you don't seem to be too keen on it yourself."
Lestrade grins slightly, into the lip of his glass. "Well, we know he wants affection."
"I could spend more time with him, I suppose. If that's what he wants. I don't know what the protocol here is, how much he wants me around. He seems to like having you as his only sidekick on a case, probably wouldn't appreciate my crashing his party."
"Yeah, I don't think we should mix professional and personal too much."
"That's more of an issue between me and him. We work together because we have to, he works with you because he wants to."
"Maybe you could come over more often, when there's not a case. He needs the entertainment then anyway." John pauses. "We could be overthinking this."
"I think we are."
"I don't even know what I want. Do you?"
"Not the faintest."
"Just when I'm about to give up trying to imagine, I think maybe I'm afraid to imagine?"
John and Lestrade look at each other, and Lestrade shrugs.
"Bloody hell," said John. "It just occurred to me I've spent my whole life half-assing all my relationships."
Lestrade snorted. "Do we owe Sherlock a thank you?"
"Even if we do, I'm not giving it to him."
As it turned out, the emotional substance gained in their relationships wasn't something they could've defined in the beginning. Lestrade finds, after four months, that the most significant change is indeed the feeling. He can feel his relationship with Sherlock deepening. He can see Sherlock's relationship with John deepening. He couldn't give an outsider the details, not the important ones. It is a swelling in Lestrade's chest he can only identify as love, cautious and bizarre. He can feel it growing, like a plant or a painting, slow and steady. He can see, almost feel, that same growth in John and in Sherlock.
Not much has changed on the surface: Lestrade spends some of his free time at Baker Street but not all of it. He and John and Sherlock are becoming more adept at communicating what they want and why and how they feel. They've become a bit softer with each other, more expectant. The touching is certainly the most obvious development: Lestrade thinks four months is a rather short period of time in which to progress from hugging to bed sharing.
Not that anyone's complaining.
They arrive at Baker Street safe and whole, after a silent cab ride Lestrade chose to take with Sherlock and John. Once inside, John and Lestrade shed their jackets and take a breath in the sitting room but Sherlock heads straight for the kitchen and begins to pile his scientific equipment in the sink for washing. The glassware, despite Sherlock's mindfulness of it, makes noise as he thrusts it together.
John stands in the threshold between kitchen and sitting room, hands on his hips, watching Sherlock. Lestrade stands a few feet behind John, watching the two of them.
"Sherlock," says John. He's ignored. "Sherlock. Would you please stop?"
Sherlock stops abruptly, staring at John with the white light of the overhanging lamp turning his skin almost translucent.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you," John says.
Sherlock doesn't answer.
"You can be angry about the bomb if you want, but I hope you'll at least forgive me for yelling."
Sherlock sighs, right hand on his hip as he rubs at his forehead with his left. "I'm not angry. Not at you. I'm frustrated."
John stares at him and doesn't speak, and Lestrade watches.
"I'm sorry I—caused you distress. Both of you. I appreciate your patience," says Sherlock.
John nods, as Sherlock meets Lestrade's eyes over John's shoulder.
"Can we forget about it?"
"Yeah," says John.
"It's late to order take-away; I don't suppose you're in the mood to eat out."
"I'm tired," says John. "But hungry."
Lestrade walks up to the kitchen and stands alongside John, leaning against the wall separating the two rooms. "I don't mind making some pasta, if that's all right with you. And don't worry, John, I'll handle the tea."
John breathes in relief and thanks him, retreating into the sitting room. Lestrade catches Sherlock's eye again.
"Will you give me the kitchen?"
Sherlock nods and heads out but stops next to Lestrade, hand pressed to the older man's shoulder. They look at each other closely.
"Thank you," says Sherlock. "For giving me a chance at it."
Lestrade finds himself pleasantly caught off guard. "You're welcome."
He sets out to cook and brew tea, and by the time he's finished and walks back into the sitting room, Sherlock's curled on the sofa with his head in John's lap as the two men watch telly. The three of them eat at the table in the kitchen, on the space left clear next to the remnants of Sherlock's recent experiments. They drink more tea in pensive silence.
When they make it to bed, Sherlock holds John protectively, the two of them facing each other, and Lestrade fits his body behind Sherlock's.
It is a deep sleep.
Lestrade starts keeping a journal. He decides his relationship endeavors with Sherlock and John require some concentrated introspection on his part, not to mention the working out of details and problems on paper. He doesn't mention this journal to anyone, nor does he suggest Sherlock and John keep their own. He simply stops by the bookshop nearest his flat on his way home one evening and buys himself a large moleskine with ruled paper and begins to write in it, not every day but whenever he feels compelled to record an important feeling or change in the relationships or when he's trying to make sense of his own experience.
I never thought I'd be here.
But it isn't a bad place to be.
He keeps the notebook in his briefcase, which is the only way Sherlock won't notice it, and writes in it when he's at work or in his flat.
I started out thinking—didn't know I was thinking it but I was—that I'd be a kind of third wheel to Sherlock and John. I didn't see a problem with that. Better third wheel than nothing at all, yeah? It's remarkable that John thought to include me in all this; he and I weren't exactly best mates at the time, after all. I guess it was more for Sherlock than anything, which is fine. Sherlock was my primary reason for getting on board with this too.
He writes with relatively cheap, black ink gel pens: smooth and dark without bleeding through the paper. His handwriting is blocky and legible, refined years ago in service of his job.
It may be too early in the game to tell, but I don't think that's where this is going. Sherlock and John do have their own relationship apart from me, it's inevitable, since they're flat mates and Sherlock brings John along on cases whenever he can. It's a very deep relationship, in its own right. I'm a little bit astounded really, by how much is there between them.
I think Sherlock's proving me wrong about my status, though. I don't see him as much as John, but I do see him a hell of a lot more often than before. I'm always tempted to ask him, whenever he seeks out attention or affection, why he doesn't just go to John—but I guess I shouldn't shortchange myself.
He needs me. I have to wrap my head around that. Sherlock Holmes needs me. I don't want to be too presumptuous and say he loves me…Too soon for that. But he cares. That alone is unbelievable.
I'm trying to figure out if I love him. I know if I don't now, I'm going to later.
He stops and thinks for a moment, sitting at his desk in the sitting room, the desk lamp putting out the only light in the whole flat. He has the sleeves of his shirt rolled to the elbows and the nicotine patch on the inside of his right arm shows.
I wonder what will become of my relationship with John. We're closer than we were. Friends now, apart from Sherlock, even though Sherlock was the thing that brought us together. What do I want from him? What does he want from me? We never really negotiated where we stood with each other.
I'm open to building things with him, the same way I am with Sherlock. If there's three of us, we might as well make full use of each other.
On that note, he closes the moleskine and goes to bed.
The bomb was in fact a dud.
This pisses off Sherlock to no end—and intrigues him too.
"Apparently, the bomb was never set to go off," says Lestrade, two mornings after the delivery. He meets Sherlock in Bart's lab again, where the consulting detective has been trying to do more research on the possible origins of the ball. The SO19 explosives specialists dismantled the ball and found it fully functional and capable of perturbingly immeasurable damage, but it was never "turned on." Lestrade watches as an angry Sherlock paces, mumbling to himself. "You're lucky. We all are."
Sherlock sneers at him, and if Lestrade were less accustomed to his antics or more sensitive, it might've hurt his feelings. Instead, he regards Sherlock coolly, his arms crossed.
"There's going to be another," says Sherlock. "That's the only thing this could mean. It was a warning."
"Possible," says Lestrade, nodding. "Or maybe he was just screwing with your head."
"Don't make light of the man capable of constructing or procuring such a bomb."
"You'd like it if he sent you another one, wouldn't you? Regardless of the fact, by your own theory, a second one would result in an actual explosion."
"It's not a matter of what I would enjoy, Lestrade. It's logic. You have any idea what that bomb is worth? Someone wouldn't just drop it off without detonating it, for no reason. There will be another."
Lestrade lowers his head, choosing not to argue.
"I want you to leave," says Sherlock.
Lestrade looks up. "Excuse me?"
"You and John, I want you out of London."
The detective inspector scoffs. "Oh, sure, I'll just go on holiday right away."
"I'm serious, Greg."
And Sherlock is very serious. He wouldn't use Lestrade's first name, otherwise. The two men hold eye contact, and Sherlock's blue irises the color of pale glass are full of intensity.
"I don't care where you go, just get out. And don't come back until I've handled this."
"Sherlock, besides the fact that I'm a detective inspector with pressing duties who can't afford to be away from my work, why the hell would you think I'd leave you here to handle another bomb threat on your own? Are you mad? Of course, you are, but really—be reasonable about this."
"What could be more reasonable? Two days ago, you and John were down my throat about staying in harm's way, now you want to knowingly put yourself in it? This has nothing to do with you or him. It's my challenge. Your presence will only create more unnecessary obstacles for me. I can't afford to worry about you, I need to focus."
"Well, too bloody bad," says Lestrade, calm and light. "John and I have jobs too. And more importantly, we don't run and leave one of our own behind. You should know better than that about us."
Sherlock's nostrils flare, he turns away, turns back, and slams his hand down on the nearest countertop. "Damn you, why do you insist on making my life difficult?"
Lestrade uncrosses his arms and steps up to Sherlock. He takes the other man's face in both his hands, feels the pale skin cold in his palms, and looks at Sherlock firmly.
"What you're feeling right now is fear. It's what John felt when he yelled at you. You're afraid he and I will come to harm, and that is a reasonable fear. But we're not leaving. Even if we could, we wouldn't. You don't abandon someone you love."
Sherlock's looking at him with an openly bewildered expression, his eyes glassy and his mouth slanted down at the corners. Lestrade has hardly ever seen him afraid before, and considering what kind of life Sherlock Holmes has led, the rarity of fear is remarkable. And now that Sherlock is afraid, it isn't for himself—but for John and Lestrade. So much for all that sociopath rubbish.
"Lestrade." Sherlock wraps his hands around Lestrade's wrists. "Please."
"I can't protect you."
"When I want protecting, I'll ask for it. I think I can say the same for John."
Sherlock pulls away from him, defeated, walking away down the length of the room and stopping at the end. He rests both hands on his hips and hangs his head, his back to the detective inspector, and Lestrade watches him for a moment before turning and letting himself out.
Lestrade had no intention of going to Baker Street in the evening, but John texts him and insists he come. I could use your help with Sherlock, the doctor says. When Lestrade arrives at 221, Mrs. Hudson lets him in and warns him Sherlock's in a state. The door to 221B is halfway open, Lestrade sees as he ascends the stairs. When he reaches the doorway and looks inside, he finds the sitting room in extra disarray and no sign of anybody.
John appears from the kitchen. "Oh, good, you're here. He came home before I did and tore up the whole damn place. Said he needed to make sure the bomber hadn't already planted a second one. I've been trying to straighten up."
"Where is he?"
"He said he needed air. Went out for a walk, I guess."
Lestrade and John both look around them at the room, and the detective inspector asks if Sherlock updated John on the situation. John nods and says he knows the bomb delivered was never activated and Sherlock believes a second is on the way.
"Do you think he's right?" says Lestrade
"He usually is. I'd love to think he's just being paranoid this time but—we can't afford to assume the best."
"When I briefed him this morning, he wanted us to leave London."
John looks genuinely surprised. "What?"
"Yeah. Got rather upset at me when I told him he was out of his mind."
"He thinks he's going to get another bomb and he wanted us to leave?"
Lestrade nods, hands in his jacket pockets. John throws his hands up and turns around into the kitchen. Lestrade slowly moves into the threshold between kitchen and sitting room, watching John clear things up in the kitchen. There are dishes in the sink and some of Sherlock's lab equipment. John's upset: Lestrade can tell by the way his face is set as he moves around with a quickness of anger, the downturn of his mouth and the draw of his eyebrows. Lestrade leans against the separating wall, arms crossed, and watches him until John stops moving and looks up at him.
"How could he ask that?"
Lestrade shakes his head. "He's scared. Scared we'll be caught in the middle. Why else would he ransack your flat while you were out? It's not like he cares about his own life."
John looks at him darkly, then scrubs at his face with both hands and sighs. "That's why I can't feel good knowing he's scared for us, Lestrade. Aside from the fact that I'm not a bloody coward, he doesn't care about his own life. He never has. He'll kill himself for the answer to a question, and I just can't—"
Lestrade steps forward and rounds the table to where John stands, taking him by the shoulders and looking at him.
"I can't stand by and watch him die," John says, shaking his head and meeting Lestrade's eyes with his own.
Lestrade pulls him into a hug, both arms wrapped snugly around him, and John doesn't hesitate to return the gesture, his face half-hid in Lestrade's shoulder. Lestrade's left hand finds its way to the base of John's neck, and they are both solid against each other.
"He's safer with us around," the detective inspector says quietly. "If he doesn't care about himself, we'll care enough for him."
Lestrade's mobile begins to chirp, sounding like a little bird and he stalls for two rings before pulling out of the hug and answering.
It's Donovan. Sherlock's met the bomber.
When John and Lestrade arrive at the scene, the area's already blocked off with police cars and yellow tape and policemen keeping the surrounding crowd from getting too close. Sherlock and the bomber struggle on the flat rooftop of a twelve story building; Lestrade and John can see them as they push through the crowd and coppers and crane their necks up to see.
John clutches at Lestrade's coat sleeve as they watch and says the detective inspector's name softly. Do something, he means. What are we going to do?
Donovan makes it to Lestrade's right side and he looks at her, asking if the bomber's armed.
"We have reason to believe he's got explosives. Sherlock texted."
"He didn't say anything to us," Lestrade says.
"SO19 should be here any minute, but without them, the rest of us didn't know what to except block off the area. We don't know how powerful the explosives are."
Lestrade nods several times. "I get it, you don't have to defend yourself." He looks back up at the roof and sees Sherlock's curls flapping around in the wind as he wrestles with the unidentified man. John lets go and heads toward the building.
"We have to help him!"
"Wait for the squad!"
John ignores him, running into the building, and it doesn't take Lestrade more than a few seconds to follow. John's a few long strides ahead of him and pushing the elevator button too many times and shuffling back and forth on his feet and the elevator doors open with a ding! And Lestrade slides in after him and the ride takes too long, twelve stories, any moment, they could go up in flames and force, they might be too late, but the doors open and they're rushing up the stairs to the roof and Lestrade can hear John breathing fast and his own breathing and the door opens and light floods into the stairwell and they can see London and Sherlock and the bomber with his bomb in hand flung high above his head, another silver ball, and Sherlock's white hand grasping for it but out of reach and the bomber's got his free hand in Sherlock's coat and they're going to fall together, except John throws himself at the two men, wraps his arms around Sherlock from behind and wrenches him free and Lestrade's on the bomber without knowing how he got there and throwing him down onto the roof and wrestling for that silver ball and Sherlock's yelling his name and then he has it, cool and smooth in his hand, and he pulls and rolls away free from the bomber and stops still, lying on his back with the bomb held against his chest. His eyes are shut as he catches his breath and when he opens them again, the sky above is overcast, the clouds metallic gold and gray.
"Don't move!" John shouts, sounding every bit a soldier. Lestrade can't see him from where he lies, staring straight up, but soon Sherlock's at his side, looking flustered and asking him if he's all right. Lestrade just stares at him for a bit, takes in the white face and blue eyes and dark hair and the way Sherlock's breathing fast, and he can't think of anything.
The SO19 squad pour onto the roof from somewhere behind Sherlock with their masks and their suits and their big guns and Sherlock helps Lestrade up into a sitting position with the bomb still at his chest. John's pointing his gun at the bomber, staring him down with the face of an army dog. One of the officers swoops down onto Lestrade's right side and takes the bomb from him, and Lestrade suddenly feels like he might pass out. He sags against Sherlock, who takes him in both arms and inside his coat against his chest. They stay like that for a few moments, Sherlock murmuring to him words he can't decipher, until the officers start to usher them up. Sherlock pulls him to his feet and Lestrade leans heavy against him, arm still snaked around Sherlock's torso inside of his coat.
Now, John's next to him, taking him by the arm with a strong grip and pulling him along with Sherlock, back inside the building with the SO19 officers surrounding them and letting them through first.
Inside the elevator, the three of them breathe hard and lean against the rails and the walls as they are slowly lowered to the ground floor.
"Christ," John says, the first one to speak.
And Sherlock breaks into an open-mouthed grin.
"This is going to give me a heart attack one day," says Lestrade, sagging against the center rail with both hands. Sherlock hooks his arm around Lestrade's neck and touches his forehead to Lestrade's temple, other hand sweeping up to rest on Lestrade's chest.
Lestrade skips work the next day.
When we got home, I watched as Sherlock pressed a kiss to John's forehead, his hands gripping the doctor's jacket lapels, then wrapped his arms around John's neck and the two of them hugged each other for a long, intense moment. Sherlock keeps surprising me with his emotions. I suppose I'm surprised at all of us.
When he let go of John, he came to me and hugged me with equal intensity and whispered my name as he did. And I found myself shutting my eyes and trying to feel that hug with everything in me and I think I must've.
I think I love him.
He is surprised, as he wakes up late in the morning, to find Sherlock getting back into bed with him and wrapping arms and legs around him pressed against his back. He feels Sherlock's warm breath on his neck and sees the sunlight coming in through the window across from him.
"Never do that again," says Sherlock.
"Put yourself in harm's way for me."
Lestrade lies there in the warmth and security of Sherlock's arms, in John's bed, and he knows he can't go back.
"When you stop being you, I'll stop being me," he says.
So this is the Saturday I wanted for myself but since I couldn't make it happen, I gave it to them. Totally gratuitous physical affection chapter.
Recommended listening: Damien Rice's "Volcano."
A few weeks after the bomb incident, the men wake up to the bluish grey light of an overcast sky and rain against the windows; the weather report, which Sherlock quickly checks on his mobile, confirms the low temperature. He doesn't have a case at the moment, having discovered all there is to know about the mysterious bomber and worked through a new and separate case afterward. Lestrade has nothing outstanding that would demand overtime, either. John leads the two of them downstairs to the sitting room in silent agreement to spend the day homebound.
Lestrade builds a fire in the fireplace, while John sets to making a late breakfast, tea for himself and Sherlock and coffee for Lestrade. Sherlock goes downstairs to fetch the papers from the doorstep, ripping off the wet plastic with his bare hands and tossing it in the bin with distaste. He settles in his favorite chair by the fire and begins to read. The coffeemaker begins to bubble, and Lestrade goes into the kitchen to pour himself a mug. By now, John knows how he likes his eggs and toast just as well as he knows Sherlock's preferences; he has no need to ask. All three of them are quiet for a long while, the only sounds in the flat coming from John's preparations and the rain and the rustle of Sherlock's newspapers.
Lestrade drinks his coffee in the kitchen, leaning against the table in the middle of the room, while John gathers three sets of toast from the toaster and butters both of Sherlock's and both of his but only one of Lestrade's and jam on the other slice and jam on both of John's and slides the eggs onto each plate and takes the kettle off the stove and pours the water into the two mugs ready with two bags of Earl Grey each.
"That looks great," Lestrade says, watching the formation of the breakfast plates over John's shoulder. John smiles.
"Christ," says Sherlock loudly, lowering the Saturday Times into his lap. "A cigarette would be perfect right now."
"You've quit, Sherlock. You can't expect to be off them properly if you sneak one every time the mood strikes," says John.
"Besides, you wouldn't want to go out in this weather just for a pack you'll only smoke one of," says Lestrade, halfway through his cup of coffee.
Sherlock lights up at that and bolts from his chair, out of the sitting room. Lestrade and John exchange looks. A few moments later, as John's setting breakfast on the sitting room table, Sherlock returns with a pack of cigarettes and his old lighter in hand. John looks outraged.
"Where did you get that?"
"Saved them. Just in case."
Sherlock sounds triumphant, standing by the window nearest the sofa and opening it, letting in the smell and sound of rain and cool air only he can feel. He lights the cigarette, takes a long draw and a deep breath and blows the smoke outside with a look of great satisfaction. John shakes his head in disapproval and Lestrade holds back a smile of affection for Sherlock.
"Your breakfast will get cold," John says, as he and Lestrade sit down to theirs.
"You don't want me smoking near you," Sherlock retorts. He looks over at the two men, sees John's displeased expression, and gives a put-upon sigh. He sucks at his cigarette once more, before squashing it in the lonely ashtray still on the coffee table in front of the sofa. "Fine," he says, sitting in his chair next to Lestrade and across from John. "I'll light another one afterward."
He starts drinking his tea and temporarily forgets all about his tobacco craving. Breakfast is good, as always. Lestrade quietly appreciates having someone around to make it for him from time to time. The three men eat without talking, their toast crunching at every bite and spilling crumbs all over their plates. Sherlock left the window cracked open, and the rain pleasantly fills their senses. Lestrade gets up and goes back into the kitchen for coffee, bringing back orange juice at Sherlock's request and a clean mug. He sits with his second mug warm in his hands and his plate empty before him, in between his two companions, and savors the moment as Sherlock begins to tell them about some story of human absurdity in the paper. John watches and listens attentively, while Lestrade stares into space or glances from one to the other.
Once John only has the last of his tea to finish, Sherlock returns to the window, lights another cigarette, and smokes it in utter peace. John and Lestrade both watch him from the table, unable to look away: it is Sherlock in one of those rare moments of calm, where he's happy and looks it. He's still in his pajamas and blue dressing gown, staring outside at the rain and breathing in the air deliberately every few moments, as he smokes the cigarette elegantly.
John gets up first, collecting the dishes, and Lestrade shifts his attention to him, insisting he do the washing since John did the cooking. John relents after protesting a little, and Lestrade doesn't take long to rinse the plates and mugs and silverware and stick them into the dishwasher. When he steps back into the sitting room, John's standing behind Sherlock with his arms wrapped around the taller man's waist, and Sherlock appears even more pleased with himself, still not done smoking. Lestrade smiles and Sherlock looks over his shoulder at him.
"I think this is a day to waste on affection."
"What do you have in mind?" says Lestrade.
Sherlock looks back out that window and smokes. John has the right side of his face in Sherlock's back and his eyes closed.
"Let me finish this and I'll show you," says Sherlock.
With two cigarette butts in the ashtray on the coffee table, Sherlock leads John and Lestrade back upstairs to John's bedroom—which is now effectively becoming John and Sherlock's bedroom, John and Sherlock and Lestrade's bedroom when the detective inspector stays over—and he throws off his dressing gown onto the chair in the corner and jumps back into bed. John takes his customary place on Sherlock's left, while Lestrade lies down on his right, and they pull the covers over themselves.
At first, Sherlock spoons John and Lestrade spoons Sherlock, which is one of the more common ways the three of them fall asleep. But this is decidedly not cuddling for the purpose of sleep but for its own sake. Sherlock has John as close as he can get him, top arm wrapped tight around him with his hand over John's heart and his face in John's shoulder. Lestrade has his top arm snaked between them, around Sherlock's middle, and his cheekbone resting against Sherlock's bony shoulder. The three of them are quiet for several minutes in this position.
John rolls over onto his other side, facing Sherlock and curling against him, arm looping underneath Sherlock's top arm to hook over his back. Sherlock kisses the top of John's forehead, and Lestrade nuzzles his face into John's hand where it rests on Sherlock. John smiles into Sherlock's chest. John's legs fork with Sherlock's and Lestrade's top leg leans against Sherlock's. Lestrade moves his face into the back of Sherlock's neck and breathes in that scent, that familiar and distinctive scent: faded, posh cologne and the cleanliness of high-end shampoo and delicate skin. He noses into Sherlock's curls and pulls his arm out from in between Sherlock and John to rest it across both of them, hand on John's back curled into his striped jumper. He dares to press a kiss at the base of Sherlock's skull; the younger man's whole body shivers and he hugs John closer and purrs.
Sherlock takes John's face in his hand, looking at him closely. "I love you," he whispers.
Lestrade doesn't know if that's the first time he's said it to John's face, but when John answers, his voice is full of emotion like waves rising. Arm withdraws from around Sherlock's shoulder, then his hand pushes into Sherlock's hair, thumb on his cheek.
"I love you, Sherlock. I love you, I love you."
Lestrade feels full in his chest, not intruding on their intimacy but privileged to witness it and share in it. And after a few minutes, Sherlock moves, rolling around in between them to face Lestrade, and John slots intuitively against Sherlock's back. Lestrade sees Sherlock close his eyes in pleasure when John kisses the curve of his neck. Sherlock looks at him again and smiles, a warm and genuine smile. He raises his hand to Lestrade's face, rests it against the older man's cheek so gentle, thumb making little strokes, and now Lestrade shuts his eyes.
"Gregory Lestrade," says Sherlock, whispering still. He says the name with great satisfaction, as if the detective inspector's mere existence pleases him as much as solving cases. His thumb runs over Lestrade's eyebrow. Lestrade opens his eyes and sees Sherlock's face glowing white and eyes like clear seawater and he wants to know what he'll say next.
"I love you." He says it smiling, thumb running under Lestrade's right eye, palm pressing into cheek, like he's committing the shape of Lestrade's face to his hand's memory. "And you love me."
"Yes," says Lestrade. "Yes, I do."
And it feels like he's arrived at a destination he's been traveling toward for years, sweet and unmistakably real, and it's been so long since he loved anyone in a way he could viscerally feel and never has love felt like this and God, it's so good he can't put it to words but he can feel it, knows what it is intuitively. It doesn't scare him the way it should; it thrills him.
Lestrade touches his hand to Sherlock's face, mirroring him, and Sherlock closes his eyes at the pleasure of the other man's affection. The most brilliant man Lestrade has ever known. He stretches to kiss Sherlock's forehead, that mind—miraculous. Sherlock pulls him closer, even though they're already out of room.
"I'm glad I have you," he tells Lestrade. "I'm glad you—you agreed to this."
Lestrade looks him in the eyes and says, "Me too."
"I'm glad you have each other," says John against the back of Sherlock's shoulder. Sherlock smiles wide at that.
Lestrade repositions himself so he's curled into Sherlock's body with his head underneath Sherlock's chin, against the knobs of his collar bones, and Sherlock cradles the back of his head with his hand, long and slender fingers delicately spidered over Lestrade's short silver hair. Lestrade can hear Sherlock's heart beating.
Nobody moves or speaks for a while.
John makes chicken noodle soup for lunch.
Once the bowls are empty, Sherlock practically bounds back out of the sitting room to return upstairs. Lestrade and John follow without question.
"I want to—try something," says Sherlock, sitting at the foot of the bed, elbows on his thighs and hands together at his chin. John and Lestrade stand in front of him, waiting. "An experiment."
He seems to contemplate what this experiment is for a moment, until John very smartly says, "Whatever it is, you can ask. We're not going to think you're weird or something."
Sherlock glances at him, then at Lestrade. "I was wondering about…. Skin."
"Skin?" says Lestrade.
"Bare skin. Not—I don't mean—"
"We know, Sherlock," says John.
Sherlock nods. "What I mean is just touching each other's bare skin, sort of, under the shirt?"
Lestrade looks at John, who looks back.
"I'm willing to give it a try," John says to Sherlock.
"Me too," says Lestrade.
"If it feels too—erotic, we can always quit."
Sherlock nods, his shoulders tensing as if in preparation. John suggests they try hugging while on their feet for this. Lestrade moves into position directly across from him, leaving a space for Sherlock. Sherlock stands up and tentatively faces John, his back to Lestrade; John asks if he's ready and gets a nod.
John steps forward, wraps his arms around Sherlock in a normal hug, and holds it for a minute or two. Lestrade watches as Sherlock's body relaxes. John lays his head on Sherlock's shoulder as they hug and eventually asks if Sherlock is ready again. Sherlock murmurs yes. John moves his arms down and slips his hands underneath Sherlock's shirt. Lestrade's a bit surprised to hear Sherlock's sharp intake of breath and the way his shoulders rise and his arms move out and back in. He sags on his feet a little. Neither Sherlock nor John speaks or moves again for a few moments; then Sherlock's arms shift down and up, must be slipping his own hands underneath John's jumper and up his back. John hums low in his throat, almost a purr, and Lestrade smiles. Experiment a success, then.
He gives them a few minutes to enjoy this, before stepping toward them.
"Get over here," says Sherlock, as he does, sounding half-asleep and yet entirely lucid.
Lestrade wraps his arms around Sherlock's belly, sees the white skin of Sherlock's lower back where his pajama shirt has ridden up around John's arms, and he presses himself against Sherlock, chin on the younger man's free shoulder. Sherlock hums in approval. Lestrade rests with the other two men like this for a little while.
"Permission to continue experiment?" Lestrade says into Sherlock's ear.
Lestrade unwinds his arms from Sherlock, then slips underneath his shirt, hands flat on Sherlock's belly and taking it very slow. He keeps them there for a moment, his chin still on Sherlock's shoulder, listening to the rhythm of Sherlock's breathing. He slides his arms around Sherlock's middle again, skin so warm, and it feels like the only reason Sherlock's still upright is because of the men sandwiching him.
"Good?" says Lestrade.
"Brilliant," says Sherlock.
"Very, very good," says John.
They stay where they are for some unknown amount of time, and Lestrade quietly savors this new closeness to Sherlock. He's never known relationships could be this way: that it was possible to be so free and safe as to ask for anything and receive it. He's happy for Sherlock in a way he's scarcely been happy for anyone.
And he really, really does love him.
"It's not too far?" Sherlock says with no real concern. "We haven't crossed the line?"
"What line?" says John.
"The line of your heterosexuality."
A slow grin bends on Lestrade's face.
"Still don't want to shag you," John says.
"Me neither," says Lestrade. "I like this just the way it is."
What he means is: he never knew he could be this intimate with anyone unless it was a woman he shagged. This feels different. He didn't know he was allowed to do this or that he could love a man in such a way. It opens places in him he didn't know were closed. He feels full of desire but it's not desire for sex. It's more nebulous; it could go anywhere. It's desire for what he already has, self-generating and fulfilled and infinite.
They disentangle themselves, get back into bed. Lestrade lies on his back and Sherlock lies against his left side and rests his head on Lestrade's shoulder and slips his arm beneath Lestrade's t-shirt, hand pressed to Lestrade's side and thumb stroking back and forth. John spoons up behind him and holds his hand to Sherlock's belly.
Next, Lestrade's in the middle and spooning John with his face in his shoulder and his hand on the bare skin of John's chest, arm resting on John's side. Sherlock wraps around Lestrade's back, hand under his shirt on Lestrade's side, thumb stroking a little spot. He pecks at the back of Lestrade's neck, snakes his hand around to Lestrade's softer belly.
They while away the daylight hours.
Lestrade can only think: this feels so nice. It's a terrible word. But it's the only one that comes to mind.
They pass the sixth month mark, all of them feeling like their relationships are steady and solid, their significance and legitimacy undeniable now. They're no longer experimenting or trying it out; they're doing this, progressing in as clear a direction as they can have, given the circumstances. They have said it to each other as much as they could without the explicit words: they're serious about each other.
Slowly, Lestrade's wardrobe migrates to Baker Street. He has no intention of moving in: he likes having his own flat, his own space when he needs to be alone, and he suspects Sherlock and John like having their flat to themselves sometimes too, the way they did before the three of them became intimately involved. But some of his shirts and trousers and a sweatshirt hang off to one side in Sherlock's wardrobe cupboard now, and at any given moment, a few of his personal possessions lie around 221B because he knows he'll be back for them.
He notices he's begun to spend less of his free time working. His weekends used to be extremely solitary, unless he was working an active case: he usually spent them at home doing paperwork or research or at the Yard. Now, he spends half of it with Sherlock and John and the other half on his own, relaxing. They seem to work up a schedule formed out of habit rather than deliberation: Lestrade goes home to his flat on Friday evenings and leaves Sherlock and John alone. He spends Saturdays at Baker Street, usually sleeps over, stays for breakfast, and leaves before or after lunch depending on the collective mood. The number of weeknights he spends with Sherlock and John vary, based on his work schedule and Sherlock's cases and everybody's mood.
Some days, when the clinic is slow, John meets Lestrade for lunch. Other days, it's Sherlock who seeks out the detective inspector's company, whether to relieve his own boredom or out of a still-peculiar consideration for his partner. Half the time, Sherlock doesn't actually eat at these lunch meetings; he watches Lestrade eat and makes conversation. Lestrade usually doesn't bother nagging Sherlock about eating; by now, he's learned it's useless to nag.
One afternoon, Lestrade's sitting at his desk with the empty wrapper of his sandwich still in front of him, while Sherlock stands behind his chair and rubs the stress out of his shoulders. Lestrade has his eyes closed, and Sherlock's expert hands press deep and hard into his muscles.
Donovan walks in on them with a report. Lestrade sees she has her eyebrows raised far too high on her head, standing on the other side of his desk with the file in hand. Sherlock doesn't speak or acknowledge her, nor does he stop.
"Just dropping that off, then?" Lestrade says.
"Yeah." Donovan glances up to Sherlock and back at Lestrade, as if waiting for an explanation.
Instead, Lestrade thanks her and shuts his eyes again, leaning back into the pressure. He hears Donovan turn and leave without another word, and he knows Sherlock's smiling behind him without needing to see his face.
He's fascinated to watch as Sherlock reveals and develops his caring side, fascinated to watch Sherlock and John's relationship progress as if he were a complete outsider with no similar experience. Lestrade is aware he doesn't see the whole of their relationship; he's not privy to everything going on between them. But he's close enough to see it in ways no one else in the world ever could. He sees the way they look at each other when the three of them are alone together at 221B; he sees the way they touch each other when they don't have to worry about outsiders watching. He sees every emotional response possible, bouncing back and forth between them, the relationship in constant motion. Awe, frustration, affection, anger, appreciation, hurt, interdependence, splitting apart, coming back together, miscommunication, communication, analyzing each other, wrong interpretation, right interpretation, trust, care, interest. It's the most complex, detailed, mercurial dance Lestrade has ever seen. He doesn't stop to observe whether he has the same kind of relationship with each of them going on; he simply enjoys what he has.
It's been a hard week: a whirlwind kidnapping case Sherlock solved a few hours ago, which Lestrade also worked, and too much paperwork and rain every day and spilling coffee down his shirt on Tuesday and suspicious looks from some of his team he may have just imagined after Donovan walking in on his shoulder rub and everybody wanting something from him and to top it all off, by the time he steps inside his flat and toes off his shoes and sheds his coat, Lestrade has no choice but to acknowledge he's sick.
He could feel it in his body as early as Tuesday, and he's surprised it took near four days to fully hit him. Then again, he's been so busy; he may have tuned it out all week. His body aches everywhere, he's sure he has a fever, and he's so exhausted, all he can do is go to his bedroom and flop on the bed still clothed. He doesn't have the energy to make himself tea, and he's pretty sure the medicine cabinet is out of stock. He's not going back out for the pharmacy—not in this weather.
He falls asleep hoping he'll wake up better and knowing he won't.
He wakes up to someone pounding on the door.
"Lestrade! Open up!"
He recognizes Sherlock's voice though he can't hear him too well from in his bedroom. He feels worse than he did when he fell asleep, however long ago that was. He lies motionless on his back and doesn't do or say anything for a moment. He reaches into his trouser pocket for his mobile, sees he has two missed calls from Sherlock, and sends a text.
The combined activities of pressing the buttons with his thumb and focusing on the actual message feel too demanding, but he manages to send: Use your key.
He hears the front door open and Sherlock's quick footsteps approaching through the adjacent room. The lights switch on. The consulting detective towers over him at the side of his bed and rests a cool hand on his forehead.
"Just as I suspected."
He steps away and somehow, John takes his place, the skin of his palm dryer and warmer than Sherlock's.
"You should've said something," he murmurs, leaning down toward Lestrade, his hand sliding from brow to cheek.
"Are we staying or going?" says Sherlock.
For a split second, Lestrade instinctually thinks: don't go.
"It would be easier to take care of him at ours, but he probably doesn't want to make the trip," says John.
Oh. They're deciding where to stay with him. Lestrade's glad.
"It's only a cab ride," says Sherlock, standing somewhere at the foot of the bed where Lestrade can't see him.
John looks at Lestrade and touches his face again, softly. "What do you think? Can you stand a short drive? Would you rather stay here?"
"I don't want to contaminate your flat—get you sick."
"Don't be absurd," says Sherlock with that stern clip in his voice. "You're talking to a doctor and a scientist. Sanitization is not a concern."
"Where would you be more comfortable?" says John, sitting on the bed next to Lestrade's body.
Lestrade thinks, none too clearly. "We should go to yours."
"All right, then. Sherlock? Help me with him?"
Lestrade pushes himself up, his head suddenly throbbing, and John pulls him to his feet. Sherlock slides in against Lestrade's left, arm strong around his back, and John lets them go first into the hall. Lestrade leans most of his weight on Sherlock who holds him up without difficulty. John lingers somewhere behind them and when he comes out of the flat to meet them on the curb, just as Sherlock flags down a cab, Lestrade sees the doctor's gathered a few changes of clothes.
On the cab ride to Baker Street, Sherlock keeps his arm around Lestrade's shoulders and Lestrade rests his head on the other man, mumbling apologies. Sherlock tells him to hush.
Mrs. Hudson's already changed the sheets on Sherlock's bed, when the men arrive. She watches and coos over Lestrade as the three of them file into 221B, and Sherlock ignores her, taking Lestrade straight to his bedroom. He lowers him gently onto the bed, as the older man closes his eyes in relief at lying down again.
"I'll be right back," Sherlock whispers, hand on Lestrade's chest.
He leaves and returns with some of the clothes John took from Lestrade's flat, and the last thing Lestrade feels like doing is undressing and dressing again. But Sherlock's already unbuttoning his shirt for him, hauls him up into a sitting position, pulls the shirt off and helps Lestrade into a well-worn blue t-shirt with short sleeves. It does feel better. He lies back down, hand resting on the waist of his trousers where the button and zipper are, but he's so tired, he can't bother. Sherlock pushes his hand aside and does it for him, pulling off the trousers without forcing Lestrade to move again.
"You shouldn't wear pajama bottoms, you'll be too hot," Sherlock says.
John comes in the room with a glass of water and the bottle cap from a medication container.
"Greg, take these. For the fever."
Lestrade raises his head and his shoulders off the bed, takes the pills and drinks the whole glass of water.
"I'm making some tea," says John, taking the glass back from him. "Should be ready soon."
"What else can we do?" says Sherlock.
"I don't think there's much else. It's probably a common virus; he should be fine with the Nurofen and rest. If his fever doesn't break on its own, we'll take him in for tests, get him some antibiotics. Let's see how he is tomorrow."
Sherlock's looking at him; Lestrade can feel it with his eyes closed.
"Towels. Wet towels."
He gets up and disappears into the sitting room. John takes his place, and Lestrade cracks his eyes open to look at him.
"Are you hungry? You can't have eaten dinner."
Lestrade shakes his head. "I need sleep. I can barely stay awake for the tea."
"Okay. We can feed you later, then. You really should've let us know you were sick. If Sherlock hadn't noticed, you might've spent all weekend in misery. You've got to let us take care of you, Greg."
"I know. Sorry. I'm not used to being a burden."
"You're never a burden," John says softly, hand on Lestrade's cheek as he bends down and kisses him on the forehead.
Sherlock sets a small, damp towel over Lestrade's brow and sits beside him, cooling his neck with another towel. John brings a mug of tea at the perfect temperature and sits with him while he drinks it; Sherlock goes back into the kitchen and runs the towels through water again. Lestrade drinks the tea deeply, pausing only a few times. John takes the empty mug from him as Sherlock returns, and Lestrade collapses back down onto his pillow.
Sherlock doesn't move from the bed, looking at the detective inspector and frowning with concern, the damp towels in his hands and his hands in his lap. John stands nearby, watching them.
"You thought we wouldn't want to take care of you," Sherlock says, speaking in a low tone soothing to Lestrade. The older man is in no mood for a conversation, much less a disagreement, but when he thinks, Sherlock does not sound angry. Instead, Lestrade hears the slightest trace of hurt in his partner's voice. "Haven't I told you I love you? Hasn't John?"
John has indeed, the first time having been in the kitchen one evening after dinner when they were doing the dishes together. Lestrade was washing, John was drying, and John leaned close against him to whisper it, so Sherlock wouldn't hear him from the sitting room (though Sherlock probably heard anyway).
"I love you." He said it with a grin on his face, like he was telling the detective inspector a private joke.
Lestrade smiled back. "I love you too."
"Sherlock, not now," says John. "He needs to sleep."
But Sherlock ignores this and continues to look at Lestrade with the hurt more evident in those bright blue eyes. Lestrade wants to answer but his brain refuses to give him any words. Sherlock suddenly turns his head to look at John.
"What have I done wrong?"
"Nothing," says John.
"If he doesn't feel like he can come to us when he needs care, I must be loving him wrong."
"Sherlock," Lestrade says faintly. But he can't think of anything else.
"Come on," John says, quieter now. "Let him sleep and we'll have tea."
Sherlock turns his attention back to Lestrade and lays one towel on his forehead. Without warning, he lays his head on Lestrade's chest, arm around him, and even in his current condition, the detective inspector can tell it is a gesture of apology. He wants to tell Sherlock not to be sorry but he's already rushing fast toward sleep.
Nausea wakes him an hour later and sends him into the nearest bathroom. He kneels on the floor in front of the toilet and thinks he's going to throw up but doesn't. Sherlock's squatted down next to him and John's standing in the doorway and Lestrade can't help feeling a little embarrassed. But he's in too hellish a condition to bother protesting.
He dry heaves a few times, wanting something to come up, anything, just so he can feel better. Instead, he's left shaking and weaker, cool sweat beginning to dampen his skin. He sits with his back against the side of the bathtub and his arm on the seat and his head resting forward on his arm. Sherlock reaches out and lays a hand on his back, rubbing a little. Lestrade's breathing comes heavy and labored.
"He may want some privacy, Sherlock," says John.
"He's not going to vomit," Sherlock says softly. "Do we have anything to relieve the nausea?"
"I can check my medical bag."
Lestrade takes a spoonful of medicine that tastes like chalk and crawls back into bed.
When Lestrade wakes up in the morning—eleven o'clock, my God, he was worn out—he still has a fever but feels slightly better. He finds Sherlock and John in the sitting room: John's watching telly with the volume turned down and Sherlock's folded up in his favorite chair, staring into space with both his hands around his mug. They both turn their heads to look at him when he appears, feeling disoriented and weak and a little unsteady on his feet.
"Greg?" says Sherlock, his face prickled with alertness.
Lestrade touches the back of his own hand to his forehead. "Fever's still here."
Sherlock jumps out of his chair, mug set on the table, and crosses the room to where Lestrade's standing, taking him by the shoulders and looking at him. John's up too, going into the kitchen and coming back with a glass of water and more pills. Lestrade stands heavy on his feet, eyes closing and opening, tempted to lean all the way into Sherlock.
"We'll take his temperature in a bit," says John. "Take these."
Lestrade washes down the pills and as soon as John takes the glass back, Sherlock wraps his arms around Lestrade and pulls him close.
"I'll get you sick," Lestrade says faintly into Sherlock's neck.
"Take him back to bed," says John. "I'll make tea. And soup—you need to eat, inspector."
Sherlock guides Lestrade back into his bedroom and lays him down, and Lestrade doesn't understand how he could have slept for thirteen hours and still feel so tired. He hears Sherlock dragging the only chair in the room across the floorboards up to the bedside on Lestrade's right and Sherlock's cool hand rests on his forehead, thumb stroking slightly. His other hand finds Lestrade's and holds it, thumb hooked around thumb.
"I haven't been good enough to you. I know it. I'm sorry."
He's half-whispering and his voice sounds pained, almost like he's resisting the urge to cry. Lestrade makes eye contact with him and sees the pale face full of anguish so completely foreign to Sherlock. The whites of his eyes are already pink, and Lestrade finds it incomprehensible, not just because he's distracted by sickness.
"You've always been good to me," says Sherlock. "And I was too cold to return the favor. You don't trust me; you have no reason to do so. What can I do to prove you can?"
Lestrade, through sheer determination, finds his voice and the words to string together. "Sherlock. You're good. You're very good. And wrong."
Sherlock looks at him, waiting to hear more, hand so comforting in Lestrade's. Lestrade squeezes it as much as he has the strength for.
"I trust you. I'm rubbish at not being alone. That's all. You can understand."
"But it's different now. We're not supposed to be alone."
Lestrade, hearing those words in that voice, feels paternal over him. "I know. My mistake. Not yours."
Sherlock leans closer. "I want you trust to me. I want you to rely on me, the way I've always relied on you. Not for work. For this. For everything. I don't want you to be alone."
Lestrade can't help but smile. "Now, I know I'm not."
The two men look at each other close, hands still together, and Sherlock presses a kiss just above Lestrade's eyebrow, holding it there longer than he needs. When he pulls away, Lestrade looks him in the eye again, and says,
"You aren't bad at love, Sherlock. You're doing fine. Brilliant."
Sherlock's eyes fill with tears, quivering on the precipices of his lower lids, but he doesn't cry. Lestrade squeezes his hand again, smiling reassurance. Sherlock gets up from the chair when John enters the room, carrying a tray with mug and bowl, and Sherlock rushes past him out the door.
"Is he all right?" John says, bringing the tray around the bed.
"Yeah," says Lestrade. "Just need talking to."
He pushes himself up into a sitting position and John arranges the pillows behind his back, after setting the tray over Lestrade's lap. He sticks a digital thermometer in Lestrade's mouth and it reads 38.6 C. Not too bad but John would like to get him down at least a degree by the evening. Lestrade drinks his tea slowly, and John sits with him in silence.
"You should go see to Sherlock," says Lestrade. "I'll be fine here."
"What's wrong with him?"
"He's worried he's not doing this right, I guess. You heard him, last night."
"He didn't want to talk about it. We had something to eat and went to bed. To be honest, I don't quite understand where this is coming from."
"Relationships have not exactly been Sherlock's area of expertise," says Lestrade, almost finished with his tea. "I think he's grateful for us and what we've done but he's not sure he's holding up his end."
"If we were less than happy, he could observe it, for God's sake. And we would tell him."
"I know, but he'll find a way to shore up his own doubt even if it doesn't have anything to do with reason."
John sighs. "Maybe that's something we've missed: maybe he does need more reassurance. He's probably afraid if he buggers up once, we'll leave him."
John says it as if it's the most ridiculous notion in the world.
"I wouldn't be surprised if that's exactly how he thinks," says Lestrade.
"Christ, sometimes I think I'd bloody marry the man if we could all marry each other. It hasn't even been a year."
Lestrade sets his empty mug on the tray and picks up the spoon. "Everybody has an insecurity."
"All right," John says, bracing his hands on the chair's arm rests and standing up. "I'll talk to him. You finish that soup, love."
He kisses Lestrade's forehead and leaves.
Lestrade leaves the tray with empty mug and bowl on the floor next to the bed and falls asleep again, only to wake up an hour or two later when Sherlock and John get into bed with him, Sherlock sliding against his left side with a face that tells Lestrade he's been crying.
"I know you would be more comfortable sleeping alone but I need you," Sherlock says. "I need to feel close to you."
"Then you have me."
Lestrade turns onto his side so Sherlock can spoon him, feels Sherlock's cool face at the back of his neck and Sherlock's arm wrapped snugly around his chest. John's spooning Sherlock in much the same way; Lestrade can feel John's arm between his and Sherlock's body. It's warm but not unpleasantly so, not even with Lestrade's fever. He finds he likes having the comfort.
"I love you so much," says Sherlock, whispering as if still in some emotional pain. "I want this to work."
"I know you do," says Lestrade, already drifting to sleep. "I love you too. I'll always be here."
"You're the love of my life, Sherlock," John says, voice softly traveling over the breadth of the bed. "And you, Lestrade."
John strokes Sherlock's belly with his thumb; Lestrade can feel it against his back.
"Do you believe me?"
Lestrade can hear John kiss the back of Sherlock's neck.
"Yes," says Sherlock.
"We don't have to be perfect," says Lestrade and slips into unconsciousness.
Lestrade's fever doesn't break until the following day, Sunday; Sherlock and John never leave his side, the three of them cooped up in 221B all weekend except for Sherlock running to the store for supplies. John insists Lestrade stay home from work Monday at least, lest he risk the illness worsening. Sherlock promises to stay with him, while John goes to work.
Lestrade spends Sunday on the sofa, wrapped in a quilt Sherlock pulled out of the linen cupboard, and he feels much better (though still sick) than he did Friday or Saturday. Sherlock is subdued after spending much of Saturday cuddled between John and Lestrade or with each of them separately. He stays close to Lestrade on the sofa, sometimes clasping hands with the older man or letting Lestrade rest on his shoulder.
The detective inspector stares at the telly and thinks how he never could've predicted a year ago that this is where he'd be. He wouldn't have imagined. And if he considers the cold facts, he feels like it should be odd that in just six months, he and John and Sherlock have become so emotional about each other. Whether it's entirely reasonable or not, he's grateful. He does hope this lasts forever. He wants this.
He tips his head back on the sofa, John warm and settled on his left and Sherlock on his right, and decides he will never again attempt to take care of himself when something like this happens.
John and Lestrade have been sitting together in the noisy pub for two hours, through dinner and beer, yelling along with all the other men packed around them at the football match broadcast live on the telly. They even throw their cold, leftover chips at the screen when the referee penalizes the player on their team who had just scored a gorgeous goal, not counted. They're a little drunk, if they're honest with themselves, and too warm surrounded by so many people and close to each other on their bar stools. It's cold outside: John's wearing his leather jacket and Lestrade keeps his black three-quarter overcoat folded next to him on the bar top. Originally, they were going to have dinner at their favorite Chinese, and Sherlock was supposed to go with them. But Sherlock's been in a mood all day and told them he didn't feel like leaving the flat. He insisted they go without him and not to bother bringing him anything because he wouldn't eat it. John told him he bloody well was going to eat what they brought, but he and Lestrade decided to go out after all because they knew Sherlock wasn't going to snap out of his mood even if they stayed with him. Sometimes, the man needed space.
So they changed course, headed for one of Lestrade's favorite pubs where he knew the game would be on, and ordered burgers and chips and beer and became quickly engrossed in the game, giving up all other conversation topics, their voices added to every crescendo of protest or glee the whole of the pub voiced at each development or near-development of the game. When they scored their first goal, the room erupted and Lestrade banged his pint too hard on the bar top, beer sloshing out of the glass, and John hooked his arm around Lestrade's neck and popped up with his foot on the rung of his stool. It may be ridiculous for men their age, but most of the other men in the pub are their age too.
The game's come to an end, and they've lost 2 to 1. John drains the last of his beer out of the bottle, standing on his feet and brushing up against Lestrade, who has remained seated.
"I'm glad we did this," says John. "Haven't enjoyed a match properly in ages."
"Yeah, me neither," says Lestrade. "I feel like I'm behind."
"You used to play, didn't you?"
"In uni, yeah. When I was boy, it was a big thing. You?"
"Rugby! On the team in school too."
"Rugby." Lestrade considers John with a nearly bemused draw of one eyebrow. "I can see that."
"Did you know Sherlock fences? Fences, for God's sake! And he's a boxer. Scrawny little Sherlock, a boxer."
"Yeah, I've seen him—seen him do both, actually. He's quite good. You ever follow him to a match?"
"No, not yet. He doesn't seem to go very often, unless he's been sneaking off without telling me. I don't think he's gone since we all got serious, has he?"
Lestrade thinks. "Can't say I've noticed, no."
"I'm not sure he wants me watching him. It's been a long time since you did, right?"
"A few years before you met him. Two, maybe. We should ask him, if you like. It'd give us all something to do together on our downtime, which is the only reason Sherlock ever bothers with those activities anymore, I think. Stop the boredom."
Lestrade makes one last pull on his beer, as John shuffles a few bills out of his wallet onto the bar. Lestrade pays his own tab: all three men prefer to maintain independence from each other when it comes to money, both for pride and courtesy.
John claps him on the back, more firmly than he probably intended. "Ready?"
Lestrade straightens up on his feet and slips into his overcoat as he and John sidestep their way through the other patrons to the door. Only when he's mobile, does Lestrade feel how much alcohol he's had, suddenly far more intoxicated than he was moments ago. The cold air wakes him up a bit when they step outside.
"Walk?" says John, hands already in his jacket pockets. "It's not that far, yeah?"
Lestrade nods and they begin to head south on the road, side by side. Their breath turns white in front of them. A few blocks and Lestrade slips his arm into John's. John smiles.
"Have we been giving each other enough attention?" says Lestrade.
"I think so. Unless you don't?"
"I'm fine. I just thought I'd ask, while we have the privacy."
"I mean, we could always spend more time together, but it's a bit hard with your work and Sherlock and his cases and everything. We've got to sleep some time."
"Indeed we do. But if you think we ought to spend more time on our relationship—without Sherlock in the picture—we can make it happen."
John nods. "Like I said at the pub, I'm glad we did this. I enjoyed myself."
"Me too." They walk together in silence for a few minutes, before Lestrade speaks again. "You're the calm in the storm."
John chuckles deep in his throat. "The storm of Sherlock Holmes?"
"Funny. I feel the same way about you."
"I guess we shouldn't be so hard on him," says Lestrade. "He's been really good. Better than he was, anyway."
"True. And if we really wanted sanity, we wouldn't be here."
Suddenly, Lestrade pulls his arm out from John's and stops in his tracks. "Can I ask you something? And I want an honest answer, John. Why do you want our relationship to be more than casual? Isn't Sherlock enough?"
"Really, I've been wondering. I can't seem to figure it out. You've got something special with him; I see it in the both of you. You really love each other, and I'm glad. I just can't see why you'd need me for anything other than the occasional refuge from him."
John shakes his head a little. "God, this is really bothering you, isn't it?"
"It doesn't bother me. I just don't understand it. I can understand you and I being good mates, like any two blokes might be, but is there really anything more here?"
John looks at him with that expression of disbelief Lestrade's seen him give Sherlock too many times to count. "Greg—you're a good person. A bloody amazing person, actually. Most people wouldn't know it because you're all about work but there's more to you than that. Is it so hard to believe I'd want to be close to that part of you? You don't have a hard time believing your relationship with Sherlock."
"I've been taking care of Sherlock long before the three of us started all this. He's used to relying on me that way. It isn't about who I am; it's about what I do."
"You can't be serious."
Lestrade, hands in his coat pockets, lifts his shoulders. "It's true."
"Lestrade, you do what you do because of who you are. Sherlock loves you, for a whole lot more than however you cleaned up his messes years ago. Didn't you get the message after his whole crisis over you getting sick?"
"Will you answer my question?"
John steps up to him and takes him by the lapels of his coat, looking at him with steady focus. "You're one of the best men I've ever known. I feel like I can count on you. You and Sherlock are my family—and isn't family supposed to be made up of more than two people? Why should I want to narrow my whole world into one person? Wasn't that the point of this experiment? To see how much we could all give each other?"
Lestrade lowers his gaze to their feet. John lifts his hand to Lestrade's face and pushes it up so that Lestrade must look at him again.
"You can't replace Sherlock, no one ever could—but he can't replace you either. I asked you to be a part of this for his sake. But for mine too."
Lestrade nods, absorbing the sincerity in John's face, feeling the warmth of the doctor's hand on his.
"I trust you," says John. "And I can't say that of many people in the world."
"What do you want from me?"
"What do you want from me?"
Lestrade circles his arms around John's torso and pulls him into a hug, close and warm. John latches onto him. They stand there together on the pavement for a long time, holding each other, and they don't answer each other's question because it's too difficult to articulate what they want, even while it's as simple as this hug.
When they finally pull apart and continue walking, John takes Lestrade's hand in his and neither of them let go until they're standing at the front door to 221 Baker Street.
When they get home, John calls out to alert Sherlock of their return, but he receives no answer. He and Lestrade go up the stairs to 221B with loud footsteps, and John starts asking Sherlock if he's come out of his sulk—but stops once he lets himself into the flat and sees Sherlock slumped down in his favorite chair by the fireplace, arms flung out around him and a piece of rubber tied tight around his left arm above the crook of his elbow.
"Sherlock?" He takes several quick steps toward him, giving Lestrade a better view from the doorway.
"Oh, no," Lestrade says, with a deflated tone. He doesn't need to move any closer to know what's on the coffee table next to Sherlock's propped up feet: empty syringes, a spoon, a cup of water.
"Christ," says John. "You can't be serious."
Sherlock's awake and looking at him with clear eyes and a shit-eating grin, his body absolutely limp with pleasure. "Welcome back."
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" John yells.
Lestrade is really not in the mood for this but there's no turning back now. Sherlock needs to be looked after properly and John will stay angry all night if Lestrade isn't here to diffuse him. Lestrade is far more familiar with Sherlock's coke habit than John, has seen it in all of its forms, in every degree of severity, and though he couldn't explain it to someone else if he tried, he does have a strangely comprehensive understanding of why Sherlock has this relationship with the drug. He's practiced caring for Sherlock in the wake of a high, through the depression that comes back after Sherlock's crash, twice as bad as it was before. He finds it ironic that after what he said of his relationship with Sherlock in the street, he gets to spend the rest of his night looking after him.
"John," he says softly. "John. Look at me."
John turns around and faces Lestrade, hands on his hips.
"He's still high right now but depending upon when he last shot up, we don't have much time before he comes down again. It goes fast. He's going to feel bad once it's worn off. We have to help him through it. Okay?"
Lestrade's aware he's turned on his DI-in-charge-of-a-crisis voice, the kind of tone he would use with a panicking police officer or an overwhelmed paramedic. He's got John's full attention and the doctor nods in seeming agreement.
"We'll leave him where he is for now and let him ride out the last of it. I think we're going to want to move him to bed. Maybe some tea is in order."
Lestrade moves past John to Sherlock, touching the consulting detective's forehead with his hand, pushing up the dark curls. He collects all of Sherlock's drug paraphernalia from the coffee table and moves it into the kitchen, throws the syringes into the bin, and fills the kettle with water.
"He probably hasn't bloody eaten all day," says John, moving to stand in the threshold between kitchen and sitting room. "Look at him."
Lestrade understands John's anger, he truly does; he's been enraged at Sherlock before himself. But he knows better than to think he can control Sherlock Holmes by being angry with him. "This is what he does when he's depressed. It's how he lived through his twenties, for God's sake."
"It's stupid! It's so bloody stupid, I can't believe it! The smartest man in London and this is what he does to himself. He could die, Lestrade. He could easily die. And he knows that, the fucking wanker."
John's murmuring, hissing certain words, and Sherlock can almost certainly hear him from where he sits. But John obviously doesn't care. The water begins to boil in the kettle, and Lestrade stands with his arms crossed over his chest, giving John the time and space to be upset. Lestrade shakes his head. "I've tried getting him to see a therapist or a psychiatrist who could prescribe him medication, but he won't hear it. Says psychology is rubbish and pills will interfere with his head."
"Oh, but it's all right to use coke to interfere with his head?"
"You didn't have Chinese," Sherlock calls out. "You've been drinking. This is why you're angry, John. Your temper becomes significantly shorter after you've had alcohol."
John turns around as if he's about to shout but Lestrade says his name, warning him against it. John stays quiet. Lestrade looks past him into the sitting room and sees Sherlock closing his eyes and smiling. The DI can feel his heart sting for him, knowing the crash that's fast approaching and its after effects sure to last through to the morning.
The kettle—an electric model—switches itself off and Lestrade takes down three mugs from the cupboard above the stove. He looks at the assortment of tea bag tins gathered on the kitchen counter next to the coffee maker and selects Chai, not bothering about the caffeine because he's sure it isn't strong enough for any of them. John watches him make it, not saying a word, and they both look over at Sherlock when the younger man lets out a sharp huff of a sigh, followed by a pause and then a groan.
"God," says Sherlock.
"That's our cue," Lestrade says to John. They move to Sherlock's side and see the bliss gone from his face and replaced by an expression of someone who's just had the wind knocked out of all his dreams. He squeezes his eyes shut and shades them with one hand.
"Where are my things?"
"You've had enough, Sherlock," Lestrade says softly.
"I'll decide that for myself. Where is it, it was right there on the table, and you moved it."
"No more. We're taking you to bed. You're going to have some tea and sleep and be fine again in the morning."
Lestrade and John both attempt to lift Sherlock on his feet, but Sherlock struggles against them. "Damn it, Lestrade! Don't you know well enough by now when to leave me alone?"
Lestrade stops and looks at him, and Sherlock looks back, John watching the two of them. Lestrade reaches over with his free hand and curls it into Sherlock's shirt. "You invited me in. You don't get to throw me out. Not over this."
A meaningful exchange passes between the two men, full of all the years they've known each other, every time Lestrade saw Sherlock like this, and once the moment is gone, Sherlock sags against his two partners in surrender and lets them take him away. They go to Sherlock's bedroom instead of John's because they don't want to make him brave the stairs.
They sit Sherlock down on the bed and John goes to fetch the tea. Lestrade sits next to his consulting detective and looks at him as his white face transforms with despair and exhaustion. Lestrade lays a hand on Sherlock's knee, and Sherlock looks at him with those blue eyes, as if no words in any language could begin to describe what he feels. Lestrade lifts his hand up to caress Sherlock's face, pushes his hair back, and Sherlock closes his eyes at the touch, breathing heavy and labored, almost as if he might cry.
"John's angry with me," he says.
"He has a right to be," says Lestrade. "But he still loves you."
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything."
John comes back into the room with the three mugs on a tray and he sits on Sherlock's other side, visibly less angry. Sherlock holds his mug with both hands and drinks it in silence, deliberately not looking at John or even Lestrade. He doesn't cry but as he drinks, he shudders and takes a few gulping breaths, like he's doing everything in his power not to start, though his eyes are dry. John rests his hand on Sherlock's back and strokes up and down, until Sherlock's finished his tea and sits with the empty mug in his lap, face pale and troubled.
"Is it bad?" Lestrade says, hand on Sherlock's knee again.
Sherlock nods. "I need to sleep. Unless you're willing to go score me some heroin."
Lestrade smiles. "Sleep will do the job."
He and John tuck Sherlock into bed and John goes upstairs to his room for pajamas, while Lestrade changes in Sherlock's room, where he keeps some of his clothes in the wardrobe. Sherlock lies on his back in the middle of the bed and stares at the ceiling. "I ruined your evening."
"No," says Lestrade, pulling on an old t-shirt. "It was virtually over anyway. Don't worry about it."
"I meant my apology."
"I know you did."
But all the apologies in the world won't prevent Sherlock from getting high again in the future. Some things don't change. Lestrade knows him well enough by now not to expect "sorry" to mean a change in behavior. He hasn't been upset with him for using in a long time. Instead, it saddens him that he can't help Sherlock with whatever makes him depressed in the first place.
John returns in his pajamas, slides into bed on Sherlock's right, and Lestrade slides in on the left and turns out the lamp. He sits with his back against the headboard, so that Sherlock can lay his head on Lestrade's thigh and let the older man card fingers through his hair—an old practice they developed in the days of Sherlock's heavy addiction and withdrawal. John curls up behind him, wraps his arm around Sherlock's waist, and doesn't say anymore.
Lestrade massages Sherlock's scalp as if he might do it for the rest of time, sometimes scratching with his fingernails lightly, otherwise tangling his fingers in the younger man's curls, rubbing the top of Sherlock's forehead with his thumb. He starts humming, low and deep in his throat, some tune he doesn't remember the words for. He's hummed it to Sherlock in the past, on nights like this. He listens to Sherlock breathing, knows he's still awake though he can't see his face, moves his hand to massage and caress Sherlock's neck and the base of his skull after a while. He thinks he might feel a wetness on his pant leg, beneath Sherlock's face, but he can't be sure.
The humming started because Lestrade learned quickly that there was nothing he could say to Sherlock that would be meaningful, nothing real he could promise. He didn't know why Sherlock felt the way he did, couldn't fix it, couldn't even fully fault him for the drugs. All he could do was stay with him, watch over him, let him know he wasn't alone.
He feels it when Sherlock slips into sleep, and he stays where he is for a while after, quiet and still gently moving his fingers in Sherlock's hair. When he can't think anymore, Lestrade sinks down into the bed and goes to sleep on his back, Sherlock's head on his shoulder.
Finally updating this fic. It's not a tremendous update but it's something. Hopefully, I'll get another chapter or two in within a reasonable amount of time.
Lestrade wakes up first in the morning, with Sherlock still pressed against his side and breathing softly on his shoulder. John, as far as Lestrade can tell, continues to sleep soundly with his face in Sherlock's back. Lestrade peers over at the digital clock on the night table near him: 9:46. He finds Sherlock's hand on his chest, at the bottom of his ribs on his left side, and takes it in his own hand. He runs his thumb over a spot on the top, feeling the thin, dry skin. Sherlock's hands tend to be dry because of his scientific experiments and the number of times he washes them and wears surgical gloves. He's not the kind of man to use hand cream; thus, Lestrade finds Sherlock's hands dry whenever he touches them.
Sherlock hums in his sleep, shifts his body a little between Lestrade and John, and cracks his eyes open a sliver. Lestrade continues to rub Sherlock's hand with his thumb, watching his face. Sherlock looks at him briefly and closes his eyes again, head rolling against Lestrade's shoulder. "It's almost ten," the DI whispers.
Sherlock doesn't respond. Lestrade rests his cheek on the top of Sherlock's head and thinks. He and John will have to spend the day looking after Sherlock. The younger man may have slept through the worst of his comedown but he's always low for at least a day afterward. He was in a mood before he got high, and now it'll be worse. Lestrade dreads the first twenty-four hours following Sherlock's highs. He's been through enough of them to know what to expect, but they never get easier. He hasn't been with Sherlock through a comedown in several months, perhaps over a year. He's never talked to John about the drugs. He doesn't know how familiar the doctor is with Sherlock's use, but judging by John's outrage last night, he was under the impression Sherlock was clean.
"What are you thinking?" Sherlock mumbles, his voice thick and his eyes still closed.
"You're an idiot."
Lestrade lets go of Sherlock's hand and pushes his own hand over Sherlock's forehead, pressing the dark curls back. He kisses Sherlock's hairline. "You scare me sometimes."
"This scared you?"
"No. But it scared John. I'm only afraid of next time."
"I'm too smart and experienced for an overdose."
"If you believe that, you really are an idiot. How do you feel? You hungry? I'll make you and John something to eat."
"I don't want food. Just stay with me."
"I'm not going anywhere," Lestrade says softly. "Neither is John."
Sherlock presses his body into Lestrade, fisting his hand into the older man's shirt. "My head feels empty."
Lestrade rubs his thumb over a spot of Sherlock's forehead.
"I can't stand it," Sherlock says.
John stirs at Sherlock's back, rolling away and rubbing his eyes before propping himself up on one elbow and turning his body toward the other two men. "Sherlock." He reaches out and rubs Sherlock's arm. "Did you sleep well?"
Lestrade looks at John over the top of Sherlock's head, and John looks back.
"You're still angry," says Sherlock, keeping his back to John and the left side of his face on Lestrade's chest.
John pauses for a beat. Softly, he says, "Yeah. I'm angry. But I'm more concerned."
"I'll be fine."
"But you're not fine. That's the point, Sherlock. You do this to yourself because you're not fine to begin with."
"I use because I'm bored."
"Oh, sod off. You weren't bored last night, you were feeling like shit."
"If you were bored, you could've come along with us. You were—sad."
"I do not get sad," says Sherlock, raising his voice above a weary murmur. "Don't be ridiculous."
John gives Lestrade a look, and Lestrade remains neutral in expression. The older man knows enough to skip wasting his time on arguments with Sherlock. John's eyes narrow onto Sherlock's back. "Look, I know you may not have any idea why you have these moods. There doesn't have to be a reason. I'm not asking you to explain. I'm just asking you to come to me instead of going to your damn needles. That's why I'm here: to take care of you. Maybe I can't fix it but I can be there for you, if you let me."
Sherlock is silent. Lestrade curls his arm around him. John waits.
After a minute or two, Sherlock says, "You already do enough. Both of you. I'm a grown man, I can handle my weaknesses without your help. Trying to console me through irrational melancholy would quickly grow tedious for you anyway."
John's eyes widen a bit. "Is that what you're afraid of? That we'll get sick of dealing with you because you aren't a well-adjusted ray of sunshine twenty-four hours a day?"
Sherlock says nothing.
"Christ," says John. "What sort of bastards do you think we are?"
"John," says Lestrade gently. He looks at Sherlock's curls. "Sherlock—your feelings were hurt when I didn't tell you I was sick. This is no different. You want me and John to trust you when we need a hand. We want you to trust us. And we'd appreciate not having to worry about you killing yourself for a high."
"I'm not going to change, Lestrade," says Sherlock, sounding tired again. "You of all people should know that."
Lestrade pauses. "I don't expect you to give up the coke. Not completely. That's hard for John to hear. But I don't think you can. Sometimes, it is about boredom. I just don't want you to self-medicate, Sherlock. That's what John's saying. There are other ways to feel better, you know."
"Going for a walk," Lestrade continues. "Work, when I can get you something. Sometimes, all it takes is a cuppa tea and attention." He glances at John, who meets his gaze. "Doesn't this help?"
"Yes," Sherlock says quietly.
"Well. You can ask for it whenever you want. You don't need to explain anything to me."
"Or me," says John.
"All you have to do is say, 'Oy, feeling bad, mind a cuddle?'"
"I wouldn't say no, Sherlock."
"I wouldn't either," says Lestrade.
Sherlock sighs heavily against Lestrade's side. He is so different in moments like this one from the man John and Lestrade grew accustomed to knowing before, dramatically unlike the man he is in front of everyone else. Sherlock Holmes as the world knows him is cold, aloof, impervious, sometimes even vicious. Here and now, he's vulnerable and weak, wanting no more than to stay in someone's arms. John and Lestrade often forget this Sherlock when they're talking to the other, even after the last six months.
"I want to check you over," says John. "Make sure you've returned to normal."
"I'm fine," says Sherlock.
"Indulge the doctor," says Lestrade, finally sliding out from under the consulting detective and leaving bed. "I'll make breakfast."
John retrieves his portable medical kit from the bathroom and sits with legs folded on the bed, next to Sherlock. He uses his stethoscope to listen to Sherlock's heart, which is what concerns him more than anything. He listens for several of Sherlock's breaths, afraid of palpitations or irregularity or a pulse too fast. To his great relief, the heart sounds normal. Satisfied, he puts the stethoscope away. He checks Sherlock's pupils with his light and takes his temperature. Sherlock really is fine. Physically.
"You're not in any pain?" John asks.
"No," says Sherlock, slouching against the pillows and the headboard. "Why would I be?"
Lestrade brings them both tea and drinks coffee himself.
When Sherlock has drained his mug, he says suddenly, "I want a massage."
Lestrade and John blink at him, then look at each other.
"Okay," says John. "Don't suppose you care which one of us gives it?"
Sherlock shakes his head and stretches his arm out to set his mug on the night table. He lies down on his stomach, one arm beneath his head and the other at his side, and waits. John climbs on top of him, straddling his waist, and starts on Sherlock's shoulders. The younger man tenses before relaxing into the doctor's hands. Lestrade watches for a bit as he finishes his coffee, then puts his mug on the table nearest him and settles on his side of the bed with the pulp novel he's been reading over the last several days in stolen moments.
John slowly works his way down Sherlock's back, eliciting periodic groans and purrs from Sherlock. Once or twice, Sherlock hisses when John kneads a painful knot.
"You need to eat," says John eventually. "You're too thin."
Sherlock doesn't answer.
John rubs Sherlock's shoulders again for a while and then the massage devolves into him stroking Sherlock's back up and down just for the hell of it, almost petting sometimes. He pushes his hands underneath Sherlock's shirt to touch his bare skin, and Sherlock shudders at that and makes a muffled noise. His skin is warm to John's touch.
John bends down and plants a kiss to the back of Sherlock's neck. Lestrade glances at him as he gives another and another, John's hands still pressed to Sherlock's lower back. John pauses with his face hovering over Sherlock's hair and breathes in, smelling expensive shampoo and chemicals and the laundry detergent used to wash the bedclothes. He rests his body over Sherlock's, pushing his arms beneath Sherlock's chest and tucking his head into the other man's neck.
Lestrade curls one corner of his mouth in a smile. John stays where he is for a while.
Lestrade goes as fast as he can, once he receives the call. He's so panicked that it isn't until after he talks to the surgeon about John that he realizes Sherlock is missing. He asks three different nurses if they've seen a tall man with blue eyes and a long coat, but they haven't. Lestrade stands in the middle of the shadowy corridor not knowing whether to stay or go. John made it through the operation but the doctors can't promise he'll make it. Lestrade can't bear to leave him in case John wakes up or—.
But Sherlock should be here. Where is he? What if something happened to him? What if he's gone to do something stupid? Lestrade calls him and the phone rings and rings and goes to voicemail.
He calls Donovan and begs her breathlessly, stumbling over his words, to come to the hospital and wait for news on John while he goes looking for Sherlock. She assures him she'll be there as soon as she can. The moment Lestrade ends the call, he staggers to the wall and sinks down to the floor in a squat. He holds his head in his hands and tries to breathe.
John was stabbed. Nobody can tell Lestrade what happened. Only that John was stabbed more than once and lost a lot of blood. The DI feels his chest tighten. They won't allow visitors yet. If not for the fact that Lestrade is a DI at the Yard, they wouldn't even let him in later because he's not family. Wouldn't let Sherlock in. Lestrade knows this without being told. Miraculously, this is the first time one of the three men has been in hospital since they started increasing the intimacy of their relationships, and until now, the family rule has lingered in the back of Lestrade's mind as a thorny reminder that the world isn't equipped to understand what he has with John and Sherlock. He and the two other men aren't blood, aren't married, aren't even lovers—yet they're each other's loves. They shouldn't need Lestrade's badge to be allowed access to each other.
He looks up to find Donovan eyeing him with worried eyes. "Sally. Thank God." He pushes himself to his feet. "He's out of surgery and he's resting. It's a wait and see. I need to find Sherlock. I can't imagine why he isn't here. Worried something's happened to him."
Donovan purses her lips, as if she wants to say something snide about Sherlock but knows that now is not the time. She touches her hand to Lestrade's arm, above his elbow. "Go on. I'll call you if I hear anything about Dr. Watson."
"Thank you." Lestrade strides away briskly, not waiting one moment. Donovan watches him disappear.
Anyone else would leave it off for last, but Lestrade follows his intuition when it comes to Sherlock. He drives to Baker Street, having called Sherlock's mobile twice more before he arrives. No answer either time. He parks his car on the street just outside 221 and rushes up the stairs to Sherlock and John's, afraid both of finding Sherlock and not finding him.
Sherlock's slumped back in his easy chair, chin on his chest and his arms spread out on the armrests. His sleeves are rolled up. A new rubber tube is tied tight above his left elbow. The used syringe is on the little table next to Sherlock's legs, along with a silver spoon and an empty plastic baggie. Sherlock looks totally spent. Only when Lestrade steps closer does he see that Sherlock's crying.
The younger man slides his eyes up and over to Lestrade.
"What are you doing?" Lestrade says.
"Is he dead?"
"No. Why aren't you at the hospital?"
"Was. You must've just missed me."
The older man stands feet away from Sherlock's chair, at a diagonal from it, his arms at his sides and the door to the flat open behind him. "He's not awake yet. And you're here, getting high."
"I needed it."
Lestrade doesn't know what to say to that. "I called you."
"Upstairs. Wherever I threw it."
Lestrade stares at Sherlock, his heart rate finally reaching normal tempo. Sherlock's voice sounds gravelly and lifeless. Lestrade feels weak on his feet, both from relief and stress, and all he wants to crawl into Sherlock's arms to comfort and be comforted. But he can see now that he won't have that luxury in the immediate future. "Come on. I have Sally waiting on him for us. I told her I'd be back as soon as I found you."
"I'm not going."
"You heard me."
Lestrade is speechless for a moment, his lips parted. "Sherlock, John's not safe yet. Anything could happen, we have to be there. Now. The only reason I left was to look for you."
"Go without me."
"You can't be serious. Why?"
Sherlock suddenly pushes himself up and crosses the room to the sofa, where he sits on the edge of the middle cushion. He hangs his head into his hands. After a long pause, he says, "It's my fault." His voice sounds strangled and tight in a way Lestrade's never heard. "He was bleeding out in the road because of me. He wasn't even conscious when I found him. If he dies—he will have spent his last waking moments alone."
"Hey," says Lestrade, crossing the space between them and crouching at Sherlock's feet. "Hey, listen to me. None of this is your fault. And he's not going to die."
"You don't know that." It comes out in a whisper. Sherlock presses his eyes into the heels of his palms and shudders.
Lestrade lays his hands over Sherlock's kneecaps, thumbs almost brushing Sherlock's elbows. He wishes he could promise. He wishes desperately that he could be sure of John's survival. But he can't. If Lestrade loses John, it will be a pain in his heart that never subsides, but he can't imagine what it would do to Sherlock.
The younger man lifts his head up and folds his hands together in front of his mouth. His face is slick with tears. When he opens his eyes, the blue of his irises stand out amidst the red whites. He sniffs and lowers his hands in front of him, pushing Lestrade's hands off his knees. Sherlock's lip quivers, and he says, "I thought—I thought—"
Another tear runs down Sherlock's cheek and Lestrade takes both his hands in his.
Sherlock trains his eyes on Lestrade's, his eyebrows drawn together and his lip shaking. When he speaks, his voice is thin and almost a whisper. "I thought we would be together forever. I wanted to believe, even though I know better."
Lestrade bows his head, heart clenching painfully in his chest.
"I guess I should be grateful," says Sherlock, tears collecting on his jaw and dripping into his lap. "Better to lose you both to an early death than have you walk out on me."
Lestrade takes his hands out of Sherlock's and stands back up, turning away from the younger man. He stretches his hand against his forehead. "God, Sherlock."
"This is all wrong." Sherlock shakes his head. "All of this was wrong."
"What are you saying?" Lestrade turns around to face him. "Are you saying you regret the last eight months?"
"If I lost one of you eight months ago, it would've been difficult. Now, it's intolerable." Sherlock looks down at the floor. "I can't handle this, Lestrade. It hasn't even been a year. The longer this goes on, the worse it'll be when it ends."
"What are you saying, Sherlock?" Lestrade says in a raised voice, blinking rapidly, suddenly afraid.
Sherlock shakes his head and closes his eyes, tears falling. When he looks at Lestrade again, the DI's stomach drops.
"This has to stop," says Sherlock. "Even if John wakes up—this can't continue. I'm sorry."
"No," says Lestrade, surprising himself. He feels his pulse quicken. "No. You aren't doing this. You aren't running away the first time it hurts."
"I recommend you respect my decision, Inspector." Sherlock says it with no real power. The words sound frail in his mouth.
"You are not doing this!" Lestrade shouts. "I love you! John loves you! You can't just walk out on us because people die, Sherlock, that's absurd!"
"It is absurd," says Sherlock, his face so pale it's almost translucent, "That I put myself in this position to start."
Lestrade pivots to the left, slides his hand under the corner of the breakfast table, and flips it toward the fireplace. Loose papers and pens and books go flying everywhere. Sherlock flinches but otherwise sits perfectly still.
"You shut your mouth!" the older man yells, glowering at Sherlock. "How dare you fucking say that to me? After all this, after John and I did this for you, after we've been happy! You're acting like a child! Like a bastard!"
"Get out," says Sherlock quietly, his eyes moving away from the DI when he blinks.
Lestrade crosses the room and fists his hands in Sherlock's shirt, pulling Sherlock toward him as he leans down and looks at Sherlock in the eye. "You are not destroying the best thing that's ever happened to you out of cowardice. I won't let you do that to yourself. I won't let you do that to John, after he wakes up from being bloody stabbed. We are not your playthings."
Sherlock looks up at him numbly. "If you don't leave, I will."
Lestrade backhands him across the face. He immediately regrets it—but only a little. "Do you think you're the only one here with something to lose? You think this doesn't scare me? I love him too. I would never give that up just so I could stand calmly at his funeral."
"I'm not you," Sherlock says. His cheek is red.
"No," says Lestrade. "But you are better than this."
Sherlock shakes his head slowly. "Don't make this more difficult than it has to be."
"You're really going to walk into John's hospital room, look him in the face, and reject him? You think you can do that? Look at me and tell me you don't love me." Lestrade shakes Sherlock a little, hands still grasping the designer shirt, and Sherlock looks at him. "Go on. Tell me. I don't love you anymore, Lestrade. My life is better without you. I'll be happy with you gone. Say it."
Sherlock says nothing.
Lestrade has no words for how he feels right now, emotionally or physically. He's amazed he still has it together, still has a straight face and dry eyes and the strength to stare Sherlock down. He tries to determine how well he would take it if Sherlock said those words to him now, even as he knows that the other man wouldn't mean them.
"I love you too much," Sherlock says, his voice surprisingly steady. "Greg. Please. Go."
Lestrade lets go of Sherlock's shirt and draws himself up straight. "Not without you." He pauses. "Look, if you don't want to come along for me, then do it for John. He deserves to have you there."
Lestrade's about the turn and head out the door, when Sherlock grabs the left side of his coat. The DI stops. Sherlock pulls himself onto his feet by Lestrade's coat and the two men stand at almost equal height, toe to toe. Lestrade searches Sherlock's face, until Sherlock tilts forward and Lestrade instinctively wraps his arms around the slighter man.
Sherlock clutches Lestrade tight, face buried in the older man's shoulder, and he is utterly silent as his back shakes. Lestrade can feel Sherlock's legs trembling, his weight sinking a little, but he holds the younger man up. They don't speak for a few minutes. Lestrade presses his mouth shut against the front of Sherlock's shoulder. He can smell the rain in Sherlock's suit jacket. They stand holding each other for a long time.
Lestrade pulls away from Sherlock and takes the other man's face in both his hands, looking at him. Sherlock's face is wet and pale, his eyes puffy. Lestrade has hardly ever seen him so upset. "Listen. He's going to be all right. Hear me? I promise."
"You can't promise," Sherlock whispers, tears rolling down his cheeks.
"I just did," says Lestrade. "John wouldn't leave you."
"It's not up to him." Sherlock's hands curls around Lestrade's wrists. He closes his eyes and hangs his head.
Lestrade leans in and rests his forehead against Sherlock's. He can smell the saltiness of Sherlock's tears. On impulse, he presses his lips to the corner of Sherlock's mouth, the lightest touch. His top lip comes away wet in a tiny spot. He kisses Sherlock's lips, centered, just a touch. When he draws his head back, Sherlock looks at him.
"What are you doing?"
"Trying to comfort you. Sorry. I should've asked."
Sherlock blinks at him, as if in a daze. "It's all right."
"It's not about—I don't want to snog you. I'm not—"
"I know. I could tell if you were." Sherlock is still holding onto Lestrade's wrists, and Lestrade is still holding onto Sherlock's face. "You can give me another."
Lestrade moves his face forward and touches his lips to Sherlock's. The kiss is so slight, brief and yet lingering, dry and painfully tender. Lestrade rests his forehead to Sherlock's again, closes his eyes. Their two sets of feet are toe to toe. "I love you," says Lestrade. He kisses the corner of Sherlock's mouth again.
Sherlock squeezes the DI's wrists. "Lestrade." He takes a breath as if breathing is difficult. He touches his own lips to Lestrade's, tentatively, only for a second.
Lestrade wraps his arms around Sherlock and holds him close.
I'm finally updating! Yay! Sorry for such a long wait!
Lestrade is sitting next to the bed when John wakes up. He slips his hand into John's, and John simply turns his head on the pillow and looks at Lestrade with bleary eyes. Lestrade smiles. "Hey you." He rubs his thumb against John's hand. "How are you?"
"Greg." The doctor closes his eyes and swallows. "How long have I been—"
"Since yesterday. They kept you under after surgery, so you could rest."
"He's just gone to get some tea. Are you in any pain?"
John breathes in and out through his nose. "I'm okay." He opens his eyes and looks at Lestrade. "Gave you a fright."
"Yeah." Traces of a smile remain on the older man's mouth. He strokes his thumb back and forth over a spot of John's hand. "But you're going to be fine."
"Is Sherlock—is he okay?"
"I think so. He'll feel a lot better once he sees you're awake."
John gives Lestrade's hand the smallest squeeze. "Take care of him," he says softly.
Lestrade's confusion shows on his face. That's the kind of thing a dying man would request.
"While I'm off my feet," John says. "You know how he gets."
Lestrade has no intention of mentioning the coke or his fight with Sherlock. He'd be happy to forget last night altogether.
He and John both look toward the door when Sherlock enters the room. Sherlock stops a few steps in and stares at John with bright blue eyes. "Thank God," he says.
John lifts his hand off the bed, toward Sherlock, and Sherlock moves to him as if by magnetic force. He closes both hands around John's and just stands still for a moment, exhaling in relief.
"Are you okay?" says John. "Sherlock?"
Sherlock nods, clutching John's hand. He opens his eyes and the expression on his face is indescribable. John appears more awake now, attuned to his partner's physical and emotional state.
"We should call the doctor in here," says Sherlock, almost breathless. "Have him take a look at you." He begins to pull away, but John hangs on.
"Wait, wait, wait," he murmurs. "Give us a minute. I want to see you."
Sherlock complies and stands next to the bed, across from Lestrade, his hands still folded over John's. Lestrade doesn't let go of the other. John stares at Sherlock, tired and serious, unsmiling. He's quiet for a minute or two. Then, he says, "You're safe."
Sherlock's jaw ripples. He bows his head. "Because of you."
Lestrade still doesn't know what happened. Sherlock hasn't told him anything, and he knew better than to ask his consulting detective before John's condition stabilized. He gathers that Sherlock and John were together when John got stabbed, and he assumes they were working a case. They must've been separated when John was attacked because Sherlock never would've allowed that to happen if he was present. There would've been a fight, a struggle, and Sherlock would be in the room next door at worst. Sherlock voicing guilt last night on Baker Street tells Lestrade that John was alone. Or protecting Sherlock.
"Hey," says John. "Don't."
Sherlock peers at him.
"I'm fine. We're all fine."
"We'll see what the doctor says."
"He's awake," Lestrade says to Sherlock. "That's a good sign."
"Both of you," says John, closing his eyes. "Relax."
Sherlock leans down and kisses John's hairline tenderly. John looks at him as he pulls away, surprised. Sherlock smiles with the right side of his mouth. He looks at Lestrade and cocks his head toward John. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all," Lestrade says.
Sherlock bends down again, slowly, and presses a kiss to the corner of John's mouth. It is brief and soft and when his lips disconnect, he tips his face toward John's, his nose touches John's cheek, and he lays his forehead on the doctor's. Lestrade watches the two of them as they close their eyes and stay there for a bit. He still has John's hand in his.
When Sherlock rises away from John just enough to look at him, John looks at him with a slightly awed expression. "That's new," he says.
"Not good?" says Sherlock.
"No, it's….fine." John shifts his eyes to Lestrade. "Did you?"
Lestrade nods once. "He needed the comfort."
"Don't expect a snog," says Sherlock, straightening.
"I'm not interested," says John. "But that sort of kiss might be…. nice. Makes me feel a bit like I'm in primary school again."
Sherlock smiles a bit, smoothes John's hair back with one hand and kisses John's forehead. He locks eyes with John. "I love you."
"I love you too," says John.
Sherlock squeezes his hand and looks over at Lestrade, who makes eye contact with him. Sherlock lets go of John and rounds the bed to the older man. Lestrade holds fast to John's hand on the bed but leans back into his chair. Sherlock cups his face in both hands. "Thanks," he says. And Lestrade knows exactly what he's talking about. Sherlock runs his thumbs over Lestrade's cheeks, tips smoothing the dark circles beneath his eyes. He kisses Lestrade's bottom lip with his dry, closed mouth. He drops his right hand away from the other man's face and cups his other hand over the back of Lestrade's head. He hunches over to touch his forehead against Lestrade's temple. The DI rests his free hand on Sherlock's lower back.
"I wish we could all go home. I need a recharge," says Sherlock.
"Soon," says Lestrade.
"I love you, Lestrade," Sherlock whispers. "I need you."
"I know. Forced you to stay, didn't I?"
The two detectives look at each other closely. John watches them, not knowing what Lestrade means and too tired to ask. He closes his eyes and feels the presence of the two other men in the room, the comfort in it. He listens to Sherlock leave the room for the doctor, and when he looks at Lestrade, the older man is looking back at him.
After a silent beat, Lestrade asks John, "What are you thinking?"
John swallows, his mouth dry. "It was close," he says.
Lestrade gives the slightest nod. However he might've encouraged Sherlock, he knows how close John came. Stabbings can be more fatal than gunshot wounds. Lestrade's seen more of the former than the latter in his career; he knows what sort of danger John was in, what sort he's still in. Recovery will take weeks. Painkillers, antibiotics, bed rest, leave from work, and extreme gentleness with his body. John surely knows all of this himself. So does Sherlock.
"The worst is over," Lestrade murmurs. "You're alive. That's what counts."
"I would die for Sherlock. No regrets. I was ready for it."
Lestrade's eyes narrow a little, and his mouth tightens. He knows how John feels. He would die for Sherlock too, without hesitation. He's glad to know that John loves Sherlock no less than this. But it's not as simple as it was a year ago, when Lestrade and John were casual friends only because of their mutual loyalty to Sherlock. Now, a part of Lestrade wonders if he should feel more selfish, if he should want John to live for him instead of dying for Sherlock. He has never wanted there to be any competition of loyalty amongst the three of them. He knows John and Sherlock feel the same way about it. But the nature of their work can easily force them to choose who they love more, who they prioritize more, whose feelings they consider more. Lestrade's certain that in the moment of the attack, John wasn't thinking of anything or anyone except Sherlock. Lestrade would've done the same. He doesn't fault John for it. But what does it mean? Does John love Sherlock more than he loves Lestrade? Does Lestrade love Sherlock more than he loves John?
And what of Sherlock? Does he have a favorite?
"I don't think he would've appreciated it," Lestrade says.
John's lips curl into a half-smile. "I'm used to this. Maybe not as much as other soldiers, who aren't doctors. But I still had to learn how to…. care less about my own life than everybody else's. Bit hard to unlearn."
Lestrade shakes his head. "You shouldn't try. It makes you a better friend. A better man."
John's hand is still in his. Lestrade glances up and back at the monitor behind him, tracking John's vitals.
"I've never been that terrified," John says.
Lestrade looks at him.
"I saw the knife, and I just—threw myself at the man, to keep him from Sherlock. Don't remember much after that."
Lestrade nods and glances toward the door, as Sherlock returns with John's doctor right behind him. The doctor stands at the foot of John's bed, while Sherlock returns to his place on John's left. The doctor smiles pleasantly at John and doesn't seem to notice Lestrade holding his hand. Neither John nor Lestrade move to let go.
"Good to see you conscious, John," the doctor says. "How do you feel?"
"Exhausted but properly drugged. Thanks for that."
"If you need any more morphine, don't hesitate to click that button." The doctor nods at the clicker lying on the bed between John's forearm and Lestrade's. "We patched up your wounds quite nicely and did a blood transfusion just to be on the safe side. You'll need to be on antibiotics for a while yet, to prevent infection, but at this point, I expect you to make a full recovery. You're a lucky man."
Sherlock touches John's shoulder with his fingertips, then settles his hand there warmly.
"When can I go home?" John says.
"I'm not sure," says the doctor. "I'd like to keep you here tonight and check on you again tomorrow, make absolutely sure you're stable. I suppose we'll see how things look."
John takes a breath, though whether he's disappointed or only tired is hard to tell.
"Well, you should try to get something down, if you can. Maybe one of your friends here can fetch you something from the cafeteria. We'll keep you on IV fluids until you're released." The doctor glances at the monitor behind Lestrade. "Everything looks good. So unless you have any questions, I think I'll leave you to get some rest."
John looks at him silently, and the doctor turns to go. At the door, John stops him and asks, "Were you my surgeon?"
The doctor looks over his shoulder. "One of them."
The doctor gives him a small smile. "You're welcome."
As soon as the door shuts after him, Sherlock says, "I'm going to find the man responsible."
John and Lestrade both look up at his face, while Sherlock stares across the room as if in thought.
"He got away?" says John.
"The Met's already been notified," says Lestrade. "Leave it to them, Sherlock."
Sherlock turns his head and meets Lestrade's gaze with cool, deadly eyes. He doesn't say a word.
"We're not as incompetent as you think," Lestrade tells him. "If he's still in London, he'll be found."
"Since when I have entrusted my personal affairs to the police?" Sherlock says.
"John's not even out of hospital yet. You're actually going to leave him to recover without you, to go on some reckless revenge trip?"
Sherlock's face softens a little as he looks at Lestrade, then lowers his eyes to the pale teal blanket covering John. "I didn't say I was going now. Did I?"
"If you two intend to have a row, do it outside," says John, his eyes shut again and his hand limp in Lestrade's.
"I'll see if I can find you some soup," says Lestrade, after pausing to look between his two partners. He gets up from his chair and leaves Sherlock alone with John.
After midnight that evening, Lestrade settles into Sherlock's easy chair at 221B, a hot cup of tea in his hand. He hasn't had more than a few hours of proper sleep in two days; John sent him away from the hospital for the benefit of a real bed. Sherlock stubbornly refused to follow the older detective, insisting he has little need for sleep in the first place and will be perfectly comfortable in a chair.
The flat is dark and quiet, a single white light illuminated on the coffee table in front of the fireplace to Lestrade's right. Steam rises from his tea, and he slouches deep into the chair, his shoulders resting against the back and his long legs stretched out before him. Now that he's alone and in a familiar, comfortable place, Lestrade feels the exhaustion in his body and his mind. He needs to go to work tomorrow but probably won't make it to the Yard until late morning. Donovan's been keeping him posted and taking direction via text and the occasional phone call.
"Take the time you need," she told him this morning. "God knows you have enough unused vacation days."
He fishes is mobile out of his pocket to check the time and discovers a two hour-old text from Ashley, the woman he met last weekend in a pastry shop when he was snooping around on a case off hours.
Want to have a drink on Friday?
He gave her his number to be nice and because she was the first woman to approach him several months. He hasn't had sex in a year, not that he particularly misses it. Once in a while, he feels as if he should seek it out because that's the normal thing to do, but he's thought about it even less since he started getting closer to Sherlock and John.
Sherlock once deduced something about Lestrade's sexuality, three months ago over breakfast at 221B. Lowering his newspaper and glancing at Lestrade from across the table, those penetrating blue eyes bright in the sunshine from the windows to his left, he said, "You've never been particularly passionate about sex, have you, inspector?"
"You aren't like me. But you aren't like John either. I believe there's a word for you."
"Gray." And Sherlock returned to reading.
Lestrade still doesn't know what the younger detective was on about. He also doesn't know if he wants to meet Ashley, now that she's asked. He's too old for casual sex, by his standards, but he isn't looking for a girlfriend either…. He doesn't think it would be feasible to have one now, even if he wanted. He doesn't have the time. Or the space. John seems to have accepted that for himself too, and he's far more interested in sex and women than Lestrade. Loving Sherlock Holmes is a full-time job. Having a second partner in addition to that is more than any sane, ordinary person could handle, and adding a third is out of the question.
Lestrade will deal with the text in the morning.
He turns his head at the click of the door when it opens but doesn't move otherwise. Sherlock's tall silhouette appears in the shadows, and Lestrade watches as he steps into the light. The older man wonders if he looks as terrible as Sherlock does.
"What changed your mind?" Lestrade asks.
"John," says Sherlock. "He doesn't think you should be alone."
Lestrade barely smiles with the right corner of his mouth and sips at his tea. "I hope you didn't put up too much of a fight."
Sherlock pulls his scarf down from his neck and stares at the floor. "Any word on the fugitive?"
Sherlock stands still for a moment, then lowers himself into John's chair across from Lestrade. He sits leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his blue scarf still in one hand. The men are silent, until Sherlock speaks. "I didn't tell him about our argument."
Lestrade nods and drinks more tea. "For the best."
Sherlock swallows and looks sad. "You are so much the better man, Lestrade. You always have been."
Lestrade lifts his eyes to Sherlock's face, but the younger detective doesn't make contact.
"You and John—my superiors in every way, except cleverness."
"It's true," Sherlock says, finally looking back at Lestrade. "And one day, you'll realize it. Both of you." He gets to his feet abruptly and disappears through the kitchen, into his bedroom.
Lestrade sighs and sets his cup down without finishing his tea. He stops in the doorway to Sherlock's room, leaning against the jamb and looking at Sherlock's back. The younger man sits at the foot of his bed, facing away from Lestrade, the shadows and moonlight casting strange shapes across his shoulders.
"Do you want me to stay?" Lestrade asks.
Sherlock doesn't answer.
Lestrade bows his head and steps into the room, hands in his trouser pockets. "Not long after John met you and moved in, do you know what I told him? I said that you were a great man…. And that I hoped one day, with luck, you would be a good one too."
"Is that your passive aggressive way of saying I've deeply disappointed you?" Sherlock says, without turning to show his face.
"You have far exceeded any expectations I had before I knew you the way I do now," says Lestrade. "You aren't perfect, but no one is, Sherlock. Christ, I failed a marriage, didn't I? John could never keep a girlfriend. I know this isn't what you want to hear but being great, being good, doesn't make you flawless. You'll never be flawless. And I'm not asking you to be."
"You've always been far too lenient with me, detective inspector."
"You were scared. And you stayed anyway. I believe they call that courage."
"I stayed because you convinced me to stay."
"You stayed because you love John. And me. You just needed to be reminded that matters more than anything."
Sherlock twists around to look over his shoulder at Lestrade. "How can you stand there and suggest that a man like me deserves to be loved by a man like John? By a man like you?"
"Because I see you more clearly than you see yourself."
Sherlock sneers at him and turns away.
Lestrade approaches Sherlock, stopping just behind him. "Can I touch you?"
"Because it's the only thing you can't argue with."
Sherlock doesn't look at him or speak, but Lestrade can see his lips quiver. He lays his hand on Sherlock's back, between the shoulder blades. Sherlock's breath hitches. Lestrade isn't sure whether Sherlock will cry.
"What are you doing here, Lestrade?" Sherlock says. "What are you and John doing here?"
Lestrade sits on the bed next to Sherlock and gathers him his arms. Sherlock doesn't resist.
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.
Sherlock's been gone for three days when John finally demands to know what Lestrade isn't telling him. All the phone calls, voice mails, and text messages have gone unanswered. John even sent Sherlock an email, in the hopes that the jerk would read it on his mobile or has a computer at his disposal. (The email said only: Tell me where the hell you are, if you're still alive.) Mycroft isn't answering John or Lestrade either, which means that Sherlock is very much alive and safe, and the elder Holmes is having a rare moment of cooperation with his brother at the most inconvenient time. Lestrade has tried his best to soothe John's worry, and now he's trying not to exacerbate John's mounting rage. He concludes that his efforts have been in vain, when John turns on his heel toward him in the sitting room of 221B and says,
"What's been going on?"
"What do you mean?" Lestrade says.
"I mean, something's been off with Sherlock ever since I got bloody stabbed, and I know you know what it is because you were there with him when I was out of sorts."
"Don't!" John says in a biting tone, the one he usually directs at Sherlock. "Don't John me; don't treat me like I need my feelings protected. I'm not dying, I'm not sick, and I have every right to know why the hell my flat mate, my partner, hasn't been home in three days and won't return any of my calls!"
Lestrade answers in a worn out tone. "I told you, when he came in Tuesday night after you went to bed, he said he'd been thinking. He didn't tell me what about. In all likelihood, that's where he's been. He needs to be alone when he's preoccupied with something, you know that."
"He doesn't just run off without telling anyone where he's going, why, or for how long. This is different. He doesn't have a case, unless he's hiding it from us, which he has no reason to do and has never done before. That means he's thinking about something personal, and what does he have in his personal life worth thinking about so seriously besides us?"
Lestrade looks at him with pursed lips, hands on his hips and dread heavy in his stomach. He doesn't want to talk about this. He doesn't want John to know the truth. He doesn't even fully understand what's going on with Sherlock anyway.
"Greg," John says, staring at him from across the room. "Tell me. If he refuses to be honest with me, then for the love of Christ, be the better man."
"I thought I had it under control," Lestrade says quietly, lowering his eyes to the floor. "I thought it was just a reaction to you getting hurt. He was terrified and upset. I talked to him, I thought I got him through it, but he hasn't been himself when I'm alone with him ever since the stabbing. I could feel it. He's been doing his best to act normal around you."
John clenches his jaw but doesn't interrupt. The light is on in the kitchen behind him. He's wearing his oatmeal jumper that fits a little looser on him now because he's lost weight since he got hurt.
"But he didn't say anything to me after that first night you were in the hospital. I've been hoping that he's just stressed and concerned about you, but I don't think he listened to me when I tried to comfort him."
"What did he say?" John asks. "What didn't he listen to?"
Lestrade makes eye contact with John, a loaded look. He considers keeping his secrets, sparing John's feelings and peace of mind. Maybe Sherlock will come back soon, and if he does, there's no need to burden John with the truth. But the way John's staring at Lestrade, waiting for an answer, makes the older man feel obliged as his friend to be honest. "First, he decided that he should end it with us."
John swallows, closes his eyes, and lowers his chin. Lestrade knows exactly what he's feeling: his worst fear confirmed. John pauses, then says, "But you changed his mind. He came to see me, and everything was fine."
"Yeah," says Lestrade. "I thought I'd convinced him. We had a row that night, while you were in surgery. He was really upset, more than I've seen him in a long time. He wanted to end it because he was afraid of how much it would hurt to lose us one day, if he stayed."
"Later, he said something about you and me realizing one day that we're better than him."
John scoffs thinly. "And then we'll leave him?" He shakes his head and looks away in disbelief.
"I did my best to be consoling, and he didn't mention it again. Then, he saw Sherman on Tuesday and made his threats, walked out. When he finally came home, he was in a bad mood, but all he said was that he wanted to stay the night in my flat alone." Lestrade pauses, blowing a short breath through his nose and looking downward again. "I wouldn't hand over the keys. I tried arguing with him about it, but he wouldn't even engage enough for that."
"And then he filched the keys," John says. Lestrade told him that much, and they've both already been over to Lestrade's flat to check for Sherlock. No sign of him and Lestrade's keys had been left with the landlord.
"I don't know where he is or what he's thinking any more than you do," Lestrade says, looking up at John with anguish.
"How could you keep this from me?" John says, more hurt than angry. "My God, he said he wanted to walk out on us, and you didn't tell me."
"I thought I'd changed his mind. And you were in the hospital. I just didn't see the point in telling you about a problem I thought was solved, when you needed to focus on getting well."
"Yeah, but that was weeks ago. And you said he's been off this whole time, you could've brought it up."
"I told you," says Lestrade, his tone lowered and placating with a tinge of remorse. "I was hoping it was something else."
The two men stand in the sitting room a few yards apart, at a loss. They know better than anyone that no one can force Sherlock Holmes to do anything he doesn't want to do and once the man's made up his mind, he's impossible to talk to. They could hunt him down, use Lestrade's position to send out a search party or at least a missing person's alert, at the very least pay Mycroft an office visit and demand a location on Sherlock. But smoking him out of hiding wouldn't necessarily improve the situation; it might even make it worse.
"He has to come back," Lestrade says, half to himself. "If nothing else, he needs his things."
"If it's over, he'll tell us directly," John agrees, the anger and hurt gone from his voice and replaced with a deflated resignation. He rubs the back of his neck with one hand, then turns around and retreats into the kitchen.
Lestrade stands still and watches him from behind the coffee table. "I'm sorry," he says after a minute of listening to John do the dishes.
John's hands stop, and he stands still at the kitchen sink, with his back to Lestrade. Lestrade wonders if he should go. He can't read John right now. Doesn't know if he's angry at Sherlock or angry at Lestrade too. The DI suddenly feels like losing his relationship with Sherlock would mean losing what he has with John too, like a carefully constructed illusion has been lifted to reveal that Lestrade really has been a sort of third wheel all along, a secondary to John and Sherlock's primary relationship. Sherlock chose to run when Lestrade was the only one to leave because Lestrade's easy to leave. Maybe if John had been in the room at the time, Sherlock would've stayed. And now, without Sherlock, John might not see any use in being more than casual friends with Lestrade.
It knocks the wind out of him: the intensity of loneliness that fills his whole body in an instant. He feels physically hollowed. Lestrade takes slow, dazed steps to the door of the flat, pulls his coat from the hook, and slips out. He goes down the staircase to the ground floor in the dark, feeling like he's just lost everything.
He pauses at the door of the building and looks over his shoulder at John's silhouette in the doorway of 221B and the yellow light behind him. John only lingers there for a second before hurrying down the stairs, his footsteps too heavy and loud for this time of night. Mrs. Hudson might peep out of her flat to ask what's going on. Lestrade turns his body to meet him, and John stands in front of him with only a step between them.
"Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?" John asks.
Lestrade doesn't answer, only looks at John's face mostly obscured by the darkness.
"You are, aren't you? Idiot."
John grips Lestrade's coat in both hands and pulls himself toward the taller man. Lestrade sags against the door, and John lifts his face to his, nose in Lestrade's cheek where it meets with the side of his own nose, forehead touching Lestrade's, breath hot against Lestrade's skin next to his lips. Their eyes are closed. Lestrade's arms stay limp at his sides. He's dizzy.
"I love you," John whispers. He kisses Lestrade's cheek, then keeps the ridge above his eyebrow pressed to Lestrade's. "Whatever Sherlock decides, that won't change."
"Okay," Lestrade whispers back, disoriented but relieved.
John slips one hand inside Lestrade's coat, sliding it onto Lestrade's waist. He draws his head back to look at Lestrade and lifts his other hand to the DI's face. "I know it's not your fault," John says. "You did the best you could."
Lestrade knocks his head back into the door and sighs, face upturned to the ceiling. "I just wish he'd come home. I—" His voice breaks and he goes silent.
John lays his hand on Lestrade's chest. "I know." He wraps his arms around the taller man. Lestrade hugs him for a long time.
Sherlock comes home the next morning, as quiet as the world outside in its gray light. Lestrade's sitting in his leather easy chair with a cup of coffee only because he and John needed each other's company overnight, both of them feeling lonely and abandoned in Sherlock's absence. Usually, Lestrade sleeps in his own flat on Friday night, but Sherlock doesn't look surprised to see him in the sitting room. John's in the kitchen pouring himself a new cup of tea and pauses to look over at Sherlock when the other man stops near John's chair. They look at each other in silence. Lestrade watches Sherlock, a bit mesmerized, as if Sherlock's come back from the dead and Lestrade can't be sure the man's real.
"Well?" says John finally. "Come to collect your stuff, then?"
Sherlock looks over at Lestrade, who wears a blank expression, then back at John. "Are you evicting me from my own flat?"
"You're the one who doesn't want to be here. Don't expect me to move out."
Sherlock lowers his gaze to the carpet with a chastised face. "John, I think you've misinterpreted my disappearance."
"Lestrade told me everything. Or at least the important parts. I know you've been debating whether to leave us since I got hurt. You go spend a night in Greg's flat like someone who had a huge row with his wife and can't stand to be at home, you disappear for damn near four days without explanation, and you don't return any of our attempts at contact. I think I'm interpreting your disappearance perfectly well, Sherlock."
Sherlock peers at him with those pale blue eyes and stays quiet for a moment. "I needed the time to think. I needed to be alone."
"Well, you could've just bloody said that, couldn't you?" says John. He turns from Sherlock and braces his hands against the rim of the countertop, facing the sink. His body's tense, his jaw tight, but he's not as angry as Lestrade expected he would be at Sherlock.
"What do you want me to say?" Sherlock asks in earnest.
John breaks into an ironic, open-mouthed grin. "Oh, I don't know, Sherlock—maybe, sorry for not responding to your messages or sorry for not being honest with you for near a month or sorry for running away instead of talking to you like a fucking adult that cares about his relationships. Something along those lines."
"An apology isn't what you really want to hear."
"Tell me what I really want to hear, then, if you know what everyone in the bloody world wants better than they do," John hisses, scowling at Sherlock over his shoulder.
Sherlock speaks softly, without any defensiveness or arrogance. "You want to hear…. that I'm staying. You want to hear that I still love you. You want to hear that I don't regret the last nine months."
The hardness falters on John's face and he looks away again. Lestrade continues to watch Sherlock from where he sits. The DI recognizes the clothes Sherlock's wearing as some of the extras he left behind in Lestrade's flat months ago, one night when they slept there while John stayed at his date's flat until morning. A pair of dark denim jeans, charcoal grey shirt, and a black corduroy blazer he's owned as long as Lestrade's known him. He doesn't have his coat, though he took it with him and didn't leave it in Lestrade's flat. Lestrade can't guess where Sherlock stayed: his brother's or a hotel.
Sherlock inhales, looking up at the ceiling, as if readying himself to say what he's about to say. "You must understand that I have never, in my life, been remotely attached to anyone as much as I am to you. Both of you. Not even close. I've never dated, I've never had sex, I've never had a conventional romantic relationship. I never even had friends—not the sort that matter. I don't know…. how to cope with the potential loss that major personal relationships entail. I don't know what it's like to be left by a lover. I don't know what it's like to bury someone of significance. I didn't know I could feel this way about anyone at all."
John still doesn't look at him, but Lestrade stays focused. Sherlock's not looking at either one of them. His eyes are fixed on some spot of John's chair, near the floor. Lestrade can tell that he's put together his words in advance, that he did spend the last three or four days thinking them out.
"I'm—" Sherlock stops, pressing his lips together, and Lestrade detects the slightest tremble in his voice. "I'm afraid…. of what might happen should I lose this. I'm afraid the longer it goes on, the more painful it will be when it ends. I'm already too used to…."
Lestrade feels the urge to get up and wrap Sherlock in his arms, by the look of him, but he stays where he is to let Sherlock finish.
Sherlock swallows and takes a breath. "My work is dangerous. Being involved with it raises your chances of coming to harm. You were stabbed, John. Because you were with me. And that wasn't the first time your life was threatened on my account."
John doesn't reply and continues to stare intently at the wall above the sink.
"Even if you both manage to escape premature death and permanent injury," Sherlock says, "that does not remove the possibility that you may leave me…. because I'm not an adequate companion."
"So why are you here?" John asks, his voice lowered and somber. "If there can be no happy ending, why did you come back?"
Sherlock stands long and tall, staring at John. After a moment, he says softly, "Because I missed you."
Lestrade feels an emotional pressure in his chest, and he looks from Sherlock to John, waiting for the doctor to react.
John lowers his head between his shoulders, arms spread out around him and his hands on the countertop. Sherlock's eyes are glassy on him, his face white. John raises his head, turns toward Sherlock, and says, "You can think whatever you want about yourself, but it's for me and Greg to decide how we feel about you."
Sherlock maintains eye contact with him but doesn't make a sound. He continues to look like any moment, he'll either start to cry or faint.
John sighs heavily, his shoulders sinking. He closes his eyes, then opens them again. "I can't tell you when and how I'll die, Sherlock. Neither can Greg. And I don't have to remind you that of the three of us, you're the one who's most often in danger. I could ask you to quit your work to be safe and live to old age, but I won't because I know it's who you are."
Lestrade silently agrees.
"Everybody dies," John says. "All any of us can do is hope for the best."
Sherlock looks at the floor.
John watches him from where he stands in the kitchen next to the table half covered with Sherlock's chemistry equipment. Lestrade stays focused on him now because John is the safe place, the reliable one, and their only hope of saving what they both have with Sherlock because Lestrade's already done what he can.
"We've told you that we're not looking for you to be perfect," John says to Sherlock, with a detectable trace of helpless exasperation. "How are you inadequate?"
Sherlock chuckles short and low in his throat, with a painful open-mouthed grin, his teeth gleaming. "Why don't you tell me yourself?"
"I'm not asking you to deduce why I think you're inadequate because I don't think that. Neither does Greg. And if you stop and think about it honestly, you'll know that whatever you're thinking isn't what you read in us, it's what you've imagined. So tell me why you think you're an inadequate partner."
Lestrade shifts his eyes to Sherlock.
Sherlock breathes in and out through his nose and carefully avoids eye contact with the other men. When he speaks, his tone is steady and quick. "I'm cold, inconsiderate, selfish, a workaholic who prioritizes my job over you, I never pause to wonder after your needs or feelings when I'm caught up in a case, I'm an irritating flat mate, generally unhelpful, offensive, arrogant, unapologetic, and I do what I want whether you like it or not. Have you heard enough or would you like me to continue?"
John's crossed his arms over his chest, his anger faded into impatience. "Sherlock—"
"And then there's the issue of sex." Sherlock looks at John directly as he says it, now completely unemotional on the outside. "Your sex life was already steadily decreasing before we became more intimate, and now, you barely have time for it at all. Lestrade hasn't shagged anyone these whole nine months, though that's far more tolerable to him than it would be to you. You can't expect sex from me, now or ever. There's no reason why it would become any easier for you to negotiate a balance between our arrangement and sexual relationships with women, in the future. In all likelihood, you'll one day meet a woman you like enough to invest yourself in emotionally, and that, in combination with your need for sex, will compel you to withdraw from what we have. I might say the same of Lestrade, though the risk isn't as great with him given his low libido."
Lestrade blinks at Sherlock, his brain lagging behind the words and trying to absorb them.
John stares at Sherlock with a neutral expression. "Are you done now?" he asks.
"Yes, I think so."
"That's the biggest load of shit I've heard in recent memory."
Lestrade barks a laugh unexpectedly. Sherlock and John both glance at him. "Please, continue, John. I think this'll be good."
"With pleasure." John looks back at Sherlock. "First of all, Greg turned down the opportunity for a shag recently because he has absolutely no desire for sex right now. Do you know why? It's not just because of his libido. It's because he loves us, Sherlock. He may not want to have sex with us, but he loves us and doesn't feel like having sex with anyone else. Whether you understand that or not, it's true."
Sherlock discreetly peers at Lestrade, and the DI looks at him steadily without contesting John's explanation.
"As for me," John says, "I care more about this than I do about sex. I can't make it any clearer than that. I'm not going to stop seeing women, and I could certainly see more of them than I have been lately. But not enough sex, I can live with. I suppose I could live without you too, but I don't really want to."
Sherlock looks at him, and they hold each other's gaze for a silent beat.
John uncrosses his arms. "Look, I can't give you a guarantee of lifelong loyalty, but no one can. If you were a woman I were sexually involved with and I married you, I could still decide to leave in the future."
"The odds of you—"
"What I've found with you," John says, "I've never felt before. Not with any girlfriend. I don't want to give it up." Finally, the expression in his eyes and his face turns to vulnerability. "I love you. That's why I took that stabbing. I don't want to be without you."
Sherlock bows his head. "People change their minds."
John swallows. "What I feel for you and Greg... I can't describe it. It's like something that reaches into the deepest part of me. When I'm with you, I don't feel the least bit alone." He smiles a little, the emotion fuller in his voice. "Even when you don't talk to me or when you're being a complete dick, the alone feeling's gone. I always hoped I'd meet someone who could take it away..."
"Yeah," says Lestrade in a hoarse but steady voice. "That's exactly it." He leans forward and rests his elbows on his thighs, hands touching. "This is going to sound... With you two, I feel like some part of me's been touched that no one else could ever get to."
John nods, then looks at Sherlock again. "Just because we like sex doesn't mean it's what we need. Sex never gave us this. Romance never us this."
Sherlock says nothing and stays very still for a moment, visibly processing the information. He starts to step backward, disoriented. He makes it to the sofa and lowers himself onto the cushions, props his elbows on his knees and puts his face in his hands. Lestrade pushes himself up out of Sherlock's chair and crosses the sitting room. John follows. Sherlock's right hand is trembling and his breath comes out shaky. Lestrade sits on his right and cups his bony shoulder with one hand. John sits on Sherlock's left and hugs him, arms arranged around his neck as he presses his head to Sherlock's.
"If you leave me—" Sherlock says, and Lestrade can't tell if he's crying or not.
"We're not leaving, you git," John murmurs.
Lestrade lowers his hand to Sherlock's lower back and starts to rub up and down.
"Would you trust us?" John says to Sherlock. "Would you please just trust us?"
Sherlock doesn't answer, and John doesn't push.
Lestrade rubs Sherlock's back and watches the younger man's hand continue to shake. He knows what this is. Sherlock's terrified, which is so rare that it startles Lestrade. He and John need to soothe Sherlock. "Do you want to go upstairs?" Lestrade asks gently. "John can make you some tea and we can spend the whole day at home, just being together. How's that?"
John eyes Lestrade, the two of them trading looks of mutual strategizing. Sherlock takes a deep breath, as if trying to calm himself, but Lestrade doesn't feel the tension in Sherlock's body loosen.
"I think that's a good idea," John says. "Let's go upstairs, Sherlock."
Lestrade leads Sherlock by the hand to John's room, with John behind them. Sherlock sheds his blazer, his belt, his shoes, his jeans, his shirt, and crawls into bed wearing his boxers and one of John's light cotton t-shirts with long sleeves. John and Lestrade are still in their pajamas because it was only ten AM when Sherlock arrived.
John goes back downstairs to pour Sherlock a cup of tea, and Lestrade lies down next to Sherlock, both of them on their sides and facing the same direction. Lestrade wraps his arm around Sherlock's waist from behind and they just lie there in silence, legs only slightly bent at the knee. Lestrade breathes in Sherlock's scent and feels waves of relief wash through him. "I missed you," he whispers, face against the back of Sherlock's neck. Already, Lestrade feels the energy in Sherlock's body change, some of the distress slaking away. It seems like months since Lestrade held him this way, since the last time he felt Sherlock's body from head to toe against his. Sherlock feels thinner than Lestrade remembers but warm and alive, here with him. The emptiness Sherlock would leave behind if he abandoned Lestrade seems even more unfathomable now.
John shuts the bedroom door behind him and stands on his side of the bed with the mug of tea outstretched to Sherlock. Sherlock sits up to drink, and when he's done, John sets the mug on his night table. Sherlock sinks back down next to Lestrade, and John gets in under the sheets and comforter. The gray light outside comes through the window with a bluish tint now, not much brighter than it was earlier in the morning.
Lestrade circles his arm around Sherlock's waist, pulling him close but not tight. John pushes himself against Sherlock's chest, as Sherlock embraces him. John lays his top arm along Sherlock's, hand on Lestrade's shoulder. The three of them are pressed snugly together, and soon, their breathing synchronizes at a slow pace. They have their eyes closed, but they're fully awake and conscious of each other. Lestrade doesn't think of anything at all, his mind blacking out as if in a state of deep meditation. It isn't until he hears John hushing that Lestrade realizes Sherlock's weeping. John reaches his hand into Sherlock's curls to smooth them. Lestrade just lies still at Sherlock's back and holds him.
"You aren't cold with us," John whispers to Sherlock. "You care about getting it right and being good to us. You know exactly what's wrong when something is and you don't make a big fuss of it, you just do what you can to be there. You let us in on your work even though you don't need the help. You're affectionate and loyal and you would do anything for us. I know you would."
Lestrade slides his hand up from Sherlock's belly to his side and keeps it there, feeling his love for Sherlock and John in his chest, around his heart.
"You're funny and you're brilliant and I am never, ever bored," John continues to murmur. "You're not always easy to live with or be with, but when you are, it is so bloody easy. And you're passionate. You're passionate when you love like you are about your work, you just don't let on. But I see. I've never been loved so intensely in my life."
"Yes," Lestrade says at Sherlock's shoulder. "You are more than your brain, Sherlock. You just never let anyone know it until now. Not even yourself."
John snakes his arm in between himself and Sherlock and lays his hand over Sherlock's heart. He rests his head on the pillow next to Sherlock's and looks at his face, only a few inches away. Sherlock opens his eyes to look at John, tears slipping along the contours of his nose and cheeks and eye sockets, blue irises brilliant to John amidst the whites of his eyes wet and pink at the edges. They stare at each other in silence, Sherlock's heart beating into John's hand. Lestrade, without seeing, moves his hand from Sherlock's side to cover John's hand on Sherlock's heart.
They lie this way for an unknown amount of time: Sherlock and John looking into each other's eyes, Lestrade cuddled up to Sherlock's back with his eyes closed, Lestrade and John's hands together on Sherlock's chest. They don't tell him they love him, nor does Sherlock say the words to them. They can feel it in themselves and each other. It flows through their bodies. They breathe it in.
Another three months pass, moving the men to the one year mark. They don't talk about Sherlock's fears of abandonment and loss explicitly again, though all of them can sense the presence of that fear. Their established routines continue: Lestrade spends the night at Baker Street three to five days a week, Sundays are reserved for Sherlock and John, they hide their intimacy from the people they know as much as they can, cases come and go for Lestrade, Sherlock and John solve a fair share of their own. New routines take shape: Lestrade and John take advantage of days when Sherlock needs solitude to recharge, spending that time alone together; occasionally, when Lestrade sleeps in his own flat, Sherlock shows up without warning to join him; John stops introducing the women he dates to Sherlock and Lestrade, stops bringing them around Baker Street altogether.
Lestrade's sex drive is all but dead. Half the time when he tries masturbating in the privacy of his own flat, he quits without even getting hard. Last week, after one too many pints at his favorite pub in celebration of a victory football match, he let a much younger woman take him home. He has no idea how he managed an erection. His orgasm was like an electric awakening for the ten seconds it lasted. Afterward, he felt a physical and spiritual satiation he couldn't remember ever experiencing; it went hand in hand with his inner confirmation that he neither wanted nor needed sex in his life, until further notice.
The first thing out of his mouth when he saw Sherlock and John the next day at Baker Street was, "I shagged someone last night."
John merely glanced at him over his shoulder and said, "Cheers."
Sherlock didn't look up from his copy of the Sunday Times at all. "Obviously."
Lestrade blinked, standing on the threshold dividing kitchen from sitting room.
"Don't tell me you're suffering from some sort of ridiculous remorse," Sherlock said, turning to the next page in the paper.
"I don't think so," said Lestrade, pushing his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "You okay with it?"
"Why wouldn't I be? I'm not interested in shagging you." Sherlock curled one hand around the handle of his mug and sipped at his coffee.
"Well, I know that. It's just, a couple months ago, John told you I'd lost interest in sex because of how I feel about you. That must've given you certain expectations."
"You didn't intend for it to happen," said Sherlock, as John sat across from him at the kitchen table with his tea. "And now that it did, you feel your disinterest validated in a way you didn't before. You got over your little sexual identity crisis weeks ago, thank God, or last night would've solved that too."
Lestrade just grinned at Sherlock brightly.
John has sex in bursts, drawing women looking for hot flings like a magnet, occasionally disappearing for two, three, four nights in a row. Once, near a week, coming home at five in the morning each day. Sherlock deduces that John lied to the woman, telling her that he's in a bad marriage and sneaking away to see her. The lie excited her. Sherlock and Lestrade never ask John for details about the women or the sex, and John doesn't volunteer any information. Sherlock sees all he needs to see in John's clothes, face, gait. The fact that John always showers upon arriving home from a shag, no matter what time of the day or night, hasn't gone unnoticed by either of his partners.
"You know, you don't have to do that," Lestrade said to him once, as John emerged from his bathroom towel-drying his hair. "At least not right away."
"I feel better cleaning up," John said. "I can't crawl into bed with Sherlock or the both of you smelling like sex. Wouldn't feel right. And God knows what Sherlock would figure out about the girls by scent alone."
"True. I just hope you don't feel ashamed or guilty about it, John."
John frowned in disbelief, damp towel coming to rest over one shoulder. "Of course not."
"You sure? Because you're the only one of us getting any right now, so I could understand if you felt a bit weird about it."
John waved him off. "If there's one thing I've never had hang-ups about, it's sex."
But now, a week away from the one year anniversary of John and Lestrade's decision to become intimate with Sherlock, the DI can't shake the sense that sex has changed in meaning and value for John as much as it has for Lestrade. He just can't be sure how. What he knows is the way John moves for a day or two after he's with a woman, like he's disconnected from his own body except for when Sherlock or Lestrade touches him; the somber set of John's face that conceals something Lestrade can't identify.
Lestrade's been thinking about Sherlock. About sex and celibacy and love and intimacy. About the way he's lived most of his life somewhere in between John's full cup and Sherlock's empty one. He's thinking about the future. About what he can do to fuel their love.
He pays a visit to a tantric sex therapist.
"What can you tell me about tantric celibacy?" Lestrade asks. On his way home to his own flat, at half past five on a Monday, he stops at the therapist's studio.
The woman, in her late thirties with a pretty face and soft hair dyed black, looks at him in surprise. "Well... not much, I'm afraid. It's as old as tantric sex, I know that. Sometimes, I recommend a period of celibacy to my couples when they're first starting out, but not often. I could do a bit of research and see what I find. Are you thinking about celibacy?"
Lestrade smiles briefly. "I've ended up celibate without thinking about it."
"Oh, no!" she laughs. "Are you all right with that?"
"Yeah. I am. Actually, the reason why I came here to ask about it from a tantric perspective is because I'm sort of... I have these relationships. They're not sexual... Or romantic. Well, they might be romantic. I don't know. They're... complex."
She looks at him with an amused, perhaps faintly skeptical expression, and Lestrade purses his lips with a muffled sigh. He's never had to try describing what he has with Sherlock and John before.
"They're emotional and physical, but not in a sexual way. And none of us want it to be sexual because we're not actually attracted to each other like that. But the relationships are important. The most important. And I guess I'm... looking for a way to approach the no sex part so that it's useful. For all of us."
"Are you sure the lack of sex isn't a problem?" she asks. "Because if there are underlying issues in the relationships preventing sexual intimacy, I can help you work through them. In fact, tantric sex can be a very powerful way of healing relationships..."
Lestrade shakes his head, trying not to get frustrated. "No, it's nothing like that. We've never been sexual, and that's intentional. That's why tantric celibacy caught my eye when I was surfing the internet. It's not just about going without, is it? I mean, there's an angle that can make it... meaningful on an emotional or a spiritual level, right?"
She eyes him with a mix of intrigue and skepticism. "Tantra as a general philosophy is all about spiritual enlightenment. So I wouldn't be surprised if the tantric approach to long-term celibacy makes that a goal. But like I said, I don't know much about it. Usually, it would be a practice centered on the self, but you're talking as if you want to get something out of it in your relationships."
"Well, there's more to tantric sex than sex, isn't there?"
The woman makes a noise between scoff and snort. "In a word."
"Maybe you can tell me about the nonsexual parts," says Lestrade.
Lestrade's already sitting at the bar in Hog's End, sipping at his pint, when John arrives wearing his brown leather jacket. They greet each other the way any two men would, who are friends. Not like partners. John slides up onto the stool next to Lestrade and one of the bartenders takes his order. John turns toward Lestrade, his elbow on the bar top, and says, "So what's this about? You sounded a bit serious on the phone."
Lestrade sets his glass down and licks the foam from his upper lip. "I have some ideas that I want to run by you, before I talk to Sherlock."
"What kind of ideas?" The bartender delivers John's beer to his coaster, and John says, "Thank you" with a quick glance.
"First, I have a suggestion specifically for you." Lestrade looks at him, pausing for a moment. "I want you to consider becoming celibate."
John's face furrows at the bridge of his nose. "What?"
"Not forever. It doesn't really matter how long, though I think it'd have to be at least a month to be worthwhile. Let me explain."
John drinks some of his beer, staring at Lestrade sideways.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking lately," Lestrade says. "You know it's almost a year since we first talked to Sherlock."
"Yeah," John says, nodding.
"Well, it's made me realize that I want things to be stronger with us. All of us. And I've been giving some serious thought to sex and the fact that we're deliberately not having it with each other."
John suddenly pulls his body back from Lestrade a little, a flash of surprise and even alarm passing through his face.
Lestrade lifts one hand between them in a placating gesture. "I'm not saying we should start."
"I bloody hope you're not," says John, everything about his face and body language expressing guarded alertness. "I don't care what other people might think if they knew how we are together, women are still the only ones I think of that way."
"I don't doubt it for a minute," Lestrade assures. "And I feel the same way, though you know I haven't been in that frame of mind for a while. What I'm trying to tell you is that it occurred to me: aside from knowing from the start that we didn't want to have sex, we haven't given it any meaning between us. And I think it could mean something, if we would just be more conscious of it."
"I don't understand. We don't have sex because we don't want to. Why would that mean anything beyond what it is?"
"Well, so far, it hasn't. That's my point. I think we've been underutilizing the lack of sex." Lestrade shifts, his body facing John's side and his feet on the lowest rung of the stool. His right arm rests on the bar. "I talked to this woman who's a tantric sex therapist."
"Jesus!" John says, half-smiling in disbelief. "Where the hell are you going with this, Greg?"
"I found something online about tantric celibacy. Never heard of it, right? Yeah, well, it's not nearly as popular as tantric sex."
John tsks as he brings his pint glass to his lips again.
"I asked the therapist about it," says Lestrade, "And she didn't know much but we did have a pretty interesting conversation about the non-sex elements of tantric sex. I went home and thought about what she said, and I've decided it's what I'm looking for."
"Okay…. I want to hear what that entails, but what does any of this have to do with me being celibate?"
Lestrade drinks more of his beer, his glass only a quarter full now. "John—why do you have sex?"
John stares at him blankly. "Because…. It feels good. And it's a physical urge."
"Is that enough?" Lestrade asks. "For you?"
John doesn't answer, visibly stunned by the question.
Lestrade maintains steady eye contact and murmurs in a lowered tone, leaning toward John. "I've noticed something change in you the last couple months. Sex affects you differently. I'm not sure when or why it changed, but I can feel that it isn't as simple as it used to be. You told me once that it's okay for me to not want sex right now, that it doesn't change who I am. I'm not trying to say you're like me, but…. I think maybe it's worth seeing how life feels without sex in it for a while."
John lowers his gaze.
Lestrade moves his arm on the bar top to touch John's arm with his fingers. "Look, you don't have to do anything you don't want. If I'm all wrong about this, if you want to carry on the way you have, it's fine. We can still go forward with my other idea, together. I just wanted you to think about the celibacy thing."
John shakes his head. "You're right. The last handful of times I've been with a woman, it's felt off. I don't know why. It's not that I don't enjoy it anymore. I do. I just don't know if I go looking for a shag out of habit or because it's what I really want. It feels…. empty afterward. Do you know what I mean?"
"I think so," Lestrade says softly, his thumb brushing along the skin of John's inner wrist. Maybe they should be concerned with what the bartenders will think, but neither of them pulls away.
"And I just haven't been able to bloody figure out what to do," says John, rubbing at his forehead with one hand. "Because I don't want an actual girlfriend, and even if I did, it'd be damn near impossible to manage. But I'm getting tired of the way I feel about the sex I have."
"Maybe a break is what you need. As long as you want, a month or a year. It's up to you."
John stares into space for a beat, contemplating, then picks up his beer again to drink. He clears his throat a little and asks Lestrade, "So what's this about tantric sex without the sex?"
Lestrade drains his glass. "We've already been playing at it, a bit. The cuddling and touching. I guess what would change more than anything is the way we go about it. There are a few things we haven't done that I want to try: breathing and massage. Meditation. The therapist taught me some techniques for building intimacy."
John's mouth twitches at the corners, a smile not quite made. "Christ, we can be more intimate?"
"Only one way to find out," says Lestrade. "That's the other thing about going celibate for a while—it can help you focus on feeling differently with us."
"Might bring me closer to Sherlock," John says, thinking out loud, eyes unfocused. "Help me understand him more, I mean. It could bring me closer to both of you somehow, I guess."
"Like I said, no pressure. Take a few days to think about it. Let me know."
John sips at his beer. "Well, I do want to try whatever you've got for the three of us."
"Just have to get Sherlock on board," says Lestrade.
Lestrade doesn't say a word to Sherlock about any of his ideas until after John decides three days later that he wants to try being celibate for the next ninety days.
"Sherlock can't fathom why I want to do it," John tells Lestrade, sitting before Lestrade's desk in the DI's office. "But after the shock wore off, he seemed a bit…. touched. Confused but touched. I told him I want to see what it's like partially because I want to sort of understand his experience."
"Well, there's only so much understanding celibacy can give you," Lestrade says. "Sherlock doesn't abstain from doing what he wants, he doesn't feel the need to do it in the first place."
"I know. But this is the closest I'll ever get."
Lestrade talks to Sherlock the following day when the younger detective comes into the Yard for a new case Lestrade wants his help on. He explains the action he wants them to take together: the meditation, the new ways of touching, thinking and feeling around their physical intimacy deliberately. "John and I have decided to make the most of our celibacy," he says, looking at Sherlock from behind his desk. They're both on their feet in Lestrade's office. "It's not casual anymore. It's not because we can't get any or because we feel guilty about sex or because we want to shag you. I stopped looking for it because I just... don't need it. You said it yourself once, I'm gray-something. Not quite asexual but not sexual the way most men are."
Sherlock watches Lestrade with a partially skeptical, utterly baffled expression.
"John's not unhappy to give it up for a while either," Lestrade continues. "Sherlock—we want to be celibate for as long as it's comfortable because we want it to be a way of loving each other and you. We want to focus on our love, our intimacy. We want to see if we can feel better without sex."
Sherlock lifts his chin. "Greg... I don't want you or John to suppress a biological drive you can't help having."
"We're not. My libido's good as dead, and as for John... Wanting sex physically isn't the same thing as wanting it mentally. Understand?"
Sherlock just stares at him for a beat, before nodding.
They meditate in three different rooms: John in his, Sherlock in his, and Lestrade in the sitting room. They've been practicing every day for two weeks, increasing the time gradually. First, it was fifteen minutes, then thirty, then forty-five. Today, they sit in silence for an hour. Their breaths start out deep, then even out. They stop thinking. They don't feel anything either. They become acutely present in their bodies, before losing touch with those too, except for their own breath.
Sherlock's breathing becomes more and more shallow, the deeper he goes into the blackness. He took some convincing, when Lestrade explained what he wanted them all to try; he never imagined meditation could bring him a kind of mental peace that's eluded him his whole life. It's similar to what happens when he blacks out while talking to John for a lengthy period, only he's aware of his brain shutting down. It takes him longer than John and Lestrade to go quiet in his mind, but when he does, he's gone completely.
Lestrade must go to him, stirring him gently. Sherlock's hands rest on his knees, his legs crossed, and Lestrade covers them with his own. He murmurs Sherlock's name until the lids lift slowly from those pale blue eyes. Lestrade brushes his fingertips along the side of Sherlock's forehead and into his hair. He pulls Sherlock to his feet and leads him by the hand upstairs to John's room.
John's sitting at the foot of the bed, waiting for them. "Now what?" he says.
"I want you and Sherlock to lie down next to each other, on your sides, facing each other," Lestrade says.
Sherlock climbs into bed without a word. The sheets and blanket are rolled open to the end of the bed. The pillows are propped against the headboard, so John and Sherlock can lay their heads on the mattress.
"Just look at each other," says Lestrade, as he retrieves a box of matches from the top drawer in John's dresser. He lights three orange candles around the room, one after the other: on the dresser top, on the windowsill, on the night table to the right of the bed.
Sherlock and John stare into each other eyes. They don't speak.
"Try not to think," Lestrade tells them, sitting on the trunk at the foot of the bed, looking at the other two men. "Look into each other's eyes and meditate."
Lestrade closes his own eyes and takes a deep breath, carrying on his meditation from downstairs. For an unknown amount of time, he sits still like this and listens to the silence and the sound of his own breath.
Sherlock and John do as they're told. They lie motionless on the bed and maintain eye contact. They don't touch. The light from the candle behind Sherlock falls across John's face, and Sherlock watches the reflections in his irises. The room, the whole flat, is silent. Minutes pass. Sherlock wants to reach out and touch John but doesn't because it feels like physical contact might interrupt whatever connection they've established. The longer they look into each other, the more they feel as if they're in that same meditative trance they entered alone.
Lestrade opens his eyes and looks at them. "Try to feel how much you love each other."
It doesn't take long for Sherlock and John to tap into the feeling. Sherlock blinks, as his eyes sting. John's glisten too. Their facial expressions remain mostly unreadable. They continue to gaze at each other.
"You can touch if you like," says Lestrade, beginning to let his love for them come into his body.
For a moment, Sherlock and John don't move. Then Sherlock cups the back of John's skull with his hand and pulls him closer, so their foreheads touch.
Sherlock closes his eyes, as emotion floods him. John continues to look at him, at his thin white eyelids and lashes on his cheeks. He takes a breath, focusing on the sensations around his heart. Eyelids drop, lift. Sherlock's still lowered. John reaches his hand up to Sherlock's face and pushes the other man's curls back along his skull. He pulls his head away from Sherlock and presses a kiss to Sherlock's brow, filled with a sense of reverence for Sherlock's brain. He cradles the base of Sherlock's skull with his hand as he holds his lips to the center of Sherlock's forehead.
Then, he pushes himself up from the bed and rolls Sherlock onto his back in one fluid motion. Sherlock looks up at him, as John buries his fingers in Sherlock's hair. The candlelight flickers across Sherlock's face as he breathes. John leans down and kisses Sherlock's right eyelid, then his left, as the first tears slip down Sherlock's face. John touches his forehead to Sherlock's again, closes his eyes, and holds himself there as they breathe. Sherlock just lies boneless, not touching John. John kisses him gently on the lips. The kiss is dry and brief. He kisses the left corner of Sherlock's mouth, then touches his nose to Sherlock's cheek. He lowers himself to the bed again, snug to Sherlock's side, and pulls him into a one-armed embrace.
Lestrade watches them in detached observation, feeling his own love for them flow from the middle of his chest outward.
After a few minutes of holding Sherlock, John says, "Greg. Do you want to join us?"
"Yes," Lestrade says. "I want time with Sherlock first."
John sits up and helps Sherlock do the same, as Lestrade crawls onto the bed from the trunk. He tells Sherlock to sit cross-legged in the middle of the bed, while John sits in front of him. Lestrade positions himself behind Sherlock, legs on either side of the younger man with his knees up. He wraps Sherlock in his arms and rests his chin on Sherlock's shoulder. Sherlock's arms are limp at his sides, tear tracks drying on his face.
"Close your eyes," Lestrade tells him. "And breathe with me."
He takes a deep breath in and blows it out slowly. Again. Again. Sherlock begins to match him. They breathe steadily together, Lestrade's chest pressed to Sherlock's back. They feel the warmth of each other, the air moving in and out of each other's lungs. Lestrade pushes his hands under Sherlock's t-shirt and folds them over his heart. They breathe. Lestrade feels his own heart beating and Sherlock's, warm energy flowing from his heart and his hands into Sherlock's heart. He feels his love for Sherlock envelop him.
John takes Sherlock's hands in his as tears begin to stream down Sherlock's face. Both Lestrade and Sherlock keep their eyes shut. John closes his too. Sherlock's hands are hot in his.
Lestrade breathes with Sherlock for a long stretch of time. He feels love burn in his heart and move out into the rest of his body. He imagines, as he and Sherlock breathe in time with each other, that they are one. He imagines their energy moving down from their heads to the base of their spines and back up again. He feels Sherlock's heart beating against his right palm and is filled with the deepest sense of awe and gratitude for it—the source of the other man's life force. He turns his face into Sherlock's hair and breathes in the scent of mint shampoo, exhaling against Sherlock's neck.
Gradually, their breathing grows shallower. Lestrade holds Sherlock from behind with his head resting on Sherlock's shoulder. He keeps his right hand on Sherlock's heart and moves his left hand down to Sherlock's belly. He feels the breath circulating through Sherlock's torso and for a moment, he feels love just for these things: Sherlock's heart, Sherlock's breath, Sherlock's belly.
"Lestrade," Sherlock says. "I need a rest."
Lestrade opens his eyes and loosens his arms a little. "Are you okay?"
"Yes." But Sherlock sounds dazed. "I'm fine. I just need... I need to lie down on my own for a moment." His hands are still in John's, and John's watching his face now.
Lestrade pulls away from him and moves off to one side of the bed, leaving Sherlock space. Sherlock grabs at one of the pillows, pulls it down the bed, and curls on his side. He faces the wall to the right.
John and Lestrade look at each other.
"Let's leave him alone for a bit and focus on each other," Lestrade says.
In the space Sherlock leaves them on the bed, Lestrade and John sit opposite each other. They take each other's hands, resting on their knees that touch, and close their eyes to breathe. Lestrade still feels the energy in his body buzzing from his connection with Sherlock, though less intensely. He breathes to bring himself back into balance. John's fingers are warm in his.
John looks at Lestrade first, then Lestrade opens his eyes. They look at each other in silence for several beats. Lestrade reaches out and lays his hand on John's heart. John presses his hand against Lestrade's heart. They stare into each other's eyes in this pose, breathing gently. Their faces are supple with inner quiet, relaxation, the energy of love. Lestrade holds John's hand to his heart. John holds Lestrade's to his. They feel, at the same time, a deep gratitude for each other.
He smiles at John. And John smiles back. He squeezes Lestrade's hand over his heart just a little, then moves forward into Lestrade's lap. Lestrade shifts to accommodate him comfortably, looking into John's eyes and waiting for whatever John wants to do. John looks back at him, hands on Lestrade's shoulders. Lestrade's right arm is curled around John's waist and the DI leans back on his left hand planted flat on the bed. John kisses him on the cheek, full of tenderness. He cups Lestrade's face in both hands and looks at him, then kisses him lightly on the lips—a lingering peck. He hugs Lestrade tight, and Lestrade sinks down onto his back, taking John with him.
For a few minutes, they lie still together with their eyes shut, breathing in each other's scent and feeling the air move through each other. Chest to chest, belly to belly. John covers Lestrade's body with his own, head on Lestrade's shoulder and arms around him. Lestrade's left hand rests on John's back, and he feels the other man's weight with gratitude. Eventually, he opens his eyes to stare up at the ceiling, watching the light of the three candles playing across the wood.
"I feel you," John murmurs.
And Lestrade knows intuitively just what he means. He pushes his hand beneath John's shirt and presses it firmly into the warm skin of John's lower back. John turns his face to bury it down in Lestrade's shoulder, breathing. They hold this pose for a while. The candles are shrinking.
At some point, John pushes himself up from Lestrade, and they both look over at Sherlock who hasn't moved or made a sound. He lies on his side with his back to them, in a white cotton t-shirt and pajama pants, the bare soles of his feet pale pink. John climbs off of Lestrade and moves to Sherlock, touching him gently. "Sherlock," he whispers. "Sherlock, you with us?"
"John," says Sherlock, lifting his hand up toward John.
John takes it in his. "Do you want to join us now?"
Sherlock doesn't reply for a beat. "Yes. I think so."
John moves down to the foot of the bed, giving Sherlock space. "Go to Lestrade, and I'll get on your other side," he says.
Sherlock rolls over onto his other side and blinks at Lestrade as if he'd forgotten the DI was in the room. He drags himself over, Lestrade lifts his arm, and Sherlock settles against Lestrade's side with his head on the older man's shoulder. He's already got his eyes closed, looking utterly exhausted in his face and body alike. John lies down next to Sherlock and pulls the sheets and blanket over the three of them. He starts stroking Sherlock's lower back because that always soothes him. Sherlock's top hand lies on Lestrade's belly near his side, and Lestrade covers it with his own hand. His other one finds the top of John's head, and he brushes his fingers along John's short-cropped hair. Lestrade turns his head to rest his lips against the top of Sherlock's forehead. John sets his forehead against Sherlock's back between his shoulder blades and cups Sherlock's waist with his hand, rubbing his thumb back and forth. He focuses on Sherlock's breath moving in and out of his lungs.
"We've got you," Lestrade whispers to Sherlock. "We've got you."
They drift into sleep together.