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Nor the Years Condemn

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Greg Lestrade meets Sherlock Holmes on a Tuesday afternoon in January but Sherlock, discovered unconscious and face-down in a pool of his own blood, doesn’t meet Lestrade until the weekend, when he finally wakes from his drug-induced coma at the hospital and fixes bleary eyes on the man who saved his life.

Lestrade’s forty-three, too old to be taking care of a drug-addicted genius - and it’s apparent, even when he’s delirious and strung out on painkillers, that that’s exactly what Sherlock is - and too young to consider doing anything else. He’s retained his good humor through the years, despite all that he’s seen, and is still self-sacrificing enough that he actually offers to take the shuddering hull of a human being into his home. Most people would call it naiveté, but then, Lestrade hasn’t ever cared about what most people think.

Sherlock is twenty-five, old enough to know better and wise enough in the ways of the world to know that he’ll be locked in a cell as soon as he’s out of hospital - he’s been down this road before, and multiple times, if his record is anything to go by. It’s a heartbreaking, never-ending cycle that Lestrade has seen too many times. And then, when the system has run its course, he’ll be thrown back to the streets.

But Lestrade doesn’t do what’s expected of him, and Sherlock - though he’s not Sherlock yet, not quite, it’s still Holmes this and Holmes that  - spends the next few weeks on the sofa in the other man’s flat, suffering through first the pains of withdrawal and then the inevitable depression that follows. He’s confused and furious and more than a little indignant (along with arrogant and irritating and a whole host of other unfavorable adjectives), but Lestrade gets the impression that this is the first time in his life that Sherlock’s been surprised by someone.

----

Sherlock breaks into his office one day while Lestrade is away for lunch and solves two of his cold cases while waiting for him to return.

Lestrade is furious first and impressed second.

----
                               
It isn’t long before Sherlock starts showing up at crime scenes, unannounced and most certainly uninvited. He’s a vibrant and intriguing skeleton, all angles and sharp lines, who analyzes the scene with pupils blown wide and the occasional bare arm that bears the angry red marks of a recent slide. Lestrade’s superiors catch on very quickly, and though they put on disapproving airs they soon realize that this is a resource they cannot afford to turn away.

Rules are bent and exceptions are made, but Sherlock will only ever work with Lestrade.

----

Sherlock is twenty-six, twenty-seven, a mad genius who at times can’t sit still and at others enters the blackest of moods, where he cannot be roused to talk, eat, or sleep. He boosts Lestrade’s cases-closed rate to a whole new level and keeps it there, relapses twice, breaks into Lestrade’s flat when he’s bored.

Lestrade is forty-four, forty-five, moving up the ranks at the Yard. He makes Detective Inspector, keeps his cases-closed rate up, still looks like the Greg Lestrade in photographs eight years old.

He gets Sherlock off the drugs (mostly), calls on the detective when he needs him, and doesn’t waste any time trying to delude himself by thinking that Sherlock does what he does for the greater good of the public.

----

Chapter Text

It’s raining.

Lestrade pops the collar of his jacket to shield his neck against the infernal spray and digs his hands into his pockets, thinking darkly that this is almost worse than an outright downpour. It’s a misting rain, like cold sea spray, and coupled with the strong breeze the evening is nothing short of miserable.

They’ve just wrapped a case (more or less) and are presiding over the scene as it’s cleared. Lestrade has an ungodly amount of paperwork waiting for him back at the Yard and isn’t exactly in a hurry to head back there, though it would be nice to get out of this awful weather. He stamps his feet once, twice, trying to get some heat to his quickly-numbing toes and considering whether paperwork is preferable to rain. He honestly can’t say.

And then suddenly Donovan is at his side, snickering into his ear and causing him to start at the sudden sound. He glances at her askance, and then follows her gaze to see Sherlock leaning against one of their cars, arms folded, chin dipping to meet his chest.
                 
He’s fallen asleep.
                               
“Christ,” he mutters while Donovan gives in and lets out a bark of a laugh. “Right, I’ll take care of this one. You lot can take off.”
                               
“Can’t I take a picture -?”
                               
Goodnight, Sally.”
                               
He walks over to Sherlock and touches his shoulder, ignoring the snorts and snide comments from behind him as the rest of his team take notice of the sleeping detective.
                               
“Sherlock,” he says curtly and, receiving no response, tries again with more force. “Sherlock.”
                               
The detective blinks awake and fixes Lestrade with an unnaturally wide-eyed stare. “What, Lestrade?”
                               
“You -” Lestrade stops and tries to stifle a smile. He fails. “You fell asleep. In the middle of the street.”
                               
Sherlock glances around and sniffs. Droplets of rain drip off his aquiline nose, and his curls lay plastered against his forehead by the water. “Hm. So I have.”
                               
“Do you - ah - do this often?” Lestrade asks uncertainly, even though he’s never witnessed the detective do something like this over the course of their association, because the last thing he needs is for this to become a regular occurrence.
                               
“Only after a particularly taxing case.”
                               
This wasn’t something Lestrade could argue with. The case had been, as Sherlock put it, “taxing.” Lestrade would have chosen more colorful phrases - “bloody awful” came to mind - and he knew for a fact that the detective hadn’t been home in about forty-eight hours.
                               
“When was the last time you slept?”
                               
Sherlock fixes him with a glare. “I don’t think that’s your business, Lestrade.”
                               
“No, but while you’re working my crime scenes you’re my responsibility. And I can’t have you falling asleep all over the place.”
                               
“Then I’ll try to be more considerate next time,” Sherlock says, a small bite to his voice, and Lestrade marvels for a moment at the fact that Sherlock had managed to make him sound like a complete and utter bastard even though it was the detective who had fallen asleep out in the open.
                               
Sherlock pushes himself off the car and stumbles; Lestrade catches him and holds him by the shoulders, steadying him.
                               
“Easy, sunshine,” he mutters. “Where d’you think you’re going?”
                               
“Home,” Sherlock says shortly but Lestrade cuts him off.
                               
“Not on your own, you’re not. You’ll probably fall asleep and fall in front of a car. Get in.”
                               
“I don’t -”
                               
Now, Sherlock, and don’t make me force you. I doubt that would be too difficult to do right now, so save yourself the embarrassment.”
                               
Sherlock grunts but complies, and within ten minutes Lestrade is hauling him out of the car before the flats on Montague Street.
                               
“Where’s your key?” he asks the drowsy man standing next to him when they reach the front of the building. Sherlock stares blankly at the door, swaying on his feet, and it takes Lestrade’s snapping his fingers in front of the man’s face to get him to react.
                               
“Yes, right,” Sherlock mumbles, digging through his pockets until he finds the aforementioned object.
               
Sherlock lives on the third floor of the building, and Lestrade keeps a steadying hand on the man’s elbow in order to ensure that he gets up the stairs without injuring himself. It takes another prompting from Lestrade at the top of the steps to get Sherlock to unlock the door, and he fumbles so badly with his keys that Lestrade sighs and does it for him.
                               
The DI has visited the too-small flat often enough to fetch Sherlock for various crime scenes and he can find his way around it easier than his own place. He settles Sherlock on the sofa and the detective slumps sideways almost immediately.
                               
“Right dead on your feet tonight, aren’t you?” Lestrade mutters, bending to lift Sherlock’s legs onto the cushions. “You going to be all right if I leave you alone?”
                               
“Mmm, yes,” Sherlock mutters, waving a hand. “Off with you, Lestrade.”
                               
“Yeah, you’re welcome,” Lestrade mutters, shaking his head. He fetches a blanket from Sherlock’s bedroom and drapes it over the detective before switching off the lights.
                               
“I’ll text you in the morning; make sure you’re still alive,” Lestrade says from the doorway as he’s on his way out.
                               
There is no answer from the sofa.

----
                               
Lestrade has never considered himself a particularly vain man, at least not in recent years, but he finds himself becoming more and more fixated on his hair as the months go by. It hadn’t always been short - that came along with the territory of his job. Efficiency is key when sleep becomes a luxury and hours at the office that trail into the morning became an odd sort of norm. He doesn’t have time to deal with personal grooming the way he had as a teenager, when his hair had grown long enough so that the ends curled at the base of his neck and his various partners could thread hands through it, tugging and playing, curling locks around teasing fingers. He’d cut it shorter in his twenties and shorter still in his thirties, though it still remained long enough to have an infuriating mind of its own, but as much as he may find it irritating, secretly he is pleased that it’s retained its color for so long.

----
                               
Sherlock’s bouts of sleep are rare and Lestrade discovers, quite by accident, that the detective keeps hours as terrible as he does. His own sleeplessness has become such a facet of his existence that he doesn’t even really notice it anymore, and he has long since forgotten what it’s like to be rested and aware. He only knows exhaustion that tugs at the back of his mind and slows his limbs; makes him dull. Sherlock’s insomnia, he presumes, is brought on by an over-active mind that seldom quiets, always running hot.
                               
And tedium makes the detective desperate for a distraction, so Sherlock texts him one night asking if he has anything on. It’s two in the morning and Lestrade is awake; likely will be so for an hour yet. He texts a sharp response back and thinks that will be the end of it, but then his phone buzzes again almost at once and he sees that Sherlock has actually replied.
                               
Dull.
                               
Lestrade snorts and lets it be, but around the same time the next night he receives another text. It happens twice more, and by the end of the week, no matter how much or how little they’ve seen of one another during the day, it’s developed into a kind of routine. They always speak of the work, whether it’s Sherlock fishing for new cases or providing Lestrade with information on current ones as his experiments conclude, but that suits Lestrade just fine. His life has always been about the work, and that’s at least one thing he has in common with Sherlock even if their motivations are entirely different.

----

He’s inherited his grandfather’s good fortune, it appears, because even though he’s well into his forties he still has yet to see a strand of gray appear in his hair. It’d been dark when he was a child, like the color of spilled ink, and lightened to a deep chocolate in his twenties - the same as his eyes. He notices these days that it’s a shade lighter than Sherlock’s, and he clings to that with faint pride as his peers rapidly turn gray.

He’s forty-five; he’ll take what victories he can.

----

Lestrade has known Sherlock for two years now, and it still amazes him when the detective manages to tell what he’s thinking – especially when his thoughts are still muddled and half-formed in his mind. He usually refrains from saying so, because the last thing Sherlock needs is an ego boost, but he’s sure the surprise shows in his face anyway.

It astonishes him even more when it happens and they’re not even in the same part of town.

You’ve overlooked something in the Dower case.

Lestrade glares for a moment at the small screen on his mobile – why couldn’t he just goddamn call? – and waits for the next text. It’s ten in the morning and he’s already on his third cup of coffee. Last night had been rough, and the way his day was going now, tonight wasn’t going to be any better. The last thing he needs is Sherlock reading his mind. How could he possibly have known that, at that moment, Lestrade had been pondering the Dower case?

Nothing further comes in on his mobile and he sighs, because this means that Sherlock is in one of his laconic moods. Face-to-face, Lestrade can’t get the man to shut up; when texting, however, he’s found that Sherlock is brief and vague. It holds little interest for him when he can’t see his captive audience’s reaction to his reveals.

Lestrade sighs again and types back, What?, though he’s sure his irritation doesn’t translate over the mobile. A pity, though likely Sherlock wouldn’t have cared anyway.

You tell me.

Oh, bloody hell.

Give me something to go on, he demands.

I already have.

It takes another hour of coaching on Sherlock’s part and frustration on his before he finally sees what they’ve all been missing.

It wasn’t murder, he texts Sherlock finally.

Sherlock’s response – You’re not as dull as you look. Well done. – shouldn’t really make him feel as pleased as it does.

----

Sherlock should go to the hospital.

He’s bloodied and battered, with bits of glass embedded in his face, and he’s stooped from a number of blows that landed on his torso.

He should go to the hospital.

Right now, however, he’s sitting in the back of an open ambulance and refusing any and all help, resulting in some very frustrated paramedics and an even more exasperated consulting detective.

“I am fine,” he repeats over and over, shoving hands away and trying to get up but continuously pushed back down.

And Lestrade is with them on that one, because Sherlock was terribly unsteady by the time they finally got to him and required the assistance of two people (which he absolutely loathed) to get him over to the ambulance in the first place. He snarls in anger, spitting profanities, and Lestrade can see that his teeth are stained red with blood.

He needs to go to the hospital.

“Lestrade, tell them!” Sherlock says furiously, ducking away from a hand that tries to clean the blood from one of his wounds. “Oh, this is ridiculous.”

And Lestrade doesn’t know what possess him to do it, but he finds himself saying, “He’s fine,” and sends the paramedics away. He grabs Sherlock by the elbow, whispers, “Walk steadily as you can,” and, pulling him to his feet, they make for the car. When a glance over his shoulder shows that the paramedics have left, Lestrade allows Sherlock the support of a firm arm around his waist.

“You okay with the Yard?” he asks as some careful maneuvering gets Sherlock into the back of his car, and some pained fumbling gets the detective somewhat secured. He’s not sure if Sherlock’s vague hum was a yes or no, but it really doesn’t matter because that’s where they’re going anyway. He can better take care of Sherlock in the Yard’s facilities.
                               
Lestrade half-carries Sherlock into the building once they arrive and takes him to a bathroom just down the hall from his office. It’s expansive and blessedly empty at this time of the night, so Lestrade leaves Sherlock propped up against a wall while he runs back to his office for his first aid kit.
                               
“Right, let’s get a look at you,” Lestrade says when he returns, helping Sherlock onto the counter and allowing him to lean back against the mirror. He’s a mess, but it appears that the majority of the blows missed unprotected parts of his torso. They landed a few to his head, though, and Lestrade casts around for bits of trivia that Sherlock might not have deleted from his brain.
                               
“What’s today?” he asks as he runs the tap and wets a paper towel.
                               
“Tuesday.”
           
“Month?”
                 
Sherlock glowers. “I’m fine, Lestrade.”
                 
“Where are we?”
                 
“A delightfully dingy bathroom at New Scotland Yard, London, England,” Sherlock says with a sigh.
                
“Full name.”
                               
“Nice try.”
                               
“Fine. My full name.”
                               
“Gregory James Lestrade.”
                               
Lestrade doesn’t know whether he should be surprised at the fact that Sherlock managed to discover his middle name or startled by the fact that he didn’t immediately delete it. He presses the paper towel to the side of Sherlock’s face and methodically begins cleaning away the blood.

“That was a bloody foolish thing you did.”

“He’d have gotten away if I hadn’t.”

“It was still foolish,” Lestrade insists, even as a voice in the back of his mind wonders why exactly it matters. He’s always known Sherlock to be careless, even downright idiotic. He knows the man lives for the work and little else, and there’s never been much of a doubt in his mind that one day the work would drive Sherlock to an early grave. And Sherlock did catch them a murderer tonight, one that they might not have caught otherwise, and he didn’t get himself killed on Lestrade’s watch. All in all, Lestrade should be chalking this one up to a victory.

And yet.

And yet he can’t get the images out of his mind – Sherlock crumpling, Sherlock covered in blood. He can’t ignore the fact that the entire world slowed the moment Sherlock went down, and if pressed, Lestrade would remember little more than watching the lithe body fold in on itself. It’s as though he’s watching a movie reel, when he tries to remember exactly what happened; he sees only individual frames, and not the whole thing strung together.

He sees only Sherlock. Everything else has faded away.

“Look up,” he commands softly. He tilts the man’s head back and uses tweezers to extract the shards from his cheek. He also contemplates for a while the cut across Sherlock’s temple, wondering if stitches are needed.

“Here,” he says finally, grabbing a fresh paper towel and pressing it to the wound. “Hold this here while I clean up the rest of you. I want to see if we can slow the bleeding; otherwise I’m dragging you to A&E.”

“I am perfectly capable of cleaning up,” Sherlock tells him, but the retort lacks his usual vehemence. Lestrade finds more glass embedded just below his lower lip, and blood flows freely when he removes it, even though the pieces hadn’t actually been all that large. They stand there for several long moments, Lestrade with a towel pressed to Sherlock’s lip and Sherlock with the one against his temple, listening to the buzzing of the lights and waiting to see if the bleeding will stop.

It does, at least well enough for Lestrade’s satisfaction, but there’s a scar forever afterwards just below Sherlock’s lip. It’s faint, and only visible when the light is right, but there all the same.

----

Lestrade grows a beard, briefly, around the time that a vicious triple-murder leaves them all, even Sherlock, on edge for weeks. They have little time to breathe over the course of the case, let alone tend to personal grooming, so when Lestrade notices one day that his stubble is out of control he simply lets it be and pretends that he meant to do it all along.

The beard is dark, the same as his hair, and he takes solace in that. It reminds him that age has yet to touch him; that he still has time - time to make a difference and time to get the work done. And there’s a touch of vanity there, too, he knows. He notices it in odd places, such as press conferences - when the reporters shooting him questions are his age and far more gray - or in meetings, when the younger officers look more lined and more worn.

It’s a temporary thing; the calm before the storm. But he’ll take all that he can get.

----

Sometimes there are days when he simply can’t shake the crime.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with the bad days – Anderson goes drinking; Donovan goes dancing – and it’s rarely ever spoken about.

One particular crime on a Thursday night – and he’ll always remember it’s a Thursday night, just like the smell of bleach will now forever afterward make him nauseous and the sight of roses will send his mind immediately back to the scene – has Lestrade heading for home as soon as he’s able to get away. He doesn’t remember propelling himself up the stairs to his flat or stumbling into the kitchen, or even digging his phone out of his pocket. He comes back to himself with his sister’s worried voice in his ear  and to find that he’s slid to the floor, his legs crumpled beneath him.

Lestrade manages to move a single word past numb lips.

“Marissa.”

His niece is five – young and sweet and so very alive. She chatters to him about her new school and her friends and her puppy, an endless stream of chirping words. Lestrade can hear his sister in the background, coaching her daughter to just keep talking and not worry about the fact that her uncle isn’t responding. She’ll understand, when she’s older, that all Lestrade needs on nights such as these is to hear her voice.

It’s several long minutes before he can bring himself under some semblance of control; several long minutes before his breathing returns to something close to normal and his heart stops hammering painfully against his ribcage. He still feels lightheaded and there’s a faint taste of bile in the back of his throat, but eventually he’s able to say, “Thank you, sweetheart,” into the phone.

“You’re welcome,” Marissa tells him cheerfully, pleased because she appears to have done something right even though she’s not quite sure what it is. Lestrade hears his sister tell her that it’s time to get off the line, and she tosses him a heartfelt, “Bye! Love you!”             

He closes his mobile with shaking hands, and weeps.

----
                               
Lestrade holes himself up in his office most nights, completing paperwork and answering emails long after everyone else has gone. He runs into Sherlock now and again on these late nights, sometimes because the detective is looking for a file for a current case but usually because he’s looking for something new to work on, and he’s far too impatient to wait for Lestrade to come to him. He tries once to pick the lock on Lestrade’s office door, arrogant sod that he is, and is thwarted by the man actually being there. When they finish bellowing at one another, Lestrade tells Sherlock to sit.

He’s not sure why he doesn’t demand that the other man just leave.

“Stay there and be quiet,” Lestrade says angrily, jabbing a finger at the chair across from his desk, and feels as though he’s scolding a child. “We can go over one of my cold cases when I’ve finished this paperwork. But only then.”

Sherlock is silent for twenty-nine minutes. Lestrade about passes out from shock.

At some point (days, maybe weeks later) he’s no longer surprised when he looks up from his paperwork to see Sherlock framed in his office doorway. He never asks how Sherlock gets into the building; he’s probably better off not knowing, and it’s useless to think that he’d ever be able to stop him. It isn’t something that happens with any sort of regularity, anyway, but it happens enough that at some point Lestrade’s flat becomes the backdrop to their nights more often than the Yard.

Lestrade can’t say for certain whether it’s because he invited Sherlock back or whether it’s because the detective broke into his flat and Lestrade didn’t have the strength to kick him out. The latter seems more likely, but it hardly matters, because at the end of it all he finds that he’s ending his days with Sherlock, and that - well, if he were honest with himself, that’s more than tolerable.

Even if they’re ending their days in argument - but how could he have expected anything else? That’s how they work.

“You can’t just ask a widow if she knew her husband was cheating on her. Jesus, Sherlock!”
                               
“Why not? Shouldn’t she want the killer caught? Every bit of information is relevant, Lestrade!”
                               
“Well, that may be, but there are procedures for this! And there’s common decency, d’you ever think of that? Our goal is to not traumatize the victims -”
                               
“That’s your goal, Lestrade; don’t make it mine.”

And, eventually, they will sleep - Sherlock on the sofa or slumped in a chair; Lestrade in his own bed.

He should find this odd, just like he should find Sherlock an irritation and should find the constant intrusion infuriating.  He finds instead that the nights together are ones he starts to look forward to, and isn’t that a terrifying thought.


He’s out walking the streets one Tuesday night, his paperwork abandoned in his office and his feet carrying him far from the Yard and his car. It’s early, yet, for home, and he’s not quite ready to go back to his flat – trading one quiet four-walled room for another. He slows his gait and tilts his head to the sky, feeling the slap of chilled air against his cheeks and neck, and through the hazy clouds and heavy city lights he thinks he can pick out a star or two.

There’s Polaris, of course, and he mentally fills in the rest of Ursa Minor. Orion’s Belt lies along the southern horizon tonight, he knows, with Ursa Major to the east and Andromeda to the west. Beautiful, all of them, and snapshots of long-ago. How many had gone now, dying so far away from the planet that no one will know for years? How many had passed into nonexistence with no one to notice them leave?

Time doesn’t stop; not for the stars, and certainly not for him.

Lestrade resumes his pace, returning his gaze and his mind to the ground. He’d always meant to escape to the country, someplace far enough from the city lights where he could look up and see the stars rather than imagine them. He might still, one day, but retirement’s not something he’s ever honestly considered reaching. But if he did – he suppose he’d have a house somewhere. And a dog. And -
                
- and then, abruptly, he finds himself at Sherlock’s door, though he has no memory of walking into the building or up three flights of stairs. He makes a mental note to bring up locks with Sherlock one of these days. If the detective is going to live in such a place, he’d better have damn good locks on his doors. Perhaps even a security system.
                               
He contemplates this for a few more minutes and then realizes that he’s been idly staring at the detective’s door for some time. He hadn’t actually meant to come here and, after a moment of thought, turns to go back down the stairs.
                               
The door swings open and Sherlock’s gruff voice tells him, “Don’t be an idiot, Lestrade.”
                               
Lestrade sheepishly follows the detective inside and stands, unsure, near the door until Sherlock indicates the worn sofa with a careless sweep of his elegant hand. It’s obvious the detective has been working on something, but Lestrade can’t for the life of him fathom what - there are papers scattered on the couch that appear to be half complex mathematical equations and half sketches of an odd plant he’s never seen before. Lestrade carefully sets them aside and sits. He doesn’t realize how exhausted he until he sinks against the old leather and the weight of the day settles in around him.
                               
They don’t speak beyond Lestrade’s soft, “Hello,” and Sherlock’s, “Lestrade.” The detective works for a while, pen dancing across the paper, words and numbers springing up in its wake as he brings order to the whole. He reaches for his violin at some point and Lestrade is captivated by the haunting notes he teases from the instrument. It has never before occurred to him that Sherlock might have a hobby (apart from dogging his crime scenes), but seeing him there, standing before the window with the instrument cradled under his chin while blue light pools around him - he wonders how the thought ever failed to come to mind.
                               
He leaves not long after midnight and arrives home at his usual indecent hour. It’s two when he finally crawls into bed and he’s just about to drop off when his phone starts buzzing.
                               
I do hope you managed to make it home without doing grievous injury to yourself. I would hate to have to break in a new DI. Horribly inconvenient.
                               
Lestrade smirks and types back, In that case, I’ll be sure not to inconvenience you.
                               
It’s several minutes before he gets a response.
                               
I intend to hold you to those words.

----

He shaves the beard when he discovers strands that start to look silver in certain lights, and not long after that he notices his stubble starting to come in ashen rather than its usual black. His five-o’clock shadow is now more of a five-o’clock dusting.
                               
He rubs his chin, sharp stubble scratching at his palms, and frowns in annoyance.
                               
He’s not ready to go gray.

---
                               
Sally is the one responsible for Dave, a friend of hers at the Yard that she invites along to pub night one week after she catches Lestrade staring at him for a beat too long earlier that day.
                               
“He’s very kind,” she insists.
                               
“He’s very quiet,” Lestrade points out.
                               
They both agree, though, that he’s very attractive, and when they end up in bed later that week Lestrade discovers that very-quiet Dave has a very-wicked tongue.

----
                               
There are times when sleep simply doesn’t come, even for weary and deserving men.
                               
There are other times when sleep does come, but it’s a sinister visitor and one he’s better off without.

Lestrade is at his kitchen table one such night, briefcase open and paperwork spread out in front of him. He rubs his eyes and glances at the clock just as the numbers change, and he idly muses that it’s been a while since he’s seen four in the morning. He has to be up in less than two hours, and wonders if there’s any use in going to bed again at this point. He’d tried already, and it hadn’t worked out well.
                               
His phone buzzes, and he punches a button to read the message he’s just received.

What was it about?
                               
Sherlock has been texting him for a couple of hours now, and they’ve moved from their usual banter - Sherlock accusing him of being dull and Lestrade casually tossing “wanker” and “idiot” at him - to the crime Lestrade is currently trying to puzzle through. Sherlock is trying to get him to understand his conclusions; trying to get him to make the great leaps of logic that only make sense in the detective’s brain, but even at his best he has a hard time following Sherlock. Right now, at this level of exhaustion, very little makes sense to Lestrade, and it’s unusual for him to have continued this conversation past three.
                               
There’s only one reason why he would, and Sherlock’s figured it out.
                               
Of course he has.
                               
The usual, Lestrade types back shortly, in no mood to discuss it any further, and especially not with Sherlock.
                               
The response is immediate.
                               
I may be able to deduce that you’ve had a nightmare, but I’m not a mind-reader. Much as you may believe otherwise.
                               
He doesn’t know what to say to that and so sets his phone aside. Twenty minutes later, a new message comes in:
                               
Good night, Lestrade.

----
                               
Eventually there comes a night when his level of weariness eclipses all the previous ones - something Lestrade never thought possible, but there it was. He can feel it in his bones, a dull ache that won’t subside and a low tingling that signals the very worst of exhaustion. Sherlock is standing next to him, hands buried in his pockets, watching blankly the flashing blue lights and the suspect being taken away. It’s morning, now, and as London is waking they are starting to pack it in, a whimper of an ending after the hell of the previous night.

Sherlock’s exhaustion radiates off him in waves that threaten to pull Lestrade under as well, and with the last of his reserves Lestrade feels for him. In the past twelve hours they have both been shot at; Sherlock’s nearly been stabbed and Lestrade almost took a header off a bridge and into the Thames. It’s been fifty hours, at least, since Lestrade last saw his bed and been longer, he knows, for Sherlock.
                               
“Come,” he mutters, elbowing Sherlock and turning away. “Let’s go.”
                 
Sherlock doesn’t even question it anymore. He silently follows Lestrade to the DI’s car and folds himself into the passenger seat while Lestrade fiddles with the keys in the ignition.
                               
“I’m not entirely sure I trust you driving, Lestrade,” Sherlock tells him, his words slow and deliberate.
                               
“Yeah, not sure I do either,” Lestrade tells him, and it earns him a snort.
                               
The flat is bitterly cold when they arrive. Lestrade tinkers with the thermostat, cursing under his breath, while Sherlock hovers near the kitchen, hunched now with the chill in the air in addition to his exhaustion.
                               
“You’re not staying out here,” Lestrade says flatly when Sherlock makes a move toward the sofa. “Too damn cold. Come on - my room will heat faster.”
                               
It is a measure of Sherlock’s exhaustion that he still doesn’t protest; he merely kicks off his shoes and follows Lestrade into the bedroom. They fall - well, Lestrade falls; Sherlock slumps - onto the bed, which is large enough for two plus a good deal of elbow room. It’s the one luxury Lestrade has afforded himself, and it was worth every bit of his paycheck. They toss their coats and scarves onto the floor and wrestle with the blankets for a moment until they are under the covers and safely cocooned against the chill.
                               
The sun is high when Lestrade next becomes aware of his surroundings - he can make out thick golden light around the edges of the opaque shades that cover the windows. Sherlock is sprawled on his stomach across the left half of the bed, limbs everywhere and one hand latched onto the shoulder of Lestrade’s shirt.
                               
And then Lestrade blinks, and it is night. The golden light of high noon has been replaced by the artificial yellow of the streetlamp just outside his window. Sherlock is still in his bed and he has been restless, as evidenced by the blankets twisted around his lithe form. He’s on his back, now, feet exposed to the air and one arm flung above his head; the other, tucked somewhere beneath the blankets bunched around his middle. His shirt has ridden up, revealing a great swath of shockingly-white skin. His face holds its shape even in sleep, and unconsciousness wipes some of the tension from it.
                               
He looks so young.
                               
He is young, Lestrade reminds himself.

The detective doesn’t look it, though, most days. He sometimes looks as old as Lestrade feels, and it’s all in his eyes. Lestrade’s often wondered about the years those eyes hide; the secrets that they keep. Sherlock’s never spoken about it; Lestrade’s never asked.

But even more than that, Sherlock looks human. Sleep erases the sharpness of his cheekbones; it tousles his hair and parts his lips and, if Lestrade stays still enough, it even pulls a snore or two from the detective’s nose. There’s a strange sort of beauty in the almost too-angular features, something that draws others in, makes them want to keep looking.

And he could look forever.

Lestrade pulls the blankets tighter around his shoulders. Beside him, Sherlock shifts, and their feet brush; he doesn’t pull away.

The man is gone when he wakes again.

----

The lines in his face are deepening, and new ones appear every so often. He has a crease now between his eyebrows and his mouth is bookended by parentheses that become furrows when he smiles. Little lines fan out from his eyes and they, too, are emphasized with every movement of his mouth. Sometimes he feels Sherlock’s gaze drift to his face and he knows the detective is cataloguing; processing; committing it all to memory like he does everything else.

I’m getting old, sunshine, he finds himself thinking bitterly. No need to remind me of it.

----
                               
A mistakenly-delivered letter leads Lestrade to Catherine, who lives in his building. She’s a single mother, and it works for as long as it does simply because they never resent the other for their lack of free time. They steal what moments they can - at midnight; on the weekend; in the spare few minutes before the morning commute  - and it runs its course within a few weeks.

----

It doesn’t take long for Sherlock to begin conducting experiments at Lestrade’s flat, and the DI isn’t sure whether he should be flattered or terrified.

It begins with a piglet, which appears in his fridge one day while he’s away at work.  He’s too wrapped in his own thoughts to register it at first beyond, “Oh, a pig,” when he returns home that evening. He pulls milk from the fridge and makes himself tea and only after he’s consumed half the cup does he realize what Sherlock’s done.
                               
Furious doesn’t begin to cover it, and when the specimen is disposed of properly he bans Sherlock from all of his crime scenes for a month.

The finger in the butter dish comes next, and that startles him so badly that he nearly drops the whole thing onto the tile floor. Sherlock is in the living room when Lestrade discovers it, and he shoots him a scathing look.
                               
“Do be careful; it’s for an experiment.”
                               
“It’s a finger.”
                               
“Yes.”
                               
“In the butter dish!”
                               
“You’re in top form today, aren’t you? Very eloquent.”
                               
“Sherlock!”
                               
“Oh, just put it back if it bothers you so much. I’d rather not have all that work go to waste just because it makes you a bit squeamish.”
                               
“I -” Lestrade splutters incoherently for a few more moments but ultimately (inexplicably) does what Sherlock tells him to.
                               
The eyeball in the carton of eggs really should have been the last straw. Lestrade spends several moments cursing at Sherlock - who, conveniently, actually isn’t there - before pulling the eggs out of the carton he had originally been after and sticking it back in its place. The eyeball is gone the next day, Sherlock’s experiment concluded.
                               
It occurs to him not long after that he’s becoming used to this; used to Sherlock and the bundle of eccentricities that come along with him.
                               
Bloody hell.

Chapter Text

Lestrade has had a key for Montague Street almost from the start, mostly because it saved him from having to break down the door every time that he needed Sherlock’s assistance and partially because he occasionally needed to keep Sherlock from doing lasting damage to himself. Sherlock’s never needed a key for Lestrade’s place - no matter how many times Lestrade has changed the locks, the detective still manages to find a way in. Just because he’s never needed one, however, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have one, and Lestrade mulls this over for a few weeks before coming to the inevitable decision.
                               
“I’d very much appreciate if you stopped antagonizing my team,” Lestrade is telling him one night as they consume a late dinner - or early breakfast, depending on how one wanted to look at it - in his office.
                               
“And I’d very much appreciate if they stopped being idiots. It doesn’t look like either is going to happen in the near future - or without divine intervention - so I suggest you drop it,” Sherlock tells him. “Are you going to eat that?”
                               
Lestrade stifles a snort and pushes over his abandoned container of food. Sherlock is like that - he never eats while on a case, but in between he’ll consume anything and everything put in front of him. Lestrade has gotten into the habit of leaving food out around his flat - bagel in the bathroom, soup in the kitchen, juice by the sofa - and Sherlock will put everything away without even noticing that he’s doing it. The man’s metabolism - and appetite - is staggering.
                               
Something pokes him in the leg as he leans over to pass his food, and with a soft, “Oh! Right,” he digs a key chain out of his pocket.
                               
“Here,” he says, tossing it at Sherlock. The detective catches it deftly in his left hand without interrupting his eating. “I’ve been meaning to give that to you. Thought it might come in handy.”
                               
“Key to your flat,” Sherlock murmurs to himself, turning it over in his hand once before pocketing it. “Right. Might do, at that.”

And it does, because it’s not long after that (days, at most) when Lestrade wakes to a familiar creak and thud - the door to his flat opening and closing. He twists his head to look at the unforgiving numbers on his clock - 3:12 - and lays there for a moment, listening. He hears a sound a bit like shuffling feet and sighs because he recognizes the tread. It takes a moment for him to persuade his limbs to move, and then he clambers unsteadily out of bed, snatching up his dressing gown on his way out the door.

“Can’t sleep?” he asks the figure who has invaded his living room. He tightens the dressing gown around his pajamas and folds his arms, leaning against the door frame.
                               
“It’s a wonder, Lestrade,” Sherlock says dully from where he has thrown himself on the sofa, “that you haven’t advanced higher at the Yard. Your deductive skills are truly astounding.”
                               
“A simple yes would do just fine, wanker,” Lestrade says. “What do you care about sleep, anyway? I thought it got in the way of the work. Everything else being transport and all.”

“Sadly,” Sherlock says with disdain, “even the most perfect of machines requires maintenance now and again. Usually I am able to ignore it, but that only works for so long.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t ignore it, then,” Lestrade tells him, striding over to the sofa. “Come on; budge up.”
                               
“There’s no room -”
                               
“There would be if you lifted your legs,” he points out, and that’s logic even Sherlock can’t argue with.
                               
Sherlock heaves a sigh and hauls himself into a sitting position, preparing to swing his legs onto the floor. Lestrade is, for once, too quick, and he slides onto the cushion where Sherlock’s back had just been pressed, snaking an arm around the younger man and tugging him close. Sherlock falls back against his chest with an indignant sound of protest, but Lestrade mutters, “Relax, sunshine. Only trying to help.”
                               
How is this helping?”
                               
“Helps not to be alone, sometimes.” Lestrade scoots down so he is fully relaxed against the back of the sofa, legs outstretched before him. Sherlock’s head is now tucked just underneath his chin. “Comfortable?”
                               
There is a slight pause before Sherlock answers, “Yes,” and to Lestrade’s ears the voice is hesitant, as though he’s surprised himself with his answer.
                               
“Good,” he whispers, rubbing Sherlock’s upper arm with his free hand. “That’s good. I suppose it’s a waste of breath to ask what it was about?”
                               
“And yet you wasted the breath anyway.” But Sherlock shifts and settles fully against him, so Lestrade counts that as a small victory and thinks that it wasn’t wasted, after all. He keeps his hand on the man’s arm, gently rubbing, and after several long moments of this he feels the tension begin to ease from the taut shoulders.
                               
The detective drops into a doze not long after, and stays that way through the final hours of Lestrade’s night and his usual morning routine. He tosses a blanket over Sherlock before leaving for the Yard, and when he returns that evening the door has been locked and the blanket neatly folded and put away - all signs of Sherlock’s presence erased.

----

He goes gray at the temples first.

It isn’t something he notices until well after the hair around his ears has started to fade, and he touches it with dismay the morning it finally becomes apparent to him. He had hoped - well, his hair did hang onto its color for years longer than it should have. He’s well into his forties now - at least he’s had it this long.
                               
It doesn’t stop him from shutting off the bathroom light and continuing his morning routine in semi-darkness.   

----

Lestrade stumbles up the stairs to his flat one crisp autumn night, Sherlock in tow. They’ve come straight from a crime scene, and Lestrade knows it will be a couple of hours before he’s needed again. He’s brought Sherlock along with the intention of forcibly feeding him whatever he has in the fridge, and perhaps shoving a pot of coffee at him in the process. He’d danced around the crime scene with pupils gone unnaturally wide and there was a thin, high-strung quality to his gait. Lestrade can’t be certain of it, not tonight, but he has his suspicions about what Sherlock’s been getting up to lately in his free time.

But the first thing he does is make for the bathroom once they’re inside his flat, because there’s blood clinging to his hands that doesn’t belong to him and right now all he wants to do is crawl out of his skin. He doesn’t even bother taking the time to close his front door, and so Sherlock does it for him.

“I need to speak to the mother,” the detective tells him, following him into the bathroom and casually leaning against the open door while Lestrade runs the water - hot, too hot, enough to make him want to recoil from the contact - and begins methodically scrubbing the blood and grime from his fingers.

“We’ve already taken her statement,” Lestrade tells him tightly.

“You forget that I was there, Lestrade. And she lied to you, in case you care to know.”

“You can’t possibly know that.”

“Are you honestly this stupid?” Sherlock snaps. “She maintained eye contact, which indicates she was trying to appear sincere. When humans are remembering, they generally let their gaze fall on immobile objects in order to focus and remember. She also kept looking to your left - an indication that she was inventing details. She would have looked to your right if she was attempting to remember something.”

“Right, well,  I’ll take it into consideration, but that’s hardly evidence.” Lestrade grabs a towel and rubs his hands raw, sitting down heavily on the closed lid of the toilet. He’s torn between wanting Sherlock to stay and wishing he would leave, because the man’s outrageous lack of compassion is grating on his already thin nerves but at the same time, should he be left alone he knows all he will be able to think about is that room.

And that child.

“All I need is to -”

“Dammit, Sherlock!” Lestrade drops his head into his hands, pressing his palms to his eyes. Lines of gold are scorched into his eyelids from the lamp, and the surrounding darkness does nothing to blot out the pictures still surfacing in his mind. “Enough.”

“Oh, what now?” Sherlock says in exasperation. “It’s been hours, Lestrade. Surely you aren’t still upset.”

“Hours?” Lestrade says with a huff. “It doesn’t go away in a few hours, Sherlock. It doesn’t even really ever go away at all. A child died tonight - do you even care about that?”

“Caring won’t bring her back,” Sherlock says dismissively, waving a hand at him, “so you may as well stop now. You’re little good to me like this. Pull yourself together, or leave.”

“Sherlock -”

“What good will it do?” Sherlock says suddenly, rounding on him, and Lestrade is hit with the full, unfiltered blast of his intensity. He’s interrupted Sherlock in the middle of a deduction, cut him off, and now that unfocused energy hits him like a blast. “People die, Lestrade, and you of anyone should realize that. Caring about it is what has held you back, and I see no reason to make the same mistake. Besides, why care about a dead child when her murderer is being infinitely more interesting?”

Lestrade resists the impulse to cut him loose from the case then and there - because, dammit, they do need his help - but he only has so much self-control. He leaves without another word, and allows himself the brief satisfaction of slamming the door to his flat as he leaves.

It does nothing to fill the vacuum in his chest.

----

Lestrade catches a bullet in the side one brilliant Tuesday morning and spends the rest of the daylight hours in surgery while they dig the offending bits of metal out of his body. He drifts in and out of consciousness that evening, his various visitors (Donovan, nurses, doctors) blurring together into one colorful mass in his memory.                        

There’s only one who stands out, tall and lanky and smelling of soap and chemicals. He steals in and out so quickly that when Lestrade wakes with the following dawn, sore but coherent, he’s sure that Sherlock’s presence at his bedside, and the warmth of the hand on his shoulder, are inventions of his medicine-laden mind.

But the next time he sees Sherlock (crime scene, two victims, classic locked-room mystery) the detective’s gaze lingers on him for a beat longer than necessary and his taunts are unusually tame. He doesn’t even call Lestrade “incompetent” - not once, in six hours.

Suddenly, Lestrade isn’t so sure of his dismissal of that memory.

“You came to the hospital,” he tells Sherlock when it’s just the two of them in the room. He’s paused in writing notes in his pad, and Sherlock grimaces at being interrupted in the middle of his reveal.

“Reciprocity,” is all he says, and launches right back into his story.

----

The gray in his hair starts to migrate back from his temples.

He finds a single strand of silver one day, right at the top of his head, and he immediately plucks it. The next time he thinks to look, he sees that several more have taken its place.

Like a fucking invasion force, he thinks darkly.

----

Lestrade asks Sherlock several times to move from his less-than-desirable flat on Montague Street. He tosses subtle hints and not-so-subtle brochures Sherlock’s way, all of which go ignored by the detective.

It turns to begging after the third murder in a month occurs on that godforsaken street

“Get a flatshare!” Lestrade says finally in exasperation. “Anything; I don’t care! Just get out of that damned building.”

“You aren’t my father, Lestrade,” Sherlock retorts coolly.
                               
“That doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to - “

He breaks off, but Sherlock has already caught his hesitation.
                         
“Not allowed to…?” he prompts.

“Oh, you know damned well what I was going to say,” Lestrade mutters hotly, getting up from his chair and crossing over to the detective. He folds his arms across his chest. “Look, either you move out of that building, or I’ll move you. And you won’t like where I choose to put you.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “As if your quaint little holding cells could hold me for long.”

“Long enough for me to find you somewhere else to stay,” Lestrade says, flashing a mirthless smile. “And if nothing else - I’ll drag you back to mine and make you stay on the sofa until I get you sorted. You aren’t a stranger to that, at any rate.”

“Don’t be absurd, Lestrade.” Sherlock snags a file off his desk and begins flipping through it impatiently. “You know as well as I that you’d never be able to keep me there.”

“I wouldn’t underestimate my powers of persuasion.”

“I would, actually.”

“Dammit, Sherlock!”
                               
“Fine,” Sherlock says suddenly, getting to his feet and tugging on his coat. “If I say I’ll consider it, can we move on to the real reason why you called me here?”

Lestrade deflates a little, all of his arguments suddenly becoming moot. Oh, and he had been waiting for this fight; he’d been ready for it.

“Yeah,” he mutters.
                         
“I’ll consider it.”

“God, I hate you sometimes,” he grumbles under his breath, and leads the too-amused detective out of his office.

----

He begins to count the strands of gray as they appear in his hair, believing against all logic that so long as the number is manageable, it doesn’t mean anything.

He stops when there are more gray hairs than years he’s lived on this Earth.

----

They’re at a crime scene one morning, and Sherlock is taking more time than usual to give his deductions. Lestrade thinks darkly that the detective is probably withholding on purpose, either because he wants a greater reaction to his reveal or because he feels like torturing Lestrade with the stench of a body left for a day too long in an enclosed room. He watches Sherlock pace the room, kneel by the body, spring up, kneel back down again, and the movements are frantic enough to make him dizzy.  

Then Sherlock paces over to one of the small windows, glances outside, and whips out his mobile. He looks at the screen, frowns, and then curses under his breath. “No signal.”

“Who were you going to call?” Lestrade asks sharply, bristling. He hates when Sherlock does this, calling others for information without even telling Lestrade why he needs to; without saying what connection they might have with the case.

“No one,” Sherlock says sharply. “I need to look up when sunset was last night.”

He moves to leave, striding briskly towards the door, when Lestrade says, “Six-thirty-four.”

Sherlock turns back to him, raising an eyebrow. Lestrade offers a wry grin.

“I have my uses now and then. Next time, ask first. Might be able to help.”

“All right,” Sherlock says slowly, considering. “When was moonrise?”

“‘Bout...nine in the morning,” Lestrade answers. “Wouldn’t have been very noticeable.”

“And what stars could she have seen from her window?”

Lestrade glances out the small glass square set in the wall.

“Let’s see,” he says, getting his bearings. “Her window faces west, so she might’ve been able to see...Leo, this time of year. But most days it depends on light and weather.”

He turns back to the detective. “And last night she wouldn’t have been able to see anything at all, if that’s what you’re looking for. Light pollution and clouds made sure of that.”

Sherlock is staring at him, head cocked slightly to one side, a curious look on his face. Lestrade shifts uncomfortably under the gaze and says, “Does...that help?”

“Lestrade,” Sherlock says suddenly, snapping out of himself and making to bound from the room, “I may have just caught your murderer!”

You did, eh?” Lestrade mutters to himself, amused, but hurries after him anyway. After all, he may know these facts, but Sherlock’s the only one who can assemble them into something sensible as quickly as he does.

They make a good team, now and again.

---

They’re standing in Lestrade’s office, and Sherlock has just come in from the cold, his eyes overly-bright with the sting of the late autumn wind and his cheeks tinged a light pink. He’s talking about one of Lestrade’s cases, gesturing madly, still in his coat because the heat of the building has yet to penetrate his chilled limbs.

Unconsciously, Lestrade wraps his hands around Sherlock’s alabaster ones, feeling as though he’s gripping solid ice, and starts to rub some heat back into them while Sherlock continues to throw information at him, his stream of deductions unbroken by the physical contact.

Later, Lestrade catches Sally throwing him bemused looks, and it takes the rest of the afternoon for him to figure out why.

----

“You’re bisexual.”

Lestrade spares Sherlock half a glance and then returns to his paperwork. “If you like.”

“You are.”

“All right.”

“In the past year, you have slept with two women and one man. The year before -”

“Don’t get yourself hung up on the particulars of my sex life, Sherlock,” Lestrade says mildly. “You’ll only hurt that brain of yours.”

He had known that, at some point, Sherlock would begin deducing him - frankly, he’s surprised that it hasn’t come sooner. But the expression on Sherlock’s face right now...if Lestrade didn’t know any better, he would have said that it looked hesitant, as if he wasn’t sure of his next words.

“You like it.”

“What?” Lestrade glances up again, and then goes back to his forms. “Sex? Yeah, I do. Why?”

“Nothing.” Sherlock returns to his food, cool mask sliding back into place, looking entirely unconcerned.

“Ah. Right.”

He doesn’t even pretend to understand anymore.

----

There are certain things that Lestrade can count as constants in his life. He knows that his newspaper will be delivered to his door at half past five every morning. He knows that bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and that the prize at the bottom of the cereal box is always smaller than you think it will be.

He also knows that every conversation with Sherlock will end in argument.

“I still don’t understand how you possibly could have known that it was the sister!”

“I was right, though, wasn’t I?’

Lestrade sighs. “Yeah, ‘course you were.”

“Then I fail to see why you still want to understand. It’s probably beyond you, anyway.”

Lestrade passes a hand over his eyes and stares blankly at the file he has open on Sherlock’s kitchen table. “Your confidence in me is staggering.”

“Mm, yes. I’m still not entirely sure why that is. I’m sure it’s misplaced; I just can’t figure out why.”
                               
Lestrade stares at him. He’s sitting on the sofa in the other room, violin in one hand and bow in the other, not playing but simply holding them. “That was sarcasm, idiot!”
                               
Sherlock fixes him with a look and one of his classic segues. “You should go to bed.”
                               
Lestrade snorts and rubs the back of his neck with a weary hand. His bed is a good twenty minutes away yet, and more if he actually goes to bed instead of just falling asleep on the sofa.
                         
“Which is an entirely irrelevant observation,” Sherlock says to the unvoiced thought,  “as you’ll be sleeping here.”
                               
“Oh.” Lestrade blinks, momentarily thrown. “I will?”
                               
This is a new development. It’s not often that they end up at Sherlock’s, and when they do Lestrade rarely stays the night. He’s only done so a handful of times, mostly on nights when he’s dragged an injured Sherlock back to the place and is tending to his wounds. On nights like that they usually are awake for the dawn and he doesn’t exactly count it as “staying over.” Once or twice he’s fallen asleep while working on a case with Sherlock, usually on the sofa, and when he wakes in the morning the detective is always gone. This is unexpected.
               
This is new.
               
“Are you sure?” he asks finally when his last query receives no response from the detective, immersed as he is in his thoughts.
                               
“You have to be up in five hours,” Sherlock tells him. “Ideally, you in particular require eight-and-a-half hours in order to function optimally, but five will do. Any less, and you become...irritable. And ineffective. It makes more sense for you to stay here for the evening, as the drive home now and the drive to the Yard in the morning will severely cut into your time spent asleep.”
                               
“That your way of saying that you’re concerned?” Lestrade mutters, standing and stretching out his aching back. He goes over to the sofa and Sherlock moves to accommodate him, but the piece of furniture is small for two grown men – especially when one of them sprawls like Sherlock does – and their knees jostle.

“I’m merely stating facts,” Sherlock tells him.

“Of course.”

“And anyway, Lestrade, you have severely miscalculated where the bedroom is located. I believe you meant to go in the opposite direction.”

Lestrade blinks at him.

“You want me in your room,” he says dumbly. Sherlock gives a careful shrug and plucks a string of his violin.

“I have experiments yet to conclude out here. It’s only logical that you attempt to sleep in the one area of the flat where noise is bound to be minimal. And before you ask again if I’m certain - I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t, now, would I?” Sherlock flashes him a grin.

“Ah - right, then,” Lestrade says, biting back the words he wants to ask anyway. “Well - if you’re sure -”

“Have you ever known me not to voice my opinion, Lestrade?”

“I...suppose not.”

Sherlock lifts the violin to his chin and draws his bow along the strings, signalling an end to the conversation. Lestrade listens to the melancholy tune for some moments and, when he realizes that it’s lulling him into a doze, makes his way to the bedroom tucked in the back of the flat.
                               
He wakes an hour later to a slight dip in the bed that signals Sherlock’s arrival and, still hazy with sleep, he drapes an arm across the pillows. Sherlock slips, cat-like, under the blankets and settles against his side, resting his head on the open arm. Lestrade rests his hand on Sherlock’s lower back and mutters something that might either be, “G’night,” or “Idiot,” and Sherlock lets out a soft huff of breath that brushes against Lestrade’s neck.
                               
He knows the detective will be gone when he wakes in the morning (he is) and he knows that his alarm will startle him (it does). They are just two more things on his growing list of constants. And, as Lestrade lies awake in the unfamiliar bed and contemplates the fact that the sleep he got last night was the deepest he’s had in years, he realizes that he knows something else, now, too.

----

Winter creeps up on Lestrade in the same manner it does every year - one morning he looks outside his window and admires the colors of the trees; the next, frost is clinging to the branches and the leaves are brown and fallen.

He hasn’t seen much of the season in the weeks since that first frost, apart from his chilly commute and the occasional homicide that occurs out in the open. He hadn’t seen much of autumn either, admittedly, and what he’d seen of summer had been through the open windows of his sweltering flat.
                               
Nonetheless, the season has turned once again without his permission or, really, even his notice, and he contemplates the chilly gray of the city for a moment from his window before turning back to his paperwork.

He’s scrawled his name across a dizzying amount of forms today, and he sits for a moment considering his signature. It looks like a bit of controlled chaos - the strong and legible “G” and “L” are followed by smaller letters that are really just glorified scribbles - and it’s such a curious thing, his name.

There’s his surname, which is used so often it might as well be his given one. It means different things on the lips of different people; it carries different meanings depending even on the time of day. Donovan - no, Sally, she prefers Sally when not at the Yard - says it with a kind of affection when they’re off-duty, even if they’re discussing Sherlock. She doesn’t understand Lestrade’s soft spot for the man - and, to be fair, neither does Lestrade - and has never been able to hide her disdain.
                               
Lestrade knows that she means well, though; she looks out for him. She’s aware that at some point during the last year the dynamic shifted between her boss and Sherlock, though she can’t pin it down any more than Lestrade can, and has tried to warn him off multiple times.
                               
He’ll always let you down.

Par for the course, Lestrade decides, and moves to get his jacket. He knows when to call it a night, and ten minutes contemplating a name (and his own to boot) is one of those times.
                               
But his tired musings don’t stop there, and drift, as they always do, to Sherlock. Sherlock, who uses his surname as a title during the day and as a name later on, when it’s just the two of them. Sherlock, who wields it like a whip at the crime scenes - “It’s a wonder, Lestrade, that you even manage to find the brainpower to dress yourself in the mornings, much less hold down a job.” - and handles it softly at night - “You should sleep, Lestrade; you’re little good to anyone like this.”

There’s also “Detective Inspector,” which has a hint of respect when coming from his people and is mocking when it comes from Sherlock. There are his initials, used when marking paperwork or in Sherlock’s hasty texts. They are formal when he uses them and almost intimate when used by the detective.

And then there’s “Greg,” which no one’s called him since the day his mother passed away. Sally used it once, at pub night, but it must’ve sounded as foreign and strange to her as it did Lestrade because she never did it again.

It’s some days later that he hears his name used by Sherlock for the first time. They’re standing in the detective’s living room, and the man’s hair is wild from repeatedly running his fingers through it. Lestrade knows he looks no better, having caught a glimpse of himself earlier in a darkened window. They’re going over the particulars of a case, which Sherlock had been rather gleeful about earlier in the day - “It’s clever, Lestrade, really clever; puts the Stinson case from last year to shame.” - but right now it’s causing Lestrade nothing but frustration.

“Look, Sherlock,” he says in exasperation, “either you give me a straight answer, or -”

“Or what?” Sherlock snaps back. “You’ll leave? How original. And what good would that do you? You case will remain
unsolved.”

“My people are more than capable -”

“If they were ‘more than capable,’ you wouldn’t be here right now.”

Lestrade holds up his hands, as much to calm himself as Sherlock. “Look, I’m just trying to speed things along and I thought you might appreciate the work. If not, I have better things to do than stand here and listen to you insult my team.”

He reaches for the files, gathering all the paperwork into the appropriate folders. Sherlock lets out a dramatic breath and flops down onto the sofa.

"Then leave, Greg," he says, waving a hand at Lestrade. "But did you really think I asked you here to go over a case I worked out the answer to hours ago?"

"Well, I can't believe that you'd want me around otherwise," Lestrade mutters irritably. "Thought I was an idiot, like everyone else. You've said so, often enough."

"Oh, you are," Sherlock says. "But you are hardly 'everyone else.'"

“What am I, then?” Lestrade snaps before he can stop himself, and it surprises him because that hadn’t been what he’d meant to say at all. Sherlock turns his head and regards him solemnly for a few moments.

“Does it matter?” he says finally.

“Yeah. Yeah, it does, a bit,” Lestrade says, and rakes a shaking hand through his hair. Jesus, but he’s not good with this stuff to begin with, and now he feels ready to about crawl out of his skin in frustration. He can’t make any sort of sense of his life right now - everything is in contradiction, and the more he thinks about it the more it weighs on him, tugging him first one way and then the other, until he feels ready to about split in two. He already is a bundle of nerves as it is, though he buries it well, but add into that the pile of paradoxes that is Sherlock Holmes...

Sherlock, who has spent the occasional night in his bed since that first one last winter, though it’s never been more than that.

Sherlock, who is at once eighty-seven and eighteen.

Sherlock, who is a man of contradictions.

“You’re...tolerable,” Sherlock decides finally. “More so than the others, at any rate.”

Lestrade massages the back of his neck, realizing that he needs to amend his recent realization. Names are curious, yes, but they are also inadequate, and especially so where Sherlock is concerned. Titles, labels, definitions - they’re all ill-fitting and just wrong. Father-figure works well enough during the day, for him; he can accept it with relative ease. Minder fits as well; mentor, less so, but it works in a pinch. The dividing line between him and Sherlock is clear during the day, and that’s the only time when the labels make any sort of sense. Here, in the dark, when it’s only the two of them - nothing quite seems to fit. The names he tries to mentally apply to them refuse to stay - they’re always too little, never too much, and slip away from him like water through cupped hands, as though they were never meant to be there in the first place.

And then he realizes that it’s the names that are wrong. How does one pin a label on the worry he feels when he catches sight of the too-thin figure; when he sees shocking bone poking out from the open collar and blood pooled under tired eyes? How does one put a name to the small ball of warmth that settles in his chest on the nights when he looks up from his paperwork to see Sherlock casually standing in the doorway?

Paternal concern isn’t a phrase he can hide behind for very long, especially not with the number of times Sherlock has spent the night and the hesitant half-touches (brushing shoulders; bumping elbows) they trade in his office when the lights are low and the air strangely still.

They haven’t needed names thus far, and Lestrade’s not sure why he feels they need them now. Actions have always served them better. Fingertips, feather-light, on the back of the neck and firm hands that land on bony shoulders convey more than sentences neither of them would ever be able to string together anyway. They could struggle for years for words that can, just as easily, be conveyed in the clasp of a hand.

And the words wouldn’t fit, anyway.

“All right, take me through it again,” Lestrade says eventually, realizing that his silence has stretched into uncomfortable lengths, though Sherlock doesn’t seem to have noticed. Lestrade spreads the files back out on the table and hands the crime scene photographs to the detective. “From the top.”

----

It would figure that Sherlock Holmes would be the type of man to have a relative with a nasty habit of kidnapping people.

Lestrade doesn’t know why it didn’t occur to him sooner that the man would come from a family as eccentric as he is; a family made up of people who find that things done the normal way – the easy way – aren’t worth doing at all.
                               
Conversations, for instance, aren’t worth having unless you can make a show of it.
                               
And, looking back on it later, Lestrade has to admit that Mycroft Holmes puts on a hell of a show.
                               
Lestrade gives the elder Holmes’ men the slip three times before they are finally able to nab him, and Mycroft is so impressed that he does nothing more than offer his congratulations, which baffles Lestrade more than frightens him because at the time he has no idea who the strange man in the immaculate suit even is, let alone why he’s congratulating him.
                               
He can guess at one of those things, however.
                               
“I think I met your brother the other day,” Lestrade tells Sherlock the next time they see one another. It’s raining, and they’re standing over a woman’s body.
                               
“Oh?” Sherlock says, wholly disinterested. “What makes you think that?”
                               
“He kidnapped me, said he was your arch-enemy, and then invited me to Christmas dinner.”
                               
Sherlock’s face darkens and he spares Lestrade half a glance, which is more than he normally gets when there’s an interesting murder on.
                               
“His name is Mycroft,” Sherlock says shortly.

“Sherlock and Mycroft,” Lestrade muses. “Your mother must really have had it in for you two.”

“Mmm,” Sherlock says distractedly. “You should have heard what she named the cat.”

----
                               
Lestrade wears glasses now - for reading purposes only, but it’s a defeat all the same; one more remnant of youth chipped away by the encroaching twilight. He keeps them at home and squints his way through the workday, because it’s the last bit of defiance he can show middle age.
                               
Sherlock is vicious in his jibes - because he knows, of course he does - but occasionally he’ll take pity on the DI.

“The third child was illegitimate,” he tells Lestrade one evening in his office.

“Oh? How d’you figure?” Lestrade asks absently, mind on his paperwork.

“You could tell by - no, signature goes there, Lestrade,” he says impatiently, jabbing at a spot further down on the page with an elegant finger. “Honestly.

“Ah. Right.” Lestrade scrawls his name. “Thanks.”

Sherlock huffs and launches back into his story, gesticulating madly, and his eyesight may be poor but Lestrade could have sworn that he caught the faint shadow of a small smile on the detective’s lips.

----

Lestrade tends not to make it much further than the sofa these days, and so it’s a pleasant surprise when he wakes one morning to find that he’d actually made it to his bed the night before. The unpleasant surprise comes when he looks at the clock and realizes that he’s only minutes away from his alarm, which comes at an ungodly enough hour as it is. It feels as though he’s slept one hour, not four, and he sighs.

The sun is just starting to light the horizon by the time he’s showered and dressed, and he makes his way to the kitchen for coffee. He’s running short on time today - caught himself staring senselessly at the wall during his shower and lost a good ten minutes in blank contemplation of it - but he won’t be any good to his people (or anyone for that matter) without his usual early dose of caffeine.
                               
It shouldn’t surprise him, really, to find Sherlock in his kitchen.
                               
After a moment of careful thought, he decides that it isn’t the fact that Sherlock is in his flat that’s surprising. It’s more the fact that Sherlock has made coffee (enough for the both of them) and is leaning casually against the counter, book in one hand and mug in the other, looking entirely at ease.
                               
“Lestrade,” he greets without looking up. Lestrade recovers from his surprise relatively quickly and makes for the coffee pot.
                               
“Have you been here long?”
                               
“Mmm. A few hours. I required your kitchen.” Sherlock sets aside his book and tucks his free hand in his pocket.
                               
The kitchen looks good with him in it, Lestrade decides as he pours his first mug of coffee; looks right.
                               
“I’ve got to be off in about five minutes. Help yourself to anything in the fridge; Lord knows you need it.” He wonders for a moment whether the coffee is actually part of Sherlock’s experiment, and then decides that he simply doesn’t care.
                               
The room is small, and he has to reach around Sherlock in order to grab the milk sitting out on the counter. He touches the detective’s upper arm and mutters, “Excuse me,” and doesn’t get much further than that, because when he turns his head Sherlock is right there and their eyes have locked and he is done for.

Sherlock’s eyes flick to Lestrade’s lips for the briefest of moments before snapping back up, locking him in place. And then he leans in.
                               
It’s little more than a caress, velvet lips brushing against dry ones; just a whisper of a touch that’s over before Lestrade’s brain can catch up with his body. The only thing he registers is the unexpected softness of Sherlock’s lips, so wildly different from the rest of the man. He is fire and fury, never content to do anything halfway or even gently, brusque and frenzied in everything he touches and does. But the kiss is gentle, as if Sherlock was handling something delicate.
                               
It’s over before it really even started, and Lestrade’s hand closes on the milk as they break apart. He steps around the detective to add it to his mug while Sherlock returns to his book and they pass Lestrade’s final few minutes at home in silence, leaning against the counter, shoulders pressed together.
                               
“Right, should be off,” Lestrade says eventually. “Can you manage?”
                               
“I know how to use the front door, if that’s what you’re asking.”
                               
“Don’t blow up the kitchen while I’m gone – or any room, for that matter,” Lestrade orders, and gives Sherlock’s too-thin arm a gentle squeeze as he leaves the room. “And for the love of God, eat something.”
 

Chapter Text

Spring drifts into summer. Lestrade’s already-slow love life had actually sputtered to a halt sometime around March but he doesn’t fully realize it until mid-June. He finds he doesn’t much care. Whatever he’s been looking for (and he still can’t put his finger on it, not really) has been found somewhere between shouting matches in his office and cold dinners consumed over paperwork and sleepless nights spent arguing over the finer points of protocol.

Sherlock’s expensive shampoo appears in the shower one day next to Lestrade’s generic one, and he finds the detective’s brand of toothpaste in the cabinet. There’s an extra razor there, too, which he smirks at because it’s still a wonder to him that Sherlock would actually need to shave. He’s never seen the detective as anything that could even be remotely described as “scruffy,” and never really thought that the man was capable of growing facial hair. He makes a mention of the steady migration of items once, off-handedly, and Sherlock levels that look at him, the one that’s reserved for when he thinks Lestrade is being abnormally daft.

“It makes very little practical sense not to keep such necessities here. Your flat is more conducive to my experiments; naturally, I spend more mornings here than at my own and it’s simply inefficient to have to run back to Montague Street for something as banal as a shower,” Sherlock tells him, and returns his attention to what must be some very captivating soil samples.

Some of Sherlock’s shirts start to appear in the closet where they sit, unassuming, beside Lestrade’s suits. His books start appearing in odd palaces around the flat and Lestrade comes home one day to maps and sketches attached to the wall above the fireplace.
                               
“Africa?” he asks as he makes his way to the kitchen.
                               
“Mmm,” Sherlock says, tapping a pen against his teeth. “I need to find the blue ball.”
                               
“I see,” Lestrade says, even though he doesn’t, and leaves him to it.
                               
He comes home the next night to a hastily-scrawled note from Sherlock: Leg in your freezer. Don’t even think about touching - I’ll know.
                               
He makes himself a quick dinner and goes to bed. It’s still there when he rises a few hours later and there’s no sign of Sherlock having been at the flat, so he sends off a quick text asking for instructions.
                               
Make sure freezer temperature is on lowest setting.
                               
“Right, then,” he mutters to himself, and double-checks the temperature before dumping out the remainder of his coffee and making to leave.
                               
It doesn’t occur to him until much later that he should find this strange.

----

He stands before the mirror, contemplating his stubble, razor in hand. His gaze drifts to his hair and he pushes a hand through it, watching as the light catches on the now-myriad strands of silvery-gray. Hadn’t they been few and far between just moments ago?

It would be woefully inadequate to refer to himself as “dark-haired,” now. “Salt-and-pepper” works, he supposes, but it won’t for very long.

----

Lestrade isn’t surprised when Sherlock gets himself kidnapped one summer afternoon.

Frankly, it’s a wonder it hasn’t happened sooner.

He’s leaning against a wall in the warehouse when they finally get to him and his captors are on the floor not feet away, unconscious. Lestrade doesn’t take the time to contemplate what might have happened; instead, he yanks Sherlock’s hand out from where it had been buried inside his suit jacket and hisses when it comes away red.

“Idiot,” he snarls with more vehemence than is strictly necessary as he all but kicks Sherlock’s legs out from under him in order to get him on the floor. A harsh shove lays him flat, presses his shoulder blades into the cold cement, and then Lestrade has his hands against the stab wound, ignoring the sharp hiss of breath from Sherlock as he applies pressure. Blood seeps between his fingers and flows over his hands, warm and sticky and shockingly red.

He’s aware that someone is calling for paramedics, and when the voice ceases as he pauses for breath, he realizes that it must have been him. His eyes remain fixed on Sherlock, though, watching the ragged breathing and the elegant hands painted with red and the way the detective keeps his gaze trained on the ceiling, biting his lip hard enough to draw blood in an effort to keep from letting out further pained noises. There’s dried blood under his nose, which is starting to swell, and his right wrist twice its usual size and cocked at a strange angle - broken, then. Lestrade can also see that both wrists are starting to bear the marks of their restraints, the bruises from the ropes becoming more pronounced as the minutes drag on.

“What happened?” Lestrade hisses finally.

“They were idiotic,” Sherlock snaps in a voice made sharp by the pain. His breathing is coming in quick gasps as he forces the words out. “I pick-pocketed the one - ah! - almost instantly. Got his pocketknife. Child’s play after that.”

A gross understatement if Lestrade’s ever heard one - it’s clear that Sherlock had a rough time of it even before the stabbing, going by the marks on his face and the boot print Lestrade spots on his torso, revealed now because his shirt has ridden up. It’s burned into the skin, purple and angry against the porcelain flesh.

It’s a good thing, Lestrade muses for a moment, that Sherlock was the one who got to the men first. He’s sure – quite positive, in fact, and this terrifies him to no end – that had he been the one to do it, they would not have made it out alive.

“You’re becoming attached,” Sherlock accuses. His blue eyes are trained on Lestrade’s face now; his expression, grave. “Don’t.”

“Oh?” Lestrade says mildly. The air between them holds the coppery smell of blood, sharp and tangy, and the scent brings forward all the other times Lestrade has been in this position with Sherlock.

“I’d rather not have you end up in prison on my account.” Sherlock gives a heavy sniff and fresh blood leaks from his nose. “It’s dangerous, letting emotions impair one’s judgment. You should take care to remember that.”

Lestrade hums in agreement, conciliatory, but it occurs to him later as they’re loading Sherlock into the ambulance that the detective might not have been referring to only Lestrade.

He sounded rather as though he was trying to convince himself.

----

Lestrade’s team is assigned to the murder of a teen one afternoon. The victim is young – though they’re all young, aren’t they? – and gaunt, with lifeless gray eyes that remain fixed on the ceiling and full head of unruly black curls. They have a suspect within hours, and Lestrade leaves the Yard just as the cleaning crews start to come through – early, for him.

He catches a whiff of bleach on the way out, and bile bubbles in the back of his throat. He makes one drink, then two, when he gets home, and paces the living room for half an hour. He fights faint waves of nausea and runs fingers repeatedly through his hair, trying to calm himself. It doesn’t work – of course it doesn’t; when had it ever worked? – and he eventually collapses in a chair and digs through his pockets for his mobile.

Sherlock answers on the third ring.

-----
               
“‘Houston, we’ve had a problem,’” Lestrade mutters as he enters his kitchen one night to find that it has been transformed into the front lines of a small war that Sherlock appears to have been waging against his cutlery. Sherlock only spares him the barest of glances before returning to his microscope.

“This is hardly what I would call a problem, Lestrade,” he says. “And even if it is, I fail to see how a city in Texas would be able to assist.”

Lestrade blinks at him dumbly. “Oh, come - Sherlock, really? Apollo 13. Spacecraft. Oxygen tank exploded mid-mission in 1970; nearly didn’t make it back. Houston, we have a problem and all that. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of it.”

“Irrelevant data. If I did know about it, I’ve since deleted it,” Sherlock says, and Lestrade gives a wearying sigh.

“Next you’re going to tell me that you don’t know the Earth goes ‘round the sun. Honestly, the things you go through life not knowing...”

“It’s served me well thus far,” Sherlock points out, and then lifts his head from the microscope long enough to raise an eyebrow at him. “I take it pub night was successful. You’re drunk.”

Lestrade waves a hand, giving the movement a bit more flourish than he normally would.
               
“Only slightly,” he says. “What’ve you been working on all this time?”
               
“Nothing that concerns you,” Sherlock tells him mildly.
               
“You’re conducting the experiment in my kitchen, which is looking a little worse for wear,” Lestrade points out. “And the question still stands: what the hell happened in here?”

“There was an incident,” is all that Sherlock will provide, and Lestrade snorts.

“What was the casualty count this time?”

“Two pots and a mug. And a portion of the ceiling.”

“Right, I’m gonna have to ban you from this flat.”
               
“You gave me a key already,” Sherlock returns.
               
“‘S not like you would have needed it anyway,” Lestrade says, and this whole thing strikes him as rather silly. He can’t bring himself to actually be angry with the detective. “Wouldn’t have kept you away.”
               
“Do you want me ‘kept away’?” Sherlock says, glancing up and giving him an infuriating smirk.
               
“Y’know damn well the answer to that,” Lestrade says fondly, and goes to pour himself a glass of water.
               
“Next time,” Sherlock says, turning to jot something down in his notebook, “you should outline the stipulations before handing over your key. ‘No experiments after five,’ for example.”
               
“Hmm,” Lestrade hums. “‘No noxious fumes after ten at night or before seven in the morning’?”
               
He takes a gulp of water. “Or, how about, ‘no unexpected body parts in the fridge’?”
               
“I”ll be sure to bring home only expected body parts, in that case.” Sherlock gets up and carries his own mug over to the sink. Lestrade has been leaning against the counter in front of it, content with his own thoughts and their quiet banter, and can feel the ridiculous small smile that tends to grace his features whenever he has any amount of drink in him. Alcohol makes him incredibly forgiving and far too pleasant, as Sherlock would say.
               
Sherlock nudges him out of the way with an elbow and rinses out his mug while Lestrade taps the rim of his empty glass against his teeth, absorbed in senseless thoughts. He feels the glass being lifted from his fingers, and a moment later it’s been refilled and is being pressed back into his hands.
               
“Thank you,” he murmurs, and they stand there for a while, shoulders and hips pressed together, until Lestrade is dozing on his feet and Sherlock is prodding him awake in order to shove him in the direction of his bedroom.

-----

He’s slowing down.
                               
He doesn’t notice it, not at the first, but upon reflection he can see the signs.
                               
The mad dash up the stairs to Sherlock's flat becomes more of a frantic walk and he pauses for a moment now before he raps on the door, lest Sherlock see him breathing heavily.
                               
An old injury to his ankle starts to give him trouble at inopportune times, and makes itself heard especially loud after a log sprint in Sherlock’s wake.
                               
It’s harder to get up in the mornings.
                               
It’s harder to stay awake at the office, and he rarely stays anymore past one because he simply can’t.
                               
Can’t. It’s an unpleasant word; it’s an even more unsettling thought.
                               
He thinks of these things now because it’s three in the morning and they’re at the A&E. Sherlock’s gone and done something stupid, which isn’t unusual and thankfully isn’t life-threatening, but it needn’t have happened at all. It wouldn’t have, either, if only Lestrade had been a half-second faster.
                               
For the first time, sitting there under the fluorescent lights, the thought occurs to Lestrade that someday, someday quite soon, he might need to leave the Yard.
                               
Leaving at a decent age, leaving under his own power, leaving and collecting his pension – these thoughts have never before occurred to him.
                               
He’s always thought that his career at the Yard would end the same way he believes Sherlock’s life will - maybe on his own terms, maybe not, but at least sudden and unexpectedly.
                               
This thought terrifies him more. Dying he can do; dying he does every day.
                               
He’s not sure he knows how to age.

----

Sherlock is impatient at a crime scene one morning, and gets to the young witness first. Lestrade’s not sure how he managed to slip past all the officers, but the damage is done by the time they manage to catch him. She’s seven, doesn’t understand a lot of what she’s seen (which Lestrade hopes means that the memories will dull as she grows) and doesn’t know that her parents had actually died in the attack until Sherlock breaks the news to her.
                               
There’s an inquiry, of course, and the inevitable argument - “Her memories would only have gotten more faulty as time went on, Lestrade!” - and the harsh reminder that there are some things Sherlock simply doesn’t get. It bothers him, Lestrade knows, but maybe not for the reason that it should. Sherlock loves to understand, loves to know, but there are some things just beyond his grasp. He covers by saying that he doesn’t care - that it doesn’t matter - but Lestrade knows, if no one else does, that that is where the detective lies to himself.
                               
Lestrade makes a promise then that he’ll avoid using Sherlock at crime scenes like these in the future - crimes where there is very little order; very little sense; crimes where the victims are too young or the witnesses are too fragile, unless he has no other options.
                               
He tells himself it’s better for everyone all around; in private, however, he knows that he’s doing it more to protect Sherlock than anything else. And he’s all right with that.
                               
Sherlock figures it out sometime after (of course he does), and Lestrade isn’t sure how long the detective’s been mulling it over but at some point he turns to the DI and announces that he doesn’t need to “triage” his crime scenes.
                               
“Oh?” Lestrade says lightly. He never had thought of it like that, but he supposes that’s exactly what he’s been doing - triaging the crime scenes, triaging Sherlock. Deciding what the detective can and can’t handle. It does sound a bit insulting, when put like that, but Sherlock doesn’t seem offended. He looks bright, as though he’s solved a complex puzzle.
                               
“No,” Sherlock says triumphantly, “because you’ll be there, Lestrade.”
                               
“I don’t follow.”
                               
Sherlock blows out a sigh between his teeth. “Of course you don’t. Keep an eye on me, Lestrade - isn’t that what you do best?”
                         
Lestrade holds off on saying that it hasn’t worked so far and settles for a non-committal, “Hmm.”
                               
“So long as you’re around, there’s no reason to keep me away. Don’t you realize that that’s why this has worked all along?”

Sherlock gets to his feet, smoothing his jacket and making for the door. He pauses on the threshold, as though a thought has occurred to him, and turns to Lestrade with a triumphant smile.

“I can be the great man,” he says, “and you can be the good one.”

----

He starts to put on weight.

He hasn’t thought of himself as slim since his teenaged years, not since approaching adulthood and years on a football field thickened his arms and legs; broadened his shoulders and chest. But then again, he hasn’t ever thought of himself as carrying around extra pounds, either. Every single bit of weight has been necessary up until he hits his early forties, and that’s when his body starts to rebel.
 
It irritates him more than anything else, because he lives off of coffee and toast as they’re the only things he has time for anymore and he’s never been much interested in eating, anyway. He’s certainly never had the enthusiasm for it that others seem to possess and does it absentmindedly, recalling at odd hours of the day that he’s skipped a meal and so where could his body possibly find this extra weight?

It does, though, and he starts fastening his belt on a different loop, fingering with dismay the old hole he had used for so many years. His shirts are tighter - not obnoxiously so, but noticeable to him all the same. His wrists and hands thicken and his torso grows softer and all the while he tries to ignore it.


----

One day they’re at a crime scene and Sherlock is in a particularly awful mood. He’s snapped at Lestrade twice, informed Donovan that her current boyfriend is cheating on her and that her father likely has cancer, and told Anderson to, quote, “Go fuck yourself.” There’s a moment when he rounds on Smith - who’s new and wide-eyed, torn between terror and amazement at Sherlock’s antics - and is halfway through analyzing her “daddy issues” when Lestrade finally intervenes. He seizes Sherlock by the arm on impulse and holds him there, hand fastened tight around the bony wrist, so thin that his fingers meet.

Sherlock slams to a halt mid-word and Smith scurries away. Lestrade stares at Sherlock and Sherlock stares back, and for a moment neither of them moves. Distantly, Lestrade can hear the bustling of his officers and notices the flashing lights out of the corner of his eyes, but they might as well be a world away for all the attention he pays to them.

Sherlock licks his lips and draws a deep breath while Lestrade holds on, and he gets the impression that he’s anchoring the detective, who briefly had been lost among heavy seas. Finally, Sherlock gives a  quick nod, and when Lestrade releases him Sherlock darts off again, calling for a jar of pickle juice.

----

Sherlock abhors nearly any and all physical contact, dancing out of the way or spinning wildly to avoid brushing shoulders or jostling arms with another. Lestrade has seen him give murderous looks to anyone who dares touch him - or anyone who comes close - and he knows why Sherlock always travels in cabs. He can’t imagine the man on the Tube, where he’d be forced to press up against half a dozen close strangers in addition to probably suffering from sensory overload at the experience.

Lestrade feels sometimes as though he needs to keep himself in check around Sherlock; as though he needs to refrain from making any startling movements or sudden noises, lest he frighten the man off. He’s learned to keep quiet at crime scenes while Sherlock works, because interruptions anger the detective and make him liable to withhold information until Lestrade can coax him to start speaking again.

He does little more in private, allowing Sherlock to make the first move if one’s going to be made at all. Sometimes he’ll be sitting in the chair at his kitchen table, and light fingertips will brush along the back of his neck as Sherlock passes. Other times it’s in his office, with the scratching of his pen providing the soundtrack to their evenings, and Sherlock will bump against his hand when reaching for something. It’s not always on purpose, he knows, but Sherlock doesn’t flinch at the contact the way he would if it were someone else.

And it’s inevitable, should they happen to share a bed, that at some point during the night they will migrate until foreheads are brushing or legs are tangled or fingers are wrapped loosely around one another. Theirs is an easy companionship, one where Lestrade allows Sherlock to set the pace and one where Sherlock is always in control; always cautious. He strikes the perfect balance, pulling back just before things advance, and Lestrade will never know how he manages it.

“Here, stir this,” Lestrade tells him one night as they’re making dinner – well, as he’s making dinner. Sherlock’s only in the kitchen because he’s using the extra burner on the stove for an experiment but what he’s testing, Lestrade doesn’t want to know.

He indicates the pot of stew, and Sherlock regards him warily before taking the spoon. He’s rubbish at cooking, in spite of the fact that he read chemistry at university, and Lestrade finds this amusing to no end. Usually he sets the detective to work chopping vegetables - he works wonders with a knife, which Lestrade finds both impressive and alarming.
                               
“This is far too much food for one person,” Sherlock says with a sniff, glancing in the pot before following Lestrade’s instructions. “You know I don’t eat when -”
                               
“Yes, I know, you don’t eat when on a case. I’m not about to fight that battle again,” Lestrade mutters. “But we’ll have it wrapped in the next day or so and then you’re going to eat that stew. There will be plenty left over.”

He moves to the liquor cabinet to mix a drink, and then returns to take over. Sherlock hands him the spoon and leans in, pressing his lips against Lestrade’s. The kiss is unexpected but hardly unwelcome, and Lestrade finds himself caught on the edge of having enough and wanting more. He places his free hand lightly on Sherlock’s back, waiting to see what will happen, and Sherlock, timing impeccable, breaks away after only a few moments. He returns silently to his experiment while Lestrade tends to dinner, bemused at the uncharacteristic gesture.
                               
And then the experiment explodes.
                               
Lestrade’s quick reflexes are the only reason he avoids a face full of whatever it was that had been in his pan. He throws up an arm and ducks into a crouch just in time, and when he looks up again he sees that Sherlock has dived for the remains of his experiment and is transferring it to the sink for disposal. He looks – gleeful.
                               
“All right?” he says quickly, seizing Lestrade by the elbow and hauling him upright again.
                               
“Yeah,” Lestrade says breathlessly. “What the fuck was that?”
                               
“The answer to your case,” Sherlock says, and he has that ridiculous smirk on his face, the one that always, always spells trouble for others.
                               
“How –“
                               
“Later,” Sherlock says shortly. “Do you have any rat poison?”
                               
“What? No, I don’t think so. What –”
                               
“Vinegar? An orange?”
                               
Lestrade gives up on speech and points to the cabinet under the sink, and Sherlock immediately begins rooting through it. He’ll get his answers eventually, but for right now he’s too amused to be concerned with such things. He should be angry at his near-death experience (all right, perhaps that was harsh – near-maiming) and at the state of his pan, but it isn’t often he gets to see Sherlock in this state of happiness; in this state of unguarded and outright joy at his life’s passion. And as Sherlock springs back up to his feet, triumphantly muttering about acids and reaction times, Lestrade wraps an arm around his waist and brings him in for a light kiss.
                               
Sherlock tenses beneath Lestrade’s hands – one on his hip, one along his jaw – and though he returns the kiss, Lestrade can feel the enthusiasm melt away as quickly as it had appeared. He breaks it off gently as he can and lets his hands fall away and Sherlock hovers there a moment, lips millimeters from his own, his breathing suddenly stunted. He licks his lips, and Lestrade can see him casting about for his train of thought. He doesn’t pull back entirely; it appears for a moment as though he’s torn between leaning in again and springing away, and in his hesitation he shifts his weight from foot to foot.
                               
Finally, he compromises and takes a step to the side, bottle of vinegar still in hand, and clears his throat.
                               
“I’ll…have the final results to you in an hour,” he says calmly, but Lestrade can hear the slightest of tremors in his voice.
                               
“Are you all right?” he asks in concern, though clearly Sherlock is not, and tries to put a hand on his elbow. Sherlock moves so that he is standing just out of reach and keeps his eyes focused on the remains of his experiment, as though trying to pretend that he didn’t see the gesture.
               
“Fine, yes, Lestrade.”

Lestrade, confused, turns back to dinner – which escaped the explosion unscathed – and tells him to take his time.
                               
Sherlock doesn’t stay that night.

---

Sherlock enjoys the thrill of the reveal - gets off on it, as Donovan is so fond of saying, and disturbing though that thought may be, Lestrade can’t fault her for thinking it. He doesn’t do what he does for accolades or recognition, beyond what he receives from Lestrade’s stunned team as he prances and paces and whirls and deduces. He enjoys stunning them; he enjoys their awe, drinking it in and living off it for days at a time. It wouldn’t be the same in front of the higher-ups, when the thrill and the spectacle has been stripped away to be replaced by facts and numbers.

So it’s strange when one day Sherlock comes to a crime scene and says nothing as he examines the body. He doesn’t waste his time throwing a few idle insults at Anderson as he sweeps through the door and he doesn’t call Lestrade ‘incompetent’ as he’s snapping on his gloves. He doesn’t even bother to roll up his sleeves, even though the heat has been left on and room is sweltering. Lestrade just adds it to the list of inconsistencies. Sherlock loves the coat for the dramatic effect it gives him as he’s whirling around and throwing off deductions. When he has to forgo that, he prefers rolling his sleeves up, getting them out of the way and giving himself a carefree look that Lestrade knows is well-rehearsed.

Lestrade then allows himself to briefly consider the possibility that Sherlock is still unnerved by the events of the other week, which accounts for his unusual behavior in recent days. He still makes the odd appearance in Lestrade’s office after hours, but the texts have ceased and he hasn’t spent the night. Had the kiss not happened, Lestrade wouldn’t even be considering the possibility that Sherlock is acting out of the ordinary - but it did, and he can’t help but view everything that’s come after through the lens of that failed gesture.

He watches Sherlock kneel by the body for some minutes and doesn’t press him right away for his conclusions (though he should - he did say five minutes and it’s certainly been ten by now. Anderson’s going to be furious). Instead, he’s stealing these few extra moments to observe the detective, to try to deduce something about his behavior.

“I’m not interested,” Sherlock says suddenly after several minutes of persistent silence.
       
“Sorry?” Lestrade glances from the victim to the detective, breaking out of his thoughts.
             
“I’m not interested,” Sherlock repeats, rising and snapping off his gloves. “Sex.”
             
“Ah.” Lestrade nods, because the statement, while confirming something that had been lingering, unnamed, in the back of his mind, seems grossly out of place. He glances at the floor, trying to see the connection that Sherlock obviously has made. “Sorry, but what does that have to do with -”
           
“It doesn’t,” Sherlock says in a weary voice he reserves for when Lestrade isn’t quite getting it.
                               
“Right. Well - good. Okay. So what -”
                               
Sherlock sighs and points to the victim’s feet. “It was the husband. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to track down a mouse.”
                               
He sweeps from the room without further explanation, and Lestrade gives himself a calming period of three seconds before he runs after  him with an exasperated, “Sherlock!”
                               
He never ends up tracking down the detective, who vanishes into a cab just as Lestrade’s darting from the house, but he receives a cryptic text later that evening with more details about the suspect. Lestrade is able to put the rest of the pieces together and puts the case to bed later that evening, but the anomalous behavior still nags at the back of his mind. He tries to believe that he’s reading too much into it.                            
                               
He’s not able to convince himself for very long, and they have a spectacular fight at the detective’s flat less than a week later.

Sherlock has been spoiling for one for days, and by the time everything unravels Lestrade is only too happy to give it to him. His unnatural silence at crime scenes had been rapidly replaced by vicious digs that leaped from annoying to cruel, and he baited Lestrade’s team more than usual, all but begging one of them to take a swing at him. Two evenings at Lestrade’s (one planned; one not) had ended in disaster, and on the third night Lestrade decides it’s safer to head Sherlock off at his own place before the detective has a chance to pick up steam. He beats the detective home for once and relishes the look of brief surprise on Sherlock’s face when he opens the door to see Lestrade settled in his chair, fingers laced together and calmly set in his lap.

“What do you want?” he growls, shuffling into the room and shutting the door sharply behind him.

“A chat.”

“What about?” he says darkly, moving into the kitchen. Lestrade is quick on his heels.

“You know damn well what. I don’t know what’s going on with you, Sherlock, but whatever it is needs to stay out of my crime scenes. I can’t have -”

“Can’t have what?” Sherlock interrupts, rounding on him in fury. “Can’t have me riling up your precious team? Last time I looked, Inspector, you needed me.”

“Believe it or not, I am capable of a few things without you, Sherlock. I appreciate your help, but if it comes down to it, we’ll manage on our own.” Lestrade gives a mirthless smile. “I did make Detective Inspector; I think I know what I’m doing.”

“And you wouldn’t have that if not for me,” Sherlock snarls. “You, make Detective Inspector all on your own? You’re far too incompetent for that.”

Lestrade folds his arms. “Look, Sherlock, either shape up or I’m barring you from future crime scenes.”

“Threaten all you like,” Sherlock returns acidly. “The truth is, you like your cases-closed rate far too much to even consider going through with that. And the only way you’re going to keep those neat little numbers is if your crutch is still around to help out.”

“This isn’t about the numbers, Sherlock! It’s about doing what’s right.” Lestrade strides up to Sherlock and seizes him by the front of his shirt, shoving him against the wall. The detective’s eyes widen slightly, and Lestrade takes brief pleasure in that before it’s overridden by anger. “I don’t give a damn about my numbers because I think it might aid my career - I give a damn about them because they might make a difference.  This work is my life, Sherlock, surely you’ve reasoned that one out by now. And if I have to go around the red tape, bend a few rules here and there, just to get someone off the streets who needs to be - you know damn well that I’m going to do it. And if that means using a man who consistently acts like a child - you’re damn right that I’m going to do that, too. So if that’s what you want to call it - a crutch - fine. I don’t really give a shit, as long as the result’s the same.”

“I call it as I see it,” Sherlock snaps. “A crutch.”

“So do I - a child,” Lestrade says, releasing him and stepping back. Sherlock flattens a hand along the front of his shirt, eyes blazing, and then points a slightly unsteady finger at Lestrade’s face.

“Don’t you ever touch me again,” he growls, and Lestrade can’t help the waspish words that leap from his mouth, even though he knows they’re a terrible idea.

“You don’t seem to mind, most nights,” he snaps.

A muscle twitches in Sherlock’s jaw, and he goes pale.

“Get out,” he whispers, jabbing a finger hard at Lestrade’s chest before striding away into the living room.

“You need me just as much, Sherlock,” Lestrade calls to him. “Where would you be without the work? The work is everything, isn’t that what you always say?”

Sherlock says nothing, and standing by the window he is illuminated the harsh city lights. It brings out the severity of his figure; highlights his cheekbones until he appears gaunt. He looks sickly, in that light - like the Sherlock of three years ago.

In fact, Lestrade realizes, exactly like the Sherlock of three years ago.

“Look at me,” he orders, striding up to Sherlock and grabbing his chin, forcing his gaze away from the window. The eyes that meet his are dark, the normally sharp blue reduced to a thin ring around the blown-open pupils.

Lestrade’s heart sinks.

“Where are they, Sherlock?” he asks in a low voice, resigned.

“Where are what?”

“Don’t play ignorant with me; I’m not in the mood. Where are the drugs?”

“I haven’t any, Lestrade. Don’t be a fool.”

But Sherlock doesn’t resist as Lestrade grabs his arm and he stands there mutely while Lestrade shoves up the sleeve to reveal the angry red marks he had mistakenly thought to be a thing of the past.

Sherlock’s right. He is a fool.

“Christ, Sherlock,” he hisses, yanking the sleeve back down and pulling away as though scalded. “You’re using again.”

“Brilliant deduction,” Sherlock snarls back.

Lestrade is too tired and too furious to deal with this, and he knows if he stays a moment longer he’ll say - or do - something he’ll regret for a long while.

“We’re going to take you off cases for a while,” he says tightly, struggling to keep his voice steady. “Don’t bother trying to sneak into the Yard – they’ve caught on to most of your methods by now and I’ll be alerting them to your latest ones.”

He turns on his heel and leaves without another word.

Chapter Text

Lestrade gets less than an hour of sleep that night, worried as he is over Sherlock’s miserable condition. He can’t think where it might have gone wrong; can’t think what might have triggered him to start using again. There hadn’t been an abundance of murder cases lately, this was true, but Lestrade thought he had been doing well by supplying a steady stream of old case files whenever Sherlock joined him for his paperwork sessions after hours.

Evidently, it hadn’t been enough.

He knows he should have stayed with the detective; knows that he should have rooted through the flat until he found the drugs and then -

- and then, what? They’ve been through this before, twice now, and what was he going to do now that could be more convincing than what he did three years ago? Sherlock won’t stop - won’t fix it - unless he wants to.

He’s rescued from his tortured thoughts that night by a homicide - and what a grim thought that is - and arrives at the crime scene just as dawn is breaking over neat rows of sleepy buildings on a relatively quiet street.

“What’ve you got?” Lestrade demands as soon as he catches sight of Donovan.

“Where’s Freak?” Donovan asks instead as Lestrade ducks under the crime scene tape. He doesn’t bother correcting her; he hasn’t the energy.

“Not coming,” he says shortly. “Now, what’ve you got?”

She leads him wordlessly into the living room of the house. There’s one victim, a male, lying face-down on the floor with his head smashed in and the murder weapon (an innocent-looking, if slightly hideous, lamp) overturned near the fireplace.

“We shouldn’t need Sherlock for something like this,” Lestrade says, frowning. Donovan flashes him a mirthless smile.

“I haven’t gotten to the good part yet.”

“There’s a good part?”

It depended on one’s definition of good, Lestrade supposes as he surveys the guest bedroom, tucked away in the back of the house. There are skeletal remains on the bed – human, most likely, if the skulls were anything to go by. Lestrade counts three, but the bones are all a jumble and there could well be more bodies hidden amongst them.

“Jesus,” he breathes. “What the hell is this?”

“I don’t know,” Donovan says. “But I can tell you one thing – Freak’ll love this one.”

“He’s not on this one,” Lestrade repeats firmly. “So looks like we’ll get to have all the…fun.”

The bones are photographed and catalogued and eventually collected for evidence. His team doesn’t usually deal with skeletonized remains – theirs is the realm of recent murders – but as the bones were discovered just feet away from their latest victim, it makes little sense to try to pretend the two aren’t related.

It turns out, once the remains are sorted, that they do indeed have the bones of three different individuals.

“Preliminary report says they committed suicide,” Donovan notes from a file as they’re standing in the morgue, surveying the three tables on which the bones are assembled, “going by the angle of the entry wounds and the distance from which the weapon was fired.”

It’s careless to set a determinate cause of death when one has only bones to work with, Lestrade knows, but in this case they have little else to go on. The gunshot wounds would have killed each of the victims, if they were alive at the time of the shootings. Whether they died before then may never be known, but they have to start somewhere.

“Looks like,” Lestrade agrees distractedly, eyes roving over the collected bones. Something isn’t right, and it nags at the back of his mind.

“Bloody weird, though, you have to admit. Why keep the skeletons?”

“I don’t know, Sally. S’what we’re here to find out, isn’t it?”

Lestrade moves from one skeleton to the next, frowning as he examines the gunshot wounds. They all did appear to have been shot at close range.

But there was still something off about it.

“We’re missing something,” he mutters under his breath.

“Sir?”

Lestrade holds up a hand, whirling on his heel and pacing back over to the first skeleton. He had seen it.

What had he seen? His eyes rove over the different bones, and he tries to remember all the tricks he’s picked up from Sherlock over the years. Not tricks, he corrects himself. Observations. Little details. And Sherlock’s always been fascinated with the skeleton; the walls of his flat are plastered with sketches and anatomical drawings of the very bones Lestrade is staring at now. So what had he noticed? What was there to notice?

Prominent nuchal area. No deciduous teeth. Epiphyses have fused. Size differences in the clavicles. Narrow pelvis.

And that’s when he finally sees it.

“Actually, Donovan,” he says suddenly, holding out a hand and beckoning her over, “I’ve a feeling this was murder.”

Donovan frowns at him. “Are you sure?”

“Call it a hunch, but I’m fairly sure the first and third skeletons are murder victims,” Lestrade says, gesturing at them. “I’m not so sure about the second one, but it’s possible.”

“How do you mean?” Donovan says, sounding baffled. Lestrade points to the first skeleton.

“This one looks like he’s right-handed, but the gunshot wound is on the left side of the head. Same with the third skeleton – bit hard to shoot yourself on the side of the head opposite your dominant hand, isn’t it? Now, the second skeleton is left-handed, and that’s also where the gunshot wound is, so that one could actually be a suicide. But I think we can safely keep murder in mind for the other two.”

Donovan just stares at him. “How the hell can you tell all that? Sir.”

“I’m not using a sure-fire method,” Lestrade admits. “But look at the clavicles on each of the skeletons.”

He points to the collarbone. “Now, assuming Molly’s separated the bones correctly - and I’m sure that she has - these clavicles indicate the handedness of the body they’re associated with. The more developed clavicle means that’s the hand - and the arm - that’s used more often, because the muscles get more developed and the  - “ What had been the word Sherlock always used? Robust? “ - the bone becomes more robust. So, these fellas are right-handed, but the second skeleton is not. Or likely not, anyway. You can tell the same thing by looking at the scapulae and the hands.”

He indicates the different bones while Donovan gapes at him a moment.

“Are you sure, sir?”

“No,” Lestrade says, flashing a tight smile. “Not nearly enough evidence to go on; it’d never hold up. But it at least gives us something to start with. And from the looks of these skulls, we’re dealing with three males between the ages of thirty and fifty. Our victim was in that age range, and they were found at his house, so...it’s not terribly off-base to assume he knew them. Acquaintances, perhaps; people would have noticed if three of his friends went missing. Go pull his records, find out his daily routine. I want to know everyone he might have come into contact with during the course of a day, and find out if any of them are missing.”

“You think this might have been a revenge killing?” Donovan ventures.

Lestrade shrugs. “Right now, I’m not sure of anything. So let’s cover all our bases until we find something solid. You go ahead - I’ll be right behind; just want to speak with Molly first.”

Donovan turns to go, and then pauses. “You adding osteology to your hobbies, now, sir?”

“Hardly,” Lestrade snorts. “But you learn a few things, hanging around Sherlock. Especially about skulls; he has an abnormal fascination with them.”

Molly comes along and confirms that they do indeed have three males, two of whom were likely right-handed, and the seemingly meaningless bit of information actually puts them on a lead that results in a promising suspect and a quick end to one of the more bizarre cases of the year.

Lestrade is surprised, then, later that night when he gets up for a fresh coffee and returns to his office to find Sally waiting for him, even though they’ve already finished up the case.  

“Waiting for me?” he asks as he walks in and resumes his seat behind his desk, hot cup of coffee cradled in his hands. His gaze strays momentarily to the stack of files awaiting him, and he wonders if this will take long. He enjoys spending time with his team – he likes learning a little about their lives - but tonight’s not a good night. He still has paperwork to do and a headache to nurse and a consulting detective to fix – and the last one he can do very little about, which frustrates him to no end.

“Knew you’d be back. You’re always here,” Sally says lightly, and for some reason that stings a little bit. He forces a smile.

“What can I do for you?”

“It’s about Fr - Sherlock, sir.”

“It’s eleven, Sally,” Lestrade says, taking a gulp of the hot liquid. “I think we can drop the ‘sir.’”

“Right,” she says with a brisk nod. “I just - I think you’re spending too much time around him. He’s rubbing off on you.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Lestrade asks with a raised eyebrow, and it’s clear from Sally’s horrified expression that she most definitely thinks it is. But she is far too tactful in Lestrade’s presence, and refrains from saying so outright.

“He’s dangerous, Lestrade,” she says earnestly instead. “He’s consuming you. Do you realize that?”

“I’d be careful with your next words, Sally,” he says in a controlled voice, hand clenching around his mug.

“It’s not anything you don’t already know,” Sally says quietly. “Just- be careful, all right? I don’t know what happened, but something went wrong a few days ago with him. I can tell. And I’m not asking you to confide in me, but I think you’re getting a bit too invested in him. It’s like - it’s always you and him, everywhere you look. And he’ll bring you down, sir.”

She ducks her head suddenly, and Lestrade’s not sure he’s ever seen her uncertain before, or hesitant. “I’d rather not see that happen to you. You’re a good man.”

“And Sherlock’s not,” Lestrade says. It’s supposed to be a question; it comes out more of a statement, and Sally’s smile is tired.

“I think you know the answer to that. He’s brilliant- I’ll grant him that. I’ll grant you that. But nothing more.”

-----

It’ll have gotten worse, Lestrade knows, in the days since he cut Sherlock loose from the case. The detective’s drug use had always subsided when his mind was occupied with other things; it was only in the in-between moments, the ones where he had nothing to focus on, when he fell back on that certain distraction.

But it couldn’t be helped. Lestrade couldn’t have a man working his cases while high.

Even more so, he couldn’t be around the detective as he lost himself to drugs once more.

He waits three days before venturing over to Montague Street, and lets himself into Sherlock’s flat after two minutes of knocking yield no results. His chest is tight with the anticipation of what he might find, but it turns out that Sherlock has simply been ignoring him.

He’s sprawled out on the sofa, and though the air is thick with the scent of tobacco, little has changed in the flat. His experiments are all still in their places, the kitchen still appears as though a bomb went off during a tornado, and Sherlock’s still fully dressed (though the clothes appear to be the same ones he was wearing three days prior).

“I didn’t answer for a reason, Lestrade,” Sherlock mutters. He has an arm over his eyes. Lestrade wouldn’t be surprised if he found out that the man had thrown himself down there three days ago and not bothered to move.

“And I didn’t leave for a reason,” Lestrade says, tugging off his jacket and tossing it onto a chair before moving into the kitchen. He inspects the area as thoroughly as he can without touching anything, and determines with relative certainty that none of the experiments are in danger of exploding. That’s always been a concern, when Sherlock spirals. He tends to favor more and more volatile experiments.

Lestrade spots a glass of brown liquid on the counter, seemingly separate from the other glasses and silverware and equipment that make up Sherlock’s various experiments. He leans over to sniff it - not the wisest move, but the most effective - and wrinkles his nose reflexively.

“You’ve been drinking,” he notes with some surprise, because that’s never really been Sherlock’s preferred method of escape. “On top of the drugs? What the hell are you thinking?”

“It doesn’t concern you, Lestrade,” Sherlock drawls from the sofa; he still hasn’t moved. “There has been a distinct lack of interesting cases as of late. You know very well that I am very little without the work. The tedium,” he hisses the word, and it slaps Lestrade across the face, “is making my brain rot. The work is all I have.”

“No, you have me, Sherlock!” Lestrade snaps. “And you do care a little about what I think, because you never used to hide the drug use. You didn’t care if others knew, in the past. But you tried to keep it from me this time around. That crime scene – you wouldn’t roll up your sleeves, even though the room was sweltering.”

He turns away, adding, “That should’ve been a clue,” but it’s more to himself than Sherlock.

The detective springs up suddenly, on his feet before Lestrade can blink, and steps over the low table by the sofa on his way into the kitchen. He stops centimeters in front of Lestrade and growls, “Fuck off,” before sweeping off to deal with one of his experiments.

Lestrade feels a strange tingle go down his spine because this isn’t right. Sherlock doesn’t resort to meaningless curses in their verbal sparring - he attacks each fight the way he attacks his cases and the rest of his life, with an arrogant wit and stinging words that leave no room for doubt in anyone’s mind about just how idiotic he finds his opponent. But here Sherlock is agitated; frustrated. He’s letting his emotions get the better of him, which would be normal if the person standing before him were anyone but Sherlock Holmes.

“What’s wrong?” Lestrade asks sharply while the detective whirls around the kitchen.

“Leave,” Sherlock orders. He picks up a beaker, sniffs it, and then tosses the contents into the sink.

“I’m not an idiot, Sherlock, much as you like to think otherwise,” Lestrade snaps. “There’s something more than boredom going on this time. What is it?”

“Nothing.”

“This is getting very old, very quickly. You know, there’s really nothing stopping me from dragging your ass out of here and tossing it in a cell for possession. Would you rather spend a night there, or talk to me now?”

“Yes, Lestrade, what is stopping you from doing that?” Sherlock snarls. Typical: a question for a question. “It’s not like you to allow something to be swept under the rug. Are you holding out hope that I may one day change my mind and willingly take you to bed? Is that what’s kept you looking the other way all these years?”

The statement comes so completely out of nowhere that Lestrade is momentarily stunned, feeling as though someone landed a blow to his gut.

“What?” he blurts.

“You heard me perfectly well; I won’t be repeating myself,” Sherlock says, turning away and walking back out into the living room. Lestrade hadn’t noticed before, but his gait is ever-so-slightly off-kilter. He follows, watching as Sherlock takes a rectangular packet off the bookcase and finds a lighter under the sofa, and says nothing while he lights a cigarette and smokes in brooding silence for some moments.

“You think I’ve been around all these years because I’m....waiting for you to sleep with me?” Lestrade asks once he finds his voice again.

“That is the usual end result, isn’t it?” Sherlock says acidly.

“And since you’re interested in nothing of the sort,” Lestrade says slowly, mind whirring as he tries to connect everything, “you think - what? That I’m going to excuse myself from your life and be on my way?”

“As I said,” Sherlock says, pinning him in place with a look that’s increasingly bitter, “the usual end result.”

“Do you really think so little of me?” Lestrade asks, suddenly furious, though which of them he’s angry with still remains to be seen. “Do you really think that’s the only reason I associate with you? That that’s the only reason I would want to associate with you?”

Sherlock waves a hand in annoyance. “Please, Lestrade, I can hardly begrudge you something that’s natural for someone like you to want. That’s not the point.”

“What’s the point, then?”

“The point is,” Sherlock says tightly, and it is obvious the words pain him by the way he practically forces them from his lips, “that I don’t - I can’t - give - provide all that you need.”

“So what you’re saying is that this,” Lestrade waves a hand around the flat, “is all because you don’t want to sleep with me.”

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” Sherlock spits. “It’s not just with you, it’s with anyone. Don’t think yourself so important.”

“You don’t like sex.” Lestrade doesn’t realize he has mused this out loud until Sherlock slams a hand against the wall, and he jumps at the sudden noise.

“I’m not interested,’ he growls, “or weren’t you paying attention earlier?”

“All right.” Lestrade repeats slowly, holding up a hand in what he hopes might be a calming gesture. “You aren’t interested.”

There is a lengthy pause, until Sherlock finally says, “Well?”

“Well, what?”

Say it, Lestrade; I know you’re thinking it. Tell me you’re sorry to hear that. Tell me that I must be damaged, or had a traumatic experience in my past that made me this way. Go on,” and he flashes a chilling smile, “puzzle it out. You’re the proper detective here, or so they say, and you’ve surely spent enough time around me to figure at least something out. You may be dull, but you’re usually quicker at picking up on things than the others. So tell me where it is I went wrong.”

“I wasn’t going to say any of that; give me at least some credit. I know that’s not how it works,” Lestrade says softly. He is struck then by things he’s heard Donovan say to Sherlock at crime scenes, which he’s ignored until now because Sherlock’s more than capable of holding his own. He adds, “It...doesn’t make you a freak, either. I hope you realize that.”

“So what does it make me, Inspector?”

“Human,” Lestrade answers, and for a moment Sherlock appears to have been struck dumb. “It makes you very human. But answer me this, Sherlock: when have I ever given the impression that I want to sleep with you?”

“Don’t be an idiot, Lestrade, of course you want to,” Sherlock sneers, and Lestrade goes cold at the words. “I can see no other reason for your constant...kindness.”

“But when have I -” Lestrade breaks off abruptly as Sherlock’s earlier words finally penetrate his mind. Not interested. Sherlock had said the same thing at that crime scene just over a week ago, the first one in three years he had gone to while high, and that’s when it finally all comes together for Lestrade. The drugs aren’t connected to the tedium, this time. They aren’t even really connected to his disinterest in sex, although that does seem to be part of it. No, this relapse is connected to that damn kiss.

Shit.

“Is that what this has been about, then?” Lestrade asks, and he doesn’t need to clarify any further than that because undoubtedly Sherlock has read the connection in his face. “The drugs, the drinking, and all of it because you think I’m expecting something that you don’t want to give. And you think that, because you’re not interested, I’m going to...” he trails off as realization finally sinks in. “Sherlock, I’m not going anywhere.”

And the thing is, he hasn’t ever intended to leave the detective on his own - not once has the thought crossed his mind, in the years they’ve known one another. He realizes, in the few seconds after the quiet pronouncement, that between the nights on the sofa and the texts and the dinners at the Yard and the work, their lives have become intricately entwined. The thought of separation - if that’s even the correct word - appears to terrify Sherlock; what he doesn’t appear to realize is that it would damage Lestrade just as badly.
                               
Sherlock’s stony face finally cracks at Lestrade’s words, and he gives a shadow of a sad smile. “You’re too kind sometimes, Inspector, has anyone ever said?” The grim smile fades. “It’s very like you, bumbling creature that you are, to try to make things right. But I don’t want your pity, and I don’t need your help. I don’t want that responsibility. I have no desire to have you around out of some misplaced sense of duty.”

“This isn’t a duty, Sherlock,” Lestrade hisses. “Honestly, whoever gave you that idea – ”

“Reality gave me that idea, Inspector,” Sherlock snaps. “Delusion is a pointless endeavor, and I see no reason to indulge in it. This is comfortable for you, for now, yes. But have you considered what will happen when you meet someone who actually wants to sleep with you?”

The statement hits him hard, and oh, he should have seen this coming.

“Well, as it happens - I’ve met them, Sherlock,” he says finally, gaze dropping to the floor. He leans back on the heels of his feet, considering his next words, and after a moment of silence he raises his eyes to Sherlock’s. “And d’you know what? They aren’t you.”        

Sherlock snorts and turns back to the window, drawing on his cigarette.

“I’m serious, Sherlock.”                        

“As am I. You still have it, Inspector, if I’m not mistaken,” Sherlock notes after a beat of silence passes between them. It’s a statement of fact more than a question, and Lestrade wets suddenly-dry lips before answering. They don’t discuss his sex life, and Lestrade suspects they’ve never needed to - he’s sure Sherlock can read it in him with little more than a glance. But he’s never seen fit to bring it up - like everything else in his life, it just is - and maybe that had been his first mistake.
                               
“Sex? Yeah, I do,” he says finally. “Does it bother you?”
                               
Sherlock’s guarded expression takes on a hint of confusion before he can sufficiently mask it - this is something he wasn’t expecting, then. This wasn’t where he thought the conversation might lead. “You like it. Why would I begrudge you that?”
                               
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Lestrade says. “Because if it does - all you have to do is tell me. I don’t need it, Sherlock, not in the way that you’re assuming.”

Sherlock’s eyes narrow in suspicion. “What exactly are you offering, Lestrade?”

Good question. What was he offering Sherlock? Complete and total control over his sex life, and given to a man who thought of him as little more than a distraction.

No, that wasn’t fair - and not even remotely close to true.

“I’m offering exactly what I said I was offering,” Lestrade tells him. “I’ll stop everything, if that’s what you want.”

“You enjoy it,” Sherlock repeats, as though that is reason enough. Lestrade shakes his head.

“Doesn’t matter. You can always ask,” he says softly.
               
There is a heavy moment where they stare at one another, unwavering, Lestrade struggling not to flinch at the sight of the bloodshot eyes and overblown pupils but determined not to look away. Sherlock looks bemused, followed quickly by confused and then pensive. Drugs have always made him more expressive than he would be otherwise. He can’t sufficiently mask his emotions when his defenses are compromised, and they flit across his face like birds in flight. His shoulders, hunched until now as though he’s been warding off a chill, square suddenly, and he lifts his chin as though he’s reached a decision and is steeling himself for the fallout.

“But then so can you,” Sherlock tells him, his voice uncharacteristically low, and it takes a moment for the implication behind the words to sink in. When it finally does, Lestrade feels something catch in his throat.

“You want me...to sleep with you.”

Sherlock’s mouth quirks and he lets out a quick breath. “Obviously, no, I don’t desire that. But it would hardly be fair of me to be angry with you for wanting it. And I’m not, Lestrade, I just - I would ask that you not try to reciprocate, and while I can’t exactly be an active participant in every sense of the word, a passive one should suit most of your needs.”

“Lie there and take it, you mean,” Lestrade mutters, and the thought makes him ill. “Christ, Sherlock, why would you say such a thing?”

“Because it’s better than the alternative,” Sherlock says abruptly.

“Which is?”

But Sherlock doesn’t answer, and turns back to the window.

Lestrade passes a hand across his face, and allows himself to wonder for a moment how long this has been going on; how long Sherlock has been stuck in this endless loop, trying to make sense of it all, because what he knows of interpersonal relationships doesn’t apply to what they are - and what they aren’t. Lestrade aches at the thought that he’s caused Sherlock pain by ignoring it for so long - and he’s struck by what Sherlock is willing to give up just to – in his mind – keep Lestrade in his life.

He draws a shuddering breath. They’ve never been ones for declarations or promises. They’ve never been ones for words at all, really, because words are imprecise and flawed. Actions speak louder – his just hadn’t been enough.
                               
“The thing is, I wouldn’t,” he says firmly. “I would never ask that of you, Sherlock. And I’ve never intended to, either.”
                               
“You want to, though,” Sherlock presses.

Lestrade’s mind drifts to the early days, when he was guilty of letting his gaze drift to the firm arse, dressed in trousers that only served to emphasize the finely sculpted legs, or along the sharp contours of Sherlock’s face and down his torso. His was a finely-muscled body, Lestrade had imagined then (and now knows for certain), and he’s still surprised by the deceptively-thin limbs that quiver with energy, as though Sherlock is a finely-wrapped coil, ready to spring at any moment. He’d be lying to himself - and to Sherlock - if he says that he had never imagined what it might be like, but what he doesn’t fully comprehend until that moment is that he stopped long ago thinking of Sherlock as a sexual being. He is Sherlock, now. Just Sherlock.
                               
“Perhaps, at some point, the thought occurred,” he says at length, when he realizes that the silence has stretched on for a beat longer than it should have, and that Sherlock might take that the wrong way. “But don’t be so quick to pass judgment on me. I may have sex and enjoy it, but that hardly means I’m incapable of self-restraint. I don’t want to fuck everyone who crosses my path, even if I do find them attractive. Yes, I’ve had my share of sexual partners – I’m sure you’ve always known that. I’m sure you’ve also always known that it isn’t often, and lately they’ve meant very little. And if you asked – there’d be none.”

Sherlock says nothing for a long moment, and Lestrade kicks himself again for not having thought to bring this up before –

– before what, though? It happened, and that’s all he can say about it. He can’t even say what it is, only there is something indefinable that has deepened between the two of them in recent – months, years? There is no date he can point to, no one moment in time that he can think back on and say, Right, this is when it started.

It just happened, and it just is.
            
“But I’m aware,” Sherlock says eventually, “that compromise is generally considered the proper course of action when it comes to differences in a – between two people.”

Lestrade growls a curse, then, because Sherlock still isn’t getting it.

“You think that offering to sleep with me - offering to compromise - is the only thing that will keep me around?”

“I’ve managed it before,” Sherlock admits. He grinds out the cigarette on the windowsill and discards it.

“Did they - your partners - know about it?” Lestrade waves a hand vaguely. “I mean - about you?”

“No,” Sherlock says, giving a wry smile. “I’ve learned over the years to be quite good at faking it. It wouldn’t be unpleasant, for you. I have it on good authority that I can be quite skilled in that area.”

“The best disguise is the one that allows you to hide in plain sight,” Lestrade says with a huff of disbelieving laughter, recalling the words he’s heard Sherlock say on a number of occasions, though until now he’s never quite grasped their gravity. He thinks of Sherlock feigning interest - feigning enjoyment - and that alone makes him furious on Sherlock’s behalf. “But I don’t want you to act, Sherlock. I don’t want you as anything other than who you are.”

“You do want me, then?” The startled look that crosses Sherlock’s features turns into cautious hope before he has the chance to mask it. His gaze darts away for a moment, and then fixes on Lestrade’s face again.

“God, yes,” Lestrade whispers.

“Then why don’t -”

“Look, Sherlock - I appreciate the offer,” Lestrade interrupts quickly, because he has to say this. Sherlock needs to know. “It’s more than kind – perhaps a little too kind – but…no, hold on.”
                
Sherlock opens his mouth to speak, but Lestrade silences him with a finger pressed to his lips. The detective is instantly indignant, and Lestrade would have laughed at his expression under normal circumstances.

“Let me finish. Yes, I still have sex. Yes, I find you attractive. But that doesn’t mean I would sleep with you, because I know it’s not really what you want. You aren’t interested - end of story. You don’t care that I have sex with others; why should I deny you the right not to have it simply because it’s something I enjoy?  I mean it when I say that this - whatever it is - works just fine without introducing that into the equation. All right?”

“It works for some,” Sherlock mumbles around the finger.

“Compromising? Yeah, maybe, but not for us. Believe it or not, this is something I can live without.” Lestrade gives a wry smile. “It’s not as important, honestly, as some people make it out to be. At least, it isn’t to me. I don’t want that from you, Sherlock. I just want...”

He trails off as his line of thought sputters, and allows his finger to fall away. Sherlock fixes bleary eyes on him. They are bloodshot with drink and exhaustion, and wide now in something akin to surprise.

How many people can say they’ve surprised Sherlock Holmes? And how many can say they’ve done it more than once?

“Help me understand, Sherlock; that’s what you’re good at,” he says instead, because it’s easier for him to listen to others than articulate his own desires. “What is it you want?”
                               
Sherlock runs a hand through his hair, and Lestrade can see that his fingers are shaking. “You have little idea what it’s like. You wouldn’t possibly be able to understand -”

“So make me understand, Sherlock!” Lestrade insists, exasperated. “Why this? Why all of this? I think, after all I’ve been through with you, I deserve at least a few answers.”

He knows instantly that his words are in error, and watches with dismay as Sherlock’s vaguely hopeful expression melts into one of fury. This is a time for caution, not for throwing about harsh demands. Sherlock’s not fond of other people forcing him to take them into his confidence, and Lestrade has moved too quickly for him. He needs to, as always, match Sherlock’s pace - and Sherlock wasn’t ready for this just yet.

But the words are out of his mouth, and Sherlock is already recoiling. He lashes out -  the only way he knows how to cope.

“Stop pretending that you care,” he hisses. “It’s tiresome.”

“Please, Sherlock, how many times have you insisted that I wouldn’t be able to lie if my life depended on it?” Lestrade says hastily, trying to regain control of the conversation and furious at himself for being so careless with his words. “You’d know by now if I was telling you something that wasn’t true, wouldn’t you? I want to know why it is you did this. I want to know why you turned back to the drugs. I want to know what’s missing, so that I can try to help. Please.”

“I can’t say -”

“So show me,” Lestrade interrupts.

Sherlock frowns, baffled. “I don’t understand.”

Show me, Sherlock,” Lestrade insists, because actions have always served him better, and leave little room for interpretation. “Show me what you need.”

He holds out his hands, palms to the ceiling, and waits. Sherlock regards him for a moment, blue eyes unreadable even after they’ve been dulled and worn down by the drugs. He hasn’t had enough to break down all the walls constructed around his mind – not enough to break the stern control he holds over himself – but it’s enough to strip away some of his restraint. He hesitates for perhaps half a minute, and when Lestrade doesn’t move or waver in his eye contact, he slowly brings his hands up and places them on top of Lestrade’s, palms to palms, fingers splayed. And then he curls his fingers, slowly at first, and one by one until he’s grasping Lestrade with all that he has, holding on even as their hands turn white. Lestrade squeezes back, and when Sherlock tips his head forward until their foreheads are pressed together, he whispers, “Okay.”

“You leaving,” Sherlock says after a beat, and Lestrade pulls back to look at him in confusion.
 
“Sorry?”
 
“The alternative I wished to avoid,” Sherlock clarifies, and it takes Lestrade a moment to locate that line from their conversation. When he finally recalls it, he wants nothing more than to tug Sherlock in for a fierce embrace.

Instead, he settles for muttering, in a gruff voice, “C’mon, let’s get you sobered up.”

----

He sticks Sherlock in the shower, clothes and all, until the chilled water sharpens his gaze and reduces him to a pile of violent shudders. Sherlock pulls on dry clothes while Lestrade makes coffee and then sits with him to make sure that he drinks it.
               
“Where’ve you kept them?” he eventually asks. He’s standing over Sherlock, who is sitting on the sofa, wrapped in blankets and cradling his third cup of coffee.
               
“Usual place,” Sherlock says, and Lestrade retrieves the drugs from the detective's room. He’ll dispose of them, same as he’s done in the past, and when he returns to the living room Sherlock is already nodding off, sitting up with his head propped on a fist. Lestrade takes the mug from his hand and sets it aside before kneeling in front of him.

“This is it - no more drugs,” he says firmly, hand on Sherlock’s jaw to keep the man’s gaze on him. “No more slip-ups. If something’s wrong, you tell me. Got that?”
               
“Sometimes,” Sherlock says in a low voice, blinking at him in bemusement, “I don’t quite understand you, Lestrade.”

Lestrade drops his hand to Sherlock’s knee, brushing a thumb across the fabric of his trousers while he contemplates his next words.

“No one is you, Sherlock,” he says finally. “I think we can both agree on that. But no one is me, either. I’m not going anywhere, not if you don’t want it. This - whatever this is - is far more important to me than sex. I’d be a fool not to choose you every time. I can’t imagine not choosing you every time. You have me, Sherlock; however it is that you want me.” Lestrade tilts his head up and presses his lips to Sherlock’s forehead. “And as unbelievable as it may still sound to you, I don’t want you as anything other than what you are. Remember that.”
                          
They’ll talk tomorrow, Lestrade hopes, when Sherlock has his wits about him once more. He’ll ask what the detective wants and what he doesn’t; he’ll make sure he doesn’t stray beyond his comfort zone again, whatever that may be.

But Sherlock answers part of that question by leaning forward and pressing his lips to Lestrade’s, carefully chaste and awfully tender, tasting strongly of the bitter coffee. Lestrade thinks he can feel the shadow of stubble on the detective’s upper lip and, when Sherlock draws back, he runs his thumb along the thin shading there. He’d always thought Sherlock unable to grow facial hair, and he’s oddly happy to have been proven wrong. It suits him.

“Would it be completely out of bounds,” Lestrade says softly, “for me to say that you’re bloody gorgeous?”

Sherlock visibly swallows, and shakes his head.
               
“I’ve only ever heard that when someone wants it to be more.” Sherlock sounds numb. “From you, though...I believe that’s all right.”
                               
But Sherlock doesn’t look wholly convinced by his words, and Lestrade’s attempt at a smile fades. He lays a hand along the side of Sherlock’s face and, when he doesn’t pull away, sweeps his thumb across the detective’s cheek. Sherlock casts his gaze to the floor and leans some of his weight into the touch.

“Sex isn’t the thread that binds two people together, Sherlock – at least, not usually,” Lestrade tells him. “It’s certainly not enough to hang a life on.”

“So what do we have, if not that?”

Lestrade feels the corner of his mouth quirk.
                               
“We’ve got the nighttime,” he says, hand tightening reflexively against Sherlock’s face, “and cold takeaway and crime scenes.”

“And that’s enough?”
               
“Sunshine, that’s everything.”

Chapter Text

The city is hit with an unusually vicious storm that week, and they spend two days getting lashed by rain and hail. It downs power lines and branches, floods buildings, and generally makes life miserable for everyone in its radius.

“This can’t be usual,” Lestrade mutters on the first day, staring out of his office window.

“Sir?” Donovan pauses in dropping off a file on his desk.

“This,” Lestrade says, waving at the storm. From what little he can see, it appears as though the rain is gusting sideways. “This can’t be normal, having a storm like this in June.”

“I can’t say I’ve given it much thought, sir.” Donovan hovers uncertainly for a moment. “I can...find out for you, if you want.”

Lestrade hums, turning from the window and reaching automatically for the files, and mutters a distracted, “Thanks,” to Donovan’s retreating back.

----

You all right?

Fine. SH

----

“It’s happened twice already.”

Lestrade starts badly at the sound of the unexpected voice. “Sorry, what?”

“The storm.” Donovan is standing in his doorway, and waves a piece of paper at him. “You wanted to know how unusual it was. Turns out we had one like it in ‘87, and then a comparable one in ‘90.”

It takes him a moment to recall the morning's conversation. “You didn’t have to look that up, Donovan.”

She shrugs. “It’s kind of fascinating, actually. It’s the kind of superstorm that we’re only supposed to get once every several hundred years, only it happened in the 18th century and then twice in the 20th.”

Lestrade takes off his glasses and leans back in his chair. “I remember those storms. People died.”

She nods, glancing at her piece of paper. “Twenty-two in the 1987 storm. This one, like the others, has hurricane-force winds, but it’s not called a hurricane because those storms have a different wind profile.”

“Sir?” Smith appears behind Donovan and raps briskly on the door. “Sorry, but you wanted a reminder about that meeting.”

“Oh, right,” Lestrade mutters, getting up and reaching for his jacket. “Thank you, Smith; Donovan.”

Donovan catches his arm in the doorway as he moves to leave the office. “You’re thinking about him, aren’t you?”

“Donovan -”

“Don’t do anything stupid, all right?” she plunges ahead.

“Like what?”

“Checking in on him. Getting caught out in that storm. Dying. He’s not worth it, sir.”

Lestrade stares at her a moment, a dozen different replies flashing across his mind at once.

“Thank you, Donovan,” he settles on finally, “for the information.”

He pulls his arm from her grip and walks away.

----

Take any damage?

Minimal. SH

----

“This is what you call minimal?” Lestrade says incredulously the next night. He’s standing in the doorway to Sherlock’s flat, staring in amazement at the damage the small room has incurred. The thick branch of a tree has crashed through one of his living room windows, scattering glass, books, and papers about the room. The broken window is covered with plastic to keep out the very worst of the elements, but the branch has yet to be removed. Outside, the last of the storm rages at them, screaming in futility at its impending demise.

“You didn’t specify what kind of damage you were referring to,” Sherlock says. He’s sporting a busted lip, but otherwise looks immaculate as always. He flits about the room, gathering papers and books while Lestrade looks on, scarcely knowing where to begin.

“Right, yeah,” Lestrade mutters, and moves to turn on a light in order to better inspect the place. Nothing happens. “Oh, power’s out as well. Great.”

“Yes, thank you, I am aware,” Sherlock tells him icily. Lestrade gestures to his busted lip.

“Was that from the storm then, too?”

“No.” Sherlock hands him a stack of books, which he holds obligingly. “I was hired to investigate a somewhat private matter. There was an incident.”

“Going freelance now, are you?”

“I have been for some time.” Sherlock pauses, surveying the room, and runs a dusty hand through his hair. “I need to occupy my time between cases.”

“‘S’pose that’s a good thing, us not keeping you busy and all. Means we’re doing something right, I guess.”

“Or you’re all just deluding yourselves.” Sherlock rubs a hand across the back of his neck, and Lestrade notes for the first time that he looks weary; worn down. His face is ashen, as opposed to its usual ivory, and there are pronounced grooves under his eyes and around his mouth.

“Are you all right?” Lestrade asks, setting the books aside.

“Yes, fine,” Sherlock says shortly.

“You don’t look it.”

“Oh, hell,” Sherlock mutters, rolling a shoulder in an effort to stretch it. Lestrade hears the joint give a distinct pop. “I’m not using again, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“I wasn’t, actually, believe it or not. It’s the withdrawal, though, isn’t it? At least, that’s part of the problem. It’s more difficult, this time.” Lestrade feels himself give an inadvertent smile. “You aren’t as young as you used to be. It’s harder to bounce back.”

“Yes, thank you for that reminder,” Sherlock says acidly. “I haven’t been able to think for days, what with that infernal storm pounding and pounding and this stifling flat and Christ, my head is killing me!

He sweeps a stack of papers off of a table and onto the floor in a bout of furious frustration and places his palms on the warm wood, hanging his head and breathing heavily through his nose for some moments.

“This is what you signed up for,” he says in a too-high voice, just wavering on the edge of control. “Do you realize that, Lestrade? Do you see, now?” He sucks in a shuddering breath, and Lestrade can see, even in the dark, that he is trembling. He’s fighting hard for control over his body - his mind - and it’s a losing battle, tonight. “You should leave.”

“No.”

“Lestrade -”

“I made my choice, all right? Don’t think I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into,” he says firmly. He makes a move toward Sherlock, but the other man recoils. It’s only been a few days since the meltdown, and he knows that Sherlock is still trying to get used to the idea that Lestrade won’t leave him - but knowing doesn’t stop the hot flash of hurt that curls up in his gut at Sherlock’s movement. He fights it down and stays rooted to the spot, putting his hands in his pockets instead so that Sherlock knows he won’t reach for him again.

“I don’t want you here,” Sherlock says urgently in a thin voice. “Why can’t you understand that? For once in your life, will you listen to me?”

“Will it get better, if I leave?” Lestrade counters.

Sherlock lifts his gaze from the table, and Lestrade can see that his eyes are glassy and there is a faint flush on his high cheekbones. He looks feverish. “You know that it won’t. But the fact remains that I -”

He looks away, and continues, “I don’t want you here...when I’m like this. It’s unpleasant. I am...unpleasant.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Lestrade snorts.

“Please.”

Lestrade sobers instantly. “Sherlock, this isn’t going to work if you keep trying to shut me out.”

“Then it won’t work,” Sherlock snaps, and those words alone are enough to drive the air from his chest. Lestrade swallows hard, knowing full well that even he can’t mask the terrible way those words slice into him. They are too unexpected, and coming on the heels of the events of the past few days...Lestrade has no defense for this. “I can’t change for you, Lestrade, as we’ve already established.”

A thousand retorts spring to mind, each as inadequate as the last. It would do little good anyway, those words - as useless as if he waded out into the fury of the storm at its height and screamed for it to stop.

“Right,” Lestrade says slowly, mind spinning. He needs to fix this; he must fix this, and in the only way he knows how. Words are inadequate, they always have been, and he can’t rely on them any longer. “Okay. Well...I’ll be back in the morning to check on you. Just...stay safe ‘til then, all right?”

Sherlock snorts and nods, and Lestrade can tell that he doesn’t believe him.

----

The storm has abated by the following morning, and the drive to Montague Street reminds Lestrade of wading through a war zone. There are downed branches all along the streets, which are deserted except for the most intrepid commuters. The pavement is littered with people clearing branches, retrieving rubbish bins, checking in on one another. They’re salvaging what they can and rebuilding what they can’t.

And so is he.

Sherlock is - astoundingly - asleep as Lestrade nudges open the door to his flat, balancing the keys and two thermoses of coffee. He’s on the floor with his back against the sofa, knees drawn up to his chest and head resting on his arms. The flat smells sharply of rain, and Lestrade can see that the plastic on the window did little to keep out the water.

He moves into the kitchen, deposits the thermoses on what counter space he can find, and then debates for a while about whether or not he should wake Sherlock. He needs his sleep, this is undoubtedly true, but it can’t be doing him much good to be sleeping on the floor like that.

“Sherlock,” Lestrade calls out finally, going over to the huddle of limbs and shaking an arm. “Sherlock, you with me?”

He blinks awake instantly, head snapping up from his arms and fixing wide, if bleary, eyes on Lestrade. They stare at one another a moment, Lestrade giving a hesitant smile while Sherlock looks dumbfounded.

“What are you doing here?” Sherlock demands.

“S’morning. Remember? Said I’d be back. Have you been asleep long?” Lestrade stands and offers him a hand. Sherlock accepts it after a beat and gets unsteadily to his feet, limbs unresponsive after being held in one position for so long.

“I don’t -” Sherlock blinks furiously, still looking lost. “But what are you doing here?”

“I said I’d be back,” Lestrade repeats. He frowns. “You all right? You still don’t look well.”

“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” Sherlock says distractedly, waving away his concern.

“Come on, then,” Lestrade tells him, nodding to the kitchen. “I’ll help you save what experiments you can, and then you’re coming back to mine for a bit. Least until they can fix that window of yours. Oh, and I brought coffee.”

He turns to go into the kitchen without waiting for an answer, but a hand on his elbow stops him. He looks back at Sherlock. “Yeah?”

“Why?” is all that Sherlock manages. Lestrade feels his face soften, and he reaches out to brush a lock of unruly hair off the slightly-fevered forehead, making a mental note to find some paracetamol for him soon as they were back at his place.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Sherlock stares at him a long moment and then, with painstaking slowness, shakes his head. Lestrade allows his hand to come to rest on Sherlock’s shoulder; the touch isn’t pushed away.

“Because you need to learn how not to be alone,” Lestrade says, and then adds softly: “We both do.”

----

Lestrade turns forty-seven, and spends the day acutely aware of the fact that his father didn’t live to see forty-eight.

----

Sherlock nicks Lestrade’s warrant cards now and again, usually when he’s bored or when he believes the DI is being unnecessarily irritating. This puts Lestrade in an awkward position once - and only once. No one (apart from Sherlock) has yet accused him of being an idiot, and he learns very quickly from that oversight. Sherlock still manages to get past him now and again, which is fine, because he’s not the only one who knows how to pick a pocket.

“You’re going to want to check out the...brother’s alibi, going by the mud on her shoes,” Sherlock is telling him one day as he paces around a body. They are alone in the room; Sherlock chased out the rest of Lestrade’s team some ten minutes ago. “And it’s likely that - Lestrade!”

His head snaps around at the same time that bony fingers lash out and seize Lestrade’s wrist, pulling the DI’s hand away from his pocket. Lestrade sighs; he had been so close to getting his warrant card back this time.

Sherlock frowns at him. “Trying to get into my pants after all, I see.”

“Wha - no! That’s not -” Lestrade says in a rush, going suddenly very cold. Shit, and he’d been so very careful in recent months about not infringing upon Sherlock’s personal space without express permission, too. He hadn’t meant -

But then Sherlock’s mouth twitches and his eyes crinkle at the corners, and Lestrade sighs in both relief and exasperation.

“You wanker,” he mutters, diving for the warrant card again and relishing Sherlock’s indignant, “Hands!”

“That’s what you get for putting it in your trousers,” Lestrade says with a smirk.

“Point taken,” Sherlock sighs. He brushes his thumb across Lestrade’s brow and they share a quick smile. “Tell me this, though, Lestrade: where is your wallet?”

There is a pause, and then: “Dammit, Sherlock!”

----

Migraines are an ailment they share, though Lestrade's are a good deal more frequent than Sherlock's. He hasn’t had a crippling one in over a year, not since the night that Sherlock broke into his flat (because now and again he liked a challenge) in search of something new to work on and instead found Lestrade seated on the floor of the darkened bathroom, his head buried in his arms in an attempt block out the light and between bouts of retching. He doesn’t remember much from that night apart from the unearthly pain. He had honestly been concerned, for a good portion of it, that his head was about to split in two. He remembers shoving away the hands that tried to help him, and so delirious was he with pain that Sherlock actually broke the wall of silence he had currently going with Mycroft and phoned his older brother for help.

Lestrade had spent the rest of that night in bed, pumped full of medication sent over by one of Mycroft’s subordinates. They had been the most glorious twelve hours of his life.  

This migraine is a good deal more tolerable, and thinking about that night makes his teeth ache. Lestrade tries to shove it away and concentrate on the road rather than the sun, whose light is making his eyeballs throb. Sherlock, beside him in the passenger seat, has been texting for the better part of the trip – Mycroft, no doubt, going by the way he’s been angrily stabbing at the keys.

“‘Bout an hour away, now,” Lestrade tells him, though it’s more to reassure himself than anything else.

“Yes, I know,” Sherlock says distractedly.

“I was going to drop you off at home, ‘f that’s all right,” Lestrade continues. He’s trying to focus on something - anything - other than the growing pain. He can’t quite keep the slur from his words, though, and he knows Sherlock will notice. This happens sometimes, with his migraines. His entire face grows tight; his jaw and lips go numb. He can feel, even now, a tingling starting to spread outward from his ear, reaching long fingers down his jaw and spreading across the top of his head.

Sherlock pockets his phone and raps his knuckles on Lestrade’s leg. “Pull over.”
                               
Lestrade waves him off. “I’m fine, Sherlock.”
                               
“Clearly, you are not. Pull over.”
                               
“Look, it’s only an hour. I can drive for an hour.”
                               
“I’m certain of that,” Sherlock says in a world-weary voice. “But that will only serve to worsen the migraine and make you positively insufferable.”
                               
“Oh, me, insufferable? Have you ever listened to yourself talk?”
                               
“Lestrade.”
                               
He glances over at Sherlock for the briefest of moments. Their eyes meet, and his resolve disintegrates.
                               
“Fine.”
                               
They switch at the next empty stretch of road, Lestrade sliding over to the passenger seat while Sherlock gets out of the car and comes around to the other side. He turns up the air conditioning, despite the chill outside, and points the blasting vents in Lestrade’s direction before reaching into the back and grabbing his discarded suit jacket. He drapes it over him and Lestrade mutters, “Thanks,” before pulling it up to his face, effectively blocking out the sun. It smells of tea and chemicals and sharp soap, scents that are entirely Sherlock.
                               
He closes his eyes for a moment, losing himself to the ungodly pounding between his ears.

He opens them to darkness and quiet, the rumble of the car gone; the rough leather of the seat replaced by soft down.
                               
Sherlock is seated next to him on the bed, legs outstretched before him and crossed at the ankles. He’s typing on his laptop, and they’re in the detective’s bedroom.  Lestrade wonders how Sherlock got him upstairs. Perhaps someone helped. Perhaps, more worrisome, he got up under his own power and doesn’t remember.
                               
“Sherl’k,” he whispers, voice cracking around the name. He touches the man’s elbow. “Time?”
                               
“Doesn’t matter,” Sherlock replies without looking away from his screen. “I called in for you already. Well - you called in. I’ve become quite good at imitating your voice, you know. You won’t be expected back at the Yard until day after tomorrow. I trust that will be enough time for you to sufficiently recover?”
                               
Lestrade wants to feel irritated - should feel irritated - but he simply sighs in relief. He’s too tired to worry about anything else right now, and the residual headache is lapping at the corners of his mind. He knows it’ll return in full force if he doesn’t find sleep again soon.

The glow from the laptop disappears, and Lestrade doesn’t realize that he’s been blocking it out with a hand cupped around his eye until Sherlock touches his fingers and asks, “Is this better?”

He nods, and then groans as the sudden movement causes the blood to pound louder in his ears, thundering against the inside of his head. A cool hand lays itself across his forehead, and for a moment the pounding blessedly abates. It doesn’t disappear completely, but it eases enough that he might be able to claim sleep again.

“Thank you,” he has enough sense to whisper as drowsiness overrides the pain.

“You needn’t ever thank me for this.”
                               
Sherlock’s other hand reaches for his and Lestrade curls his fingers around it, squeezing lightly. He receives one in return, and drops off again immediately after.

---

He chops his hair now, finally giving into the inevitable. Short, his hair glows, and sticks up in all directions whenever he runs a hand through it absentmindedly - or when Sherlock does so purposefully. The silver and gray are brought out as the black ends are cut away, and he knows that the severe cut makes him look ten years older. But it saves him the trouble of giving it little more than a passing thought in the morning, and that’s fine by him. It keeps him from having to look in the mirror any longer than is necessary, and he can keep pretending that the forty-seven-year-old Lestrade looks the same as the twenty-five-year-old one.
                        
Pretending is good; ignoring is even better.

----
                               
They both have nightmares, too, but Sherlock is the one who suffers the most from them. He’ll wake Lestrade at all hours, arms flung out against the advancing phantoms, a thin sheen of sweat breaking out across his brow and eyes as wild as his hair. Sometimes he’ll talk about them, in gasping half-sentences that make very little sense but it doesn’t matter because at least he’s talking. It’s far better than the Sherlock who wakes from the terror of a dream and simply sits, huddled in Lestrade’s arms, silent to even the most earnest of questions.
                               
And then there’s the night Sherlock wakes and snaps into a sitting position, drawing deep gulps of air and feeling frantically for Lestrade in the dark. The older man wakes to fingers digging into his shirt, running over his face, trailing down his shoulders and over his chest as Sherlock mutters, “No, no, no.”
                               
“Sherlock.” Lestrade grabs the fingers and clamps the hands between his own, stilling their frenzied movements. He sits up and says nothing further. He can read Sherlock’s silences well enough to know that the detective is searching for words; on the verge of speech.
                               
“You -” Sherlock stops and attempts to gather himself. Lestrade has never heard such a tremulous syllable, and one of his fingers finds its way to Sherlock’s wrist. The pounding beneath the delicate skin tells him that Sherlock’s heart is racing out of control.
                               
“Yeah, me,” he says softly. “I’m here; you’re here. You’re fine. Everything’s fine. It was another dream.”
                               
“You -” One of Sherlock’s hands breaks from his grasp and seeks out his chest again, probing. “You - you aren’t hurt.”
                               
Lestrade has met all of Sherlock’s demons, either from the detective directly or from the frantic mutterings of a man on the edge of a nightmare, suspended between wakefulness and sleep. He thought he knew them all by heart, each and every one, and knew which reassurance was needed in the aftermath.
                               
He’s wrong, because now he’s the one haunting the detective. He’s the one bringing the pain.
                               
He hasn’t a clue what to say.
                               
“C’mon,” he whispers, tugging Sherlock close. The detective offers little resistance, but he doesn’t sleep for the rest of the night. He passes the remaining hours of darkness with his head next to Lestrade’s on the pillow, close enough to hear his breathing, and a hand on the DI’s chest, positioned just over his heart.

Lestrade doesn’t try to give him false reassurances, because Sherlock would have appreciated it just as much as he would if the tables were turned – that is to say, not in the slightest. But he does linger an extra hour in the bed after his alarm goes off, reducing his morning routine down to the barest of necessities and pushing his usual arrival at the Yard back by half an hour. He doesn’t care, because it was an extra hour that he could give to Sherlock, and that means everything.

----

He knows that he must look ancient, next to Sherlock.

The other man might be nearing thirty, but he still holds a hint of boyhood in his face. He’s made more angular than normal by his quick metabolism and self-deprivation, but a softness lingers around his cheekbones and collarbones and in his hands, so smooth they might as well be polished marble.

Eighteen years is a large gulf to try to breach, even in adulthood. Lestrade can’t help the number-crunching; can’t help thinking, He’ll be forty-two on my sixtieth birthday or Fifty-two and seventy - Christ, what a gap. And it’s made all the more obvious when they stand shoulder to shoulder, Sherlock vibrant and wild while Lestrade is gray and ashen.

He can’t help feeling that maybe he’s robbing Sherlock of something; holding him back.

But now and again Lestrade catches Sherlock looking at him - perhaps at a crime scene, sometimes at his flat, other times when they’re in his office and Sherlock is eating while he wiles away the hours on paperwork - and he knows he wasn’t meant to do so. The detective is more vulnerable in those moments when he’s caught looking at him than Lestrade has ever had chance to see; more naked, even, than if he were standing there unclothed. Lestrade catches the unchecked emotion on his face for a brief moment before Sherlock ducks his head and tries to pretend that he had been looking elsewhere, and each time he feels as though the air has been sucked from his chest, so powerful is the look.

And Sherlock doesn’t need to hear the words any more than Lestrade needs to say them - not just yet -  but on occasion they flit across his mind. The sentiment is especially strong in the moments when Sherlock is consumed by his work, or when he’s asleep and Lestrade is awake, or during the brief times when Sherlock thinks no one’s eyes are upon him. It’s then that he lets down his guard, and Lestrade is allowed a glimpse inside.

He loves him fiercely for it.

----

Lestrade stands behind the building, smoking, leaning with his back against the rough brick. His ears pick out the faint wail of sirens, off at some great distance - someone else’s crime scene. The ballroom behind him emptied long ago; a few people linger across the street, huddled in conference by their cars, shooting the occasional glance in the direction of the building. There’s nothing to see here, not anymore, but people do so enjoy a spectacle and will hang onto the memory of it for as long as they can.  

Footsteps sound from around the corner, a steady slap of smart shoes against worn pavement. Sherlock appears before him, immaculate as ever, a slightly frayed quality to his curls serving as the only evidence that their evening was less than relaxing.

“You don’t wear ties,” he announces.
                               
“And we don’t often infiltrate charity events in order to take down smuggling rings,” Lestrade tells him. “First time for everything.”
              
His hand strays to the tie, which had gone nearly-forgotten until Sherlock mentioned it. Now he can feel its presence about his neck, the mild but lingering pressure, and he loosens it, undoing the top button on his shirt along the way. He sighs as the cool night air touches his neck; as he breathes easily for what feels like the first time in hours.
                               
Sherlock comes to stand next to him as Lestrade brings the cigarette to his mouth and shuffles uncomfortably, curling his toes in shoes that his feet aren’t accustomed to wearing. The suspects had been carted off long ago and the event had dissipated along with them – arrests tend to have that effect, he supposes. They’d wrapped up witness statements and, Lestrade was sure, gathered enough information to properly put the case to rest in the morning. This wasn’t really his purview, but a sloppy murder was the thread that connected them to the smuggling ring, and it seemed only right to see this through to the end. His people had all gone home by this point; he and Sherlock are the only ones lingering. He knows his own reasons for staying behind, but he hadn’t a clue what Sherlock’s might be.
                               
Lestrade turns his gaze back to the blanket of ink spread out above their heads, and he smokes in silence for a while. He can pick out a few stars tonight, which is more than he can say for most nights, and thinks he can even spot Jupiter in the southern sky.
                               
“They fascinate you,” Sherlock says, following Lestrade’s gaze for a moment before returning his attention to the ground; the couple arguing down the street. He has no use for the night in the hard drive that makes up his mind, and one can’t deduce the stars.

Lestrade hums by way of reply, and brings the cigarette to his lips.

He’d been seven the day they landed on the moon - Christ, just over forty years ago, now - and he can still remember watching the grainy footage in his family’s living room in the gray light of the pre-dawn hour. They went to Venus when he was eight, and Mars when he was nine. He’d been ten when Pioneer took to the stars, and fifteen when Voyager followed in her footsteps. Jupiter and Saturn had both been gained by his eighteenth birthday, and he remembers that, too – watching for the first pictures to come in, reaching him from a distance of one billion kilometers. Twenty-four saw Uranus; Halley’s Comet; the discovery of just how far they were from the center of the galaxy. Voyager 2 had flown past Neptune when he was twenty-seven. They’d gained Hubble at twenty-eight, and lost Mir at thirty-nine. He might yet still live to see a flyby of Pluto, scheduled for seven months after he turns fifty-three.

The entirety of his life can be mapped onto the timeline of space exploration, and it’s as intricately woven into his being as – well, it’s as much a part of him as Sherlock is.

“Yeah,” Lestrade answers finally. “Yeah, they do.”

Sherlock says nothing, and Lestrade knows that means that he should elaborate. He draws a deep breath, tapping his cigarette with one nervous finger.

“There’s this picture out there - you might’ve seen it in your schoolbooks somewhere, but no doubt you’ve deleted it. It’s grainy, and old, and at first glance looks like someone took a photograph wrong. It’s a black background streaked with orange and green and you wonder, ‘What could be so important about this?’ And then you look closer.”

He pauses, drawing on the cigarette.

“There’s something that sticks out if you look at it carefully, and once you notice it you can’t stop. It’s this little blue dot on the right half of the photograph. This little blue dot, sitting in a shaft of sunlight. And d’you know what? It’s us. It’s here, and the picture’s not been taken from anywhere on this planet but from six billion kilometers away. That’s a bit sobering, isn’t it? We’re all so very tiny - just specks, really. And look at what we do to each other.”

“Hardly an uplifting thought,” Sherlock observes, and Lestrade muses that this is probably the longest he’s heard the man ever go without speech.

“Perhaps not. But then you think - we did that. We built that spacecraft, and we sent it on its way. We’re specks of dust, but we have the ability to comprehend - the ability to understand. We’re not ever gonna know all the answers, but the fact that we’ve figured out any of them - well, that’s fascinating. That’s incredible.”

Lestrade gestures with his cigarette to the sky. “Have you ever looked at them? Really looked, Sherlock. Have you ever taken the time to think about the fact that the light we’re seeing is from millions of years ago? You see the past every time you look up - and it’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Lestrade breaks his eyes away from the sky to look at his friend, and finds that Sherlock is staring at him, instead. He can’t read the look on the detective’s face, not accurately, but if he were to venture a guess - he supposes that it looks fond.

He clears his throat, takes another pull, and finally asks, “You all right?”

“Of course.”

They hadn’t technically needed the detective tonight, but the man does so enjoy putting on a costume and a show. He takes the cigarette from between Lestrade’s lips and brings it to his own. Lestrade, relieved of his cigarette, allows his eyes to stray over the lithe body tucked neatly in the designer suit that emphasizes the unbelievably long legs; the properly squared shoulders. It had escaped from the melee completely unscathed, which was astonishing given the fact that Sherlock had physically tackled one of the men – running leap and all, graceful as a cat, just like in the movies.
                               
“Thanks for the save tonight,” Lestrade says finally as the silence stretches on. Sherlock gives a casual shrug.
                               
“You’d have noticed him eventually.”
                               
“Yeah, once he’d clubbed me about the head. I’m sure I would have noticed then.”
                               
Sherlock smirks and Lestrade allows himself a brief chuckle – it sounds high and wobbly to his ears, as though about to spin out of control. He clamps down on it firmly and takes the cigarette back from Sherlock, drawing on it slowly. He’s still working off the adrenaline – still feeling the jittery tingle in his limbs and the strange over-alertness that follows near-attacks.
                               
“You needed me,” Sherlock says. He reaches over and tugs at Lestrade’s collar, smoothing it out, piercing eyes meeting his for a moment before he plucks the cigarette from the DI’s lips again. Lestrade lets it pass, at first, but the silence hangs between them and it’s weighted with more than just companionship.
               
They aren’t good with words, no, but sometimes he needs a reminder that they haven’t perfected their actions, yet, either.
                               
God help me.
                               
“Yes, I did. I do.” He can’t resist adding, in a lighter tone, “I’d be lost without my detective,” and Sherlock smirks at that.
                               
“That is all too painfully obvious, Lestrade,” he says in a long-suffering voice. “While you may be slightly less incompetent than the others, you still lack…imagination.”
                               
“Huh.” Lestrade shakes his head. “Imagination, now, is it? I take it that’s a downgrade from – what was it you called me the other day?” Lestrade casts around for the exact wording, and fears that it’s escaped him. “Er - ‘the best of a bad lot’?”
                               
Sherlock hums and pulls on the cigarette. “Hm. Yes. It was only partially accurate, though. Most handsome, too, though I doubt Donovan would have appreciated that bit.”

“Right. Now you’re just having me on,” Lestrade grumbles. He takes the cigarette from between Sherlock’s fingers and brings it to his mouth.
                               
“Oh, come now, Lestrade,” Sherlock says, sounding entirely uninterested. “Surely you know this.”

“Dunno what you’re talking about,” Lestrade mutters. Sherlock reaches out, catching Lestrade’s chin in his hand and running a calloused thumb across his jaw.

“You could be thirty, if not for the hair.”

“Thirty?” Lestrade repeats,  amused, taking Sherlock’s hand in his own and squeezing.
               
“Thirty-five,” Sherlock amends, but the smile he gives is unexpected and amused (and lovely), and Lestrade can’t help but return it.                                    

Makes him seventeen, his mind is only too quick to point out, and Lestrade feels something catch in his chest.

“Stop it.”

It takes him a moment to realize that it was Sherlock speaking, rather than his own subconscious scolding him.

“Stop comparing yourself to me,” Sherlock continues, drawing his hand away. “And stop projecting your worries onto me. What makes you think I care how old you are?”
                               
Lestrade snorts and shakes his head, and then stills as Sherlock reaches out and brushes the tips of his fingers over the bridge of Lestrade’s nose. He trails across his cheeks and over his brow, skimming down to his collarbone, where his fingers sit, splayed across the skin, five pinpoints of cold pressure that move when Lestrade breathes.
               
“And what makes you think,” Sherlock adds in a low voice, “that I would only find you attractive if you were my peer?”

He re-does the topmost button of Lestrade’s shirt and tightens his tie once more, and then takes a step back in order to scrutinize him. Lestrade stuffs a hand in his pocket and smokes with the other, thankful to have something to occupy them while Sherlock’s eyes flick over his shoulders and down his torso, lingering for perhaps a second on the softness around his middle before traveling down to his feet and back up again.

Sherlock takes the cigarette back from him holds it between two fingers. Lestrade catches the other hand in one of his own, twisting their fingers together until their wrists meet, pulse-point to pulse-point, steady beat thundering against steady beat. Sherlock’s breath hitches and Lestrade lets out a faint huff at the contact because Sherlock beats, alive and real, flush against his own skin.

“I would,” Sherlock tells him in a low voice, answering the thought blooming in Lestrade’s mind before it’s even had a chance to fully form. “I’d have you.”

A wild laugh escapes him, because it’s always been leading to this, hasn’t it? He was done for long ago.

“I don’t know if you realize this, Sherlock,” he murmurs, “but you already do.”

----
                               
Lestrade starts to wear a ring on his left hand.

It’s a simple gold band that belonged to his grandfather, and its sudden appearance goes unremarked upon by his usually observant team - most likely because they are afraid of the answers they would get should they ask him about it.

He wears the ring to avoid the usual questions and the bothersome interest displayed by some - though, admittedly, it occasionally brings up a new host of impossible-to-answer questions. It sits on his nightstand in the evenings and on his finger during the day, so it’s a surprise when one morning he puts the ring on and feels an unusual tug against his skin. He removes the band and inspects it; he finds nothing at first. But then he runs the pad of his finger along the inside surface, and realizes that it’s no longer completely smooth. Holding it up to the light, he sees that the ring has been expertly engraved. The writing is minuscule, and he reluctantly pulls out the reading glasses he denies owning in order to see what’s been done to it.

We found each other, and that is wonderful.

Sherlock steadfastly denies any and all tampering, but it’s around that same time that he starts telling people he’s married to his work.

Chapter Text

Sherlock’s mother dies on a Saturday in September – crisp and clear; the air heavy with the scent of turning leaves. Lestrade doesn’t hear of it until the beginning of the next week, when they have to call the detective out for a triple homicide on a bus.

“I will have the results to you by Wednesday,” Sherlock tells him when he’s finished examining the bodies and has determined what experiments he’ll need to run in order to check an alibi.

“Tomorrow would be best, Sherlock,” Lestrade tells him calmly as he’s scribbling in his notebook, knowing full well that Sherlock sometimes overestimates how long it’ll take him to conclude an experiment so that it looks impressive when he gets the results to Lestrade early.

“That may well be, Lestrade,” Sherlock says, snapping off his gloves, “but as my mother’s funeral is tomorrow, I regret that I won’t be able to indulge you. Wednesday will have to do.”

He sweeps from the scene then, leaving a dumbfounded Lestrade in his wake.

Sherlock isn’t heard from again for days - and Lestrade’s tried - but on Saturday morning he gets an abrupt text at an obscene hour from the man.

Montague Street, at your convenience.

There is a pause while he considers his answer, but in that amount of time Sherlock sends off another text:

By which I mean, now.

He’s at Sherlock’s flat within twenty minutes, and finds it in a state of carefully-controlled chaos. There are boxes stacked chest-high in the living area, boxes in the doorway, and boxes sitting out in the hallway because there isn’t enough room in the flat for them. Sherlock is standing by the window when Lestrade enters, squeezing past the partially-obstructed doorway that serves to remind him that he needs to start keeping a closer eye on his waistline.

“What’s all this?” Lestrade asks.

“Boxes,” Sherlock replies irritably, “of my mother’s things. Mycroft was ever so kind to drop them off while I was out. He thought I might like to sort through them.”

“You don’t?”

“I have better things to do with my time, Lestrade. However, it appears they contain a number of books which could prove useful in the future, so it’s not all a complete loss.”

“So...you want some help sorting through all of this?”

“It would make the process go faster if you were to help,” Sherlock says, glancing up only briefly from the box of books that was currently commanding his attention. Lestrade clears his throat as Sherlock’s gaze falls away from him, and puts his hands in his pockets because he doesn’t know what else to do with them.

“Look, Sherlock, I never said -” he starts.

“Don’t,” Sherlock says sharply, cutting him off. “I don’t require sympathy.”

Lestrade clears his throat again and shifts, watching the detective. He looks the same as ever - even sounds the same. His voice doesn’t waver and hasn’t taken on the tone of tight control that he adopts when particularly agitated. He seems unaffected by it all, or at least seems to have completely accepted the death. Lestrade wouldn’t believe anyone else who said they were fine after losing a loved one, but he’s inclined to believe Sherlock - for the moment.

“Death is as natural as breathing,” Sherlock says, flipping open a book as he talks. “And as boring. So please stop obsessing about whether I’m telling the truth and get on with helping me.”

“All right,” Lestrade says, rolling up his sleeves past his elbows. “Tell me what you need.”

Sherlock nods once; sharp.

“I only intend to keep the books, and only a few of them at that. However, these boxes are highly disorganized. I need you to pull everything that isn’t a book,” he snags an empty cardboard box and throws it at Lestrade, “and toss it in here to be disposed of later.”

Lestrade opens the box nearest to him and glances inside. It’s filled with tiny figurines, mostly porcelain cats and turtles.

“Knickknacks?” he says.

“Irrelevant. Toss them, Lestrade,” Sherlock orders. “Everything.”

“Right,” Lestrade says, and sets the box behind him.

Lestrade opens another, and comes across mostly books. They are obscure and ancient titles, from the looks of the spines, and he hands the box off to Sherlock. The rest of the morning passes in this manner, and it takes several hours for them to complete the sorting of the books. Sherlock will stop every so often and show him something in one - an illustration of Nelumbo lutea; a passage in Old High German; a tome on beekeeping. Sherlock gifts him a book on galaxies, which Lestrade protests until Sherlock fixes him with an earnest look and a low, “I want you to have it.”

He’s never been able to say no to Sherlock for very long.

They come across more personal items mixed in with the books, and each time Sherlock orders them binned. Lestrade obliges and sets them aside, with every intention of getting all of the doomed items into Mycroft’s hands. He has the feeling that the elder Holmes is a tad more sentimental than his brother.

Lestrade opens the final box while Sherlock is organizing his bookcase (by subject first, followed by author and title).

It’s filled with photographs.

Sherlock notices Lestrade’s sudden stillness and walks over to him. He peers inside the box and sniffs when he sees the contents.

“You would find this interesting,” he says disdainfully.

“Is this you?” Lestrade says, pulling out a photograph of a young man that happens to be lying on the top of the pile.

“You can see very well that it is,” Sherlock points out, and that’s true enough. It’s Sherlock before he met Lestrade, but not much before - he’s clearly university-age and is sitting with his head buried in a book, unaware of the camera’s presence. Lestrade asks because he hopes it will elicit some explanation, but of course none comes.

“Toss them when you’re through being amazed that I was actually younger than twenty-five once, Lestrade,” Sherlock tells him, returning to his books.

Lestrade does as he’s told, but secrets away the picture of Sherlock and slips it into his book. If Sherlock notices - and he’s sure that Sherlock does - he doesn’t say anything.

And when the picture appears on his desk at work some weeks later - well, Sherlock doesn’t say anything then, either.

----

Sherlock starts to take an unusual interest in Lestrade’s hair. He notices the detective staring at it one day, even though they’re investigating a body discovered on the shore of the Thames and Sherlock has always found water-logged bodies fascinating. It happens again a few days later, when he’s sitting in on an interview with a witness (highly unusual and generally frowned upon, but Lestrade’s not the only one anymore who makes exceptions for Sherlock). His eyes keep traveling back to Lestrade’s head, which is highly distracting for the Detective Inspector. He knows he’s gone gray, and fast, and doesn’t particularly enjoy being reminded of it.

What, Sherlock?” he demands finally one day at the Yard, as Sherlock is trying to tell him how a suspect’s alibi is full of holes. His words are distant, though, and lack their usual punch as he’s delivering his information. And, of course, Sherlock’s line of sight keeps landing somewhere north of Lestrade’s eyes. “What could you possibly find so interesting up there?”

“Nothing,” Sherlock says, “it’s just - do you realize that it does that?”

“Does what?”

“It’s -” Sherlock reaches up and touches it lightly with his fingertips. Lestrade can feel it sticking up - he’s run a nervous hand through it more than once today, and it generally defies his quiet wishes anyway. “It just sort of - is everywhere.”

“Yeah, I know,” Lestrade mutters, and it’s a habit now, running his fingers through the mass of gray. He does it now, dislodging Sherlock’s hand. “I’ve never really had any control over it, and since I cut it shorter...”

“It’s distracting,” Sherlock concludes. Lestrade snorts and steers them back to talk of the case.

“My hair is distracting,” he says later, still in slight disbelief. He’s lying on the sofa with his head in Sherlock’s lap, recovering from a mild headache while Sherlock brushes his fingers across the top of his head.

“Anything that contradicts the laws of gravity like that is something that I find quite distracting,” Sherlock says, nodding in agreement, “and I believe your hair falls under that category. Now sit still - I’m in the process of investigating it.”

Well, Lestrade muses, who was he to impede scientific progress?

----

He’s alone in his office one night when his mobile rings, and for a split-second he considers not answering - calls after midnight are rare, and usually Not Good. But it’s Sherlock’s name that pops up on his screen, which is unusual in itself because Sherlock never calls, not if he can help it. Lestrade muses for a moment about what fresh hell the detective might be bringing him this time, braces himself, and then answers the call.

“There’s been another suicide. A child, this time, or teenager.”

“Bloody hell,” Lestrade groans into the phone. “How could you possibly have known that?”

“You’re agitated, a sign that the victim is younger than eighteen, yet you haven’t called me, so I must assume that the case was one you could wrap up in the course of a day. Suicide, then. Only it’s not a suicide and you’re an idiot.”

“Thanks,” Lestrade mutters, not bothering to ask how, from hello, Sherlock could have guessed that he was agitated. “I’m going to hang up now. Don’t come ‘round tonight, yeah?”

He rings off, but can’t help feeling a bit of hope that his flat won’t actually be empty when he gets home that night. He’s not sure he wants to be alone, just now.

He quickly forgets about the private wish, though, what with one thing and another. When he does arrive home – finally, finally – at his usual indecent hour, he finds that Sherlock is already there.

Lestrade can’t even muster the strength to be pleased.

The suicide today had been the second victim in a month, and one much younger than the first. It hadn’t taken them long to process the scene, as the drug had clearly been self-administered. It was always hard, though, dealing with the young. It was harder still when they died by their own hands; when they left behind disbelieving parents and questions that no one could provide the answers to. Lestrade had sat with the mother for close to an hour today, explaining over and over the evidence and their conclusions. She had kept insisting that there was no way it could have been suicide, and Lestrade couldn’t provide anything new for her. He had had no answers, even though he had facts and numbers and reports. He could tell her the how, just not the why. And that was the cruelest part of it all.

He can feel the years weighing down on him as his exhaustion reaches a new high, and he knows his eyes are tired and bloodshot and that his face has taken on an ashen color, as it’s wont to do after a certain hour. He’d left the Yard with a headache from the stress of it all, and hated himself for it. How could he even complain about such a small pain, when she had just lost her only child?

Lestrade rakes a hand through his - too short, too gray - hair and leans heavily against the closed door.

“Jesus.”

It’s only a few steps from the door to the nearest chair. It looks like a mile.
                               
“Tell me about the case,” Sherlock says, glancing up from the book in his hands. Research, no doubt, going by the crease between his eyebrows and the smudge of ink on his fingers that indicates he’s been writing.
                               
“There’s nothing to tell,” Lestrade says, catching Sherlock’s hopeful expression and not liking it one bit. “Open and shut. Not anything worth your time; sorry.”

“Hmm,” Sherlock says. He tosses the book aside and sprawls on the sofa, closing his eyes. “Second one in several weeks. Bit unusual, I’d say.”
                               
“These things happen,” Lestrade says curtly. “I know you’re bored, Sherlock, but you can’t just go looking for something that isn’t there.”
                               
“I’m moving,” Sherlock says in reply, and Lestrade has gotten so used to the non-sequiturs that he doesn't even blink.
                               
“Oh?” He gives in finally and bends to take off his shoes. God, he’s tired. He could fall asleep right now, half-stooped over, and it takes all of his energy just to keep his eyes from slipping closed.
                               
“Mm. Yes.”
                               
“Ah, right, good. That’s - good. Very good.” Lestrade pulls off his shoes and tosses them in the general direction of the corner. Sherlock opens his eyes and turns his head to look at him.
                               
“You should rest,” he says finally, and then returns his attention to the insides of his eyelids. “It’s never a good sign when you use the same word three times.”
                               
Lestrade collapses into a chair and rests his head in his hands, considering for a moment falling asleep right there. He weighs the pros and cons - exhaustion versus the inevitable backache - and decides that he doesn’t well give a damn. But then there’s a pressure on his shoulder and when had Sherlock crossed the room to him? He hadn’t even heard the man move.
                               
“Greg,” Sherlock says again, withdrawing his hand. Lestrade nods and gets to his feet. He sways, but then regains his balance.
                               
“Join me?” he asks, but Sherlock shakes his head.
                               
“I’ve an experiment running in the kitchen. Best not to leave it unattended for long.”
                               
“Right. Well. Just make sure you leave everything relatively intact. I’d rather not have to buy a new stove. Again.” Lestrade brushes his knuckles against the underside of Sherlock’s chin. The scar is still there, from all those years ago – it feels like an eternity, some days, and others…well, other days it feels like no time at all has passed. And it’s strangely reassuring, that scar. It serves as a reminder that Sherlock is human – he has flaws, same as the rest of them. It serves as a reminder that Sherlock is here and now and he’s cheated death once and surely, he’ll keep on doing so. Until the end of time, at least.

And that’s where the scar sobers him, because it means that Sherlock is human and will die and isn’t immune to the harsh realities of life. Lestrade wishes that he could protect him; the scar reminds him daily that it simply isn’t possible. It never has been, and it never will be. But he’d do anything to preserve the image that his mind has constructed - Sherlock as invincible, Sherlock as unbeatable. Sherlock as more than a man.

He wonders if that conviction should frighten him. He knows that it doesn’t.

“All right?” Sherlock asks, a crease growing between his brows, and Lestrade answers with, “Yes,” even though it’s a lie and a poor one at that. He doesn’t know which of them moves first, but a moment later his arms are around Sherlock’s waist and their foreheads are pressed together. Sherlock’s elbows are tucked close to his body and his hands rest lightly on Lestrade’s chest, thumbs pressing into the hollow of his throat. Lestrade swallows hard and closes his eyes; he knows that Sherlock has kept his open.

“God, Sherlock,” he whispers. “He was seventeen.”

He expects Sherlock to say Yes, I know or Why is that significant? or even You’ve had victims far younger than that, Lestrade; why should this be any different?

But Sherlock says nothing. He simply stands there and breathes; one of his thumbs brushes lightly across the fabric of Lestrade’s shirt.

“‘m being an idiot,” Lestrade mutters finally, unnerved by the silence.

“Do you know me to be the type of man to waste my time on an idiot?” Sherlock’s lips brush across his eyelids, the touch barely more than a breath of air, and just like that the moment ends.

“See you in the morning?” Lestrade asks in a rough voice as they pull apart.
                               
“Most likely,” Sherlock answers, already heading for the kitchen, refocusing his attention on the task at hand.
                               
Lestrade is still awake a quarter of an hour later when there’s a familiar dip in the bed and a lithe body slips in behind him, settling under the blankets. An arm snakes itself around his waist and the cold tip of a nose presses against the base of his neck, warm air fluttering across the short hair there as Sherlock breathes.
                               
“Experiment?” Lestrade asks.
                               
“It can wait.”
                               
Lestrade is too tired to be surprised, so he settles somewhere between bemused and grateful before the deep voice orders him to sleep and, calmed by Sherlock’s presence, he finally slips off.

----

Lestrade wakes at an odd hour, and the shift into consciousness is so seamless that he wonders whether he had actually fallen asleep at all. He notices first the sound of a car starting on the street below his window, and second that Sherlock’s head is tucked snugly beneath his chin.

It takes a muddled moment before he realizes that he’s hard as well.

Fuck.

Lestrade carefully and painstakingly extracts himself from the – warm, sweaty – body that’s wound around his own and rolls over onto his stomach, away from Sherlock. He does this without thinking and remembers instantly what a terrible idea it is as the friction of the mattress rubs up against him and he bucks involuntarily, stifling a groan in the pillow.
                               
Shit.
                               
He tries to remedy the situation by rolling onto his side, with his back to Sherlock, and as quickly as though he’d been burned. He holds his breath for several long seconds, listening to the breathing of the man next to him, hoping against hope that he hadn’t been woken. When he’s sure that Sherlock hasn’t moved, Lestrade lets out a slow breath and balls his hands into fists, one on the mattress and the other shoved under his pillow, trying to keep them off himself. He tries to think of something else – a lake he’d seen in a magazine somewhere; rain showers; snow – but it becomes clear very quickly that imagination has little power over his very real need. Lestrade then debates the merits of getting out of bed to take care of it, but the bathroom is close and the walls are thin – he can be quiet, but this is Sherlock.
                               
Not that it really matters, he supposes. It’s hardly an act that’s unheard of, and Sherlock would probably just be faintly amused.
                               
Or find it scientifically interesting.
                               
Oh, God.
                               
A warm hand finds its way to his upper arm, landing on flesh rather than the fabric of his cotton tee, and Lestrade groans at the contact, tugging his arm quickly away.
                               
“Greg?”
                               
The voice is low and roughened at the edges with sleep.
                               
“Sorry,” he whispers, turning so he’s half on his back and looking in Sherlock’s general direction. “Got a bit warm.”
                               
There is a moment of silence – of deductive silence – and then Sherlock’s hand returns, resting lightly on his arm, thumb brushing for a moment across his skin. When Lestrade doesn’t pull away, it moves to his stomach – almost hesitant in its starts and sputters as the fingers brush uncertainly across the fabric and then go still, exploring new territory. But then the hand slips under the shirt to rest flat against the flushed skin of his stomach, and Lestrade grabs it and tugs it away.
                               
“What are you doing?” he whispers hoarsely.
                               
“Helping,” Sherlock replies, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
                               
Well. Under other circumstances, it might well be.
                               
“Just – just leave it alone, all right? I’ll – handle it.”
                               
“By pretending it’s not happening?”
                               
“Sherlock,” Lestrade says through gritted teeth as the hand in his grip tries to free itself. “Seriously, just – stop.”
                               
“Lestrade,” the infernal man says, and, shit, he’s moving closer. Lestrade can feel the heat radiating off of him, and bites his bottom lip. “You haven’t had sex in –“
                               
Yes, I know, thank you!“
                               
“ – and this will allow you to sleep. Plus, you find it pleasurable.”
                               
“That’s really not a good enough reason for – well, for a lot of things, actually, but –“
                               
“I want to,” Sherlock interrupts, and Lestrade twists his head around to look at him in surprise. He can feel the man smile in the dark. “Well – in a sense. I want to help.”
                               
“That’s kind, Sherlock, but you don’t enjoy it. Wouldn’t enjoy it. And the last thing I need –“ Lestrade winces and shifts again,  “ – is to make you uncomfortable.”
                               
He releases Sherlock’s hand, though, and after a moment of hesitation the arm wraps itself around his stomach and Sherlock pulls himself closer, pressing up against Lestrade’s back.
                               
“Lestrade,” he says as his hand slips beneath Lestrade’s waistband and wraps firmly around him, “shut up.”
                               
Sherlock leaves him to clean himself up after, and when Lestrade returns to bed he presses a kiss to the sleep-mussed hair at Sherlock’s temple.

“Are you –“ he starts, but is cut off.
                               
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Lestrade, I am fine,” Sherlock huffs. “How can I possibly begrudge you having a sex drive simply because I lack one?”
                               
He burrows down into the blankets once more - and it’s always astounded Lestrade that the man can actually burrow - and mutters, “I still don’t want to sleep with you.”

Lestrade feels a sudden warmth spread through the depths of his chest that has nothing to do with the act that just transpired and everything to do with the man lying next to him. He pulls closer, draping an arm across the slim stomach and resting his head against the bony shoulder as Sherlock lifts his arm in invitation. He allows it to drape across Lestrade’s back once he is settled, and the warm fingers stroke his shoulder, soothing.

They won’t make promises about this, either, or deals, or even probably come to speak of it in anything more than passing. It might happen, now and again; it might not. They don’t owe one another anything other than to exist as they are, and Lestrade is struck by what he decided all that time ago: the labels are worthless, and so long as Sherlock is Sherlock – the rest doesn’t really matter.
                               
His body is quiet, now, and the hollow of Sherlock’s cheek is pressed to the top of his head. With the detective’s breathing filling his ears, he finds sleep once again.

----

Time passes.

Sherlock turns thirty while Lestrade closes in on fifty. The detective loses the flesh of youth from his face; his features are now all angles and sharp lines. Lestrade, in contrast, gains more of his back. Puffiness returns around his eyes and cheekbones; the lines deepen further under his eyes and around his mouth. Sherlock’s hair grows out, all dark and wild curls; it isn’t long before Lestrade starts to resemble his father.

The season wears on.

----
                               
Lestrade turns forty-eight on a blustery day in late January. He doesn't even realize the date until the stroke of midnight marks the start of the next day; marks the second day of his forty-ninth year.
                               
Bloody hell.
                               
He goes up to the roof of NSY for a cigarette, feeling that it’s somehow fitting that he passed the day with the only thing that has commanded his heart for the majority of his adult life.
                               
But that’s not quite right, not anymore, and he wonders idly what his life has become in these past five years, because the first thought that comes to his mind in the mornings and the last one in the evenings is no longer the work. Not even remotely close.
                               
“Bad habit.”
                               
It doesn’t surprise him, the shockingly-low voice, even though he hasn’t heard it for some weeks. He’s been busy dealing with the serial suicides - the third one had occurred near the beginning of the month - and Sherlock’s been occupied with clients of his own. Lestrade doesn’t often inquire about these cases; has learned that he is better off ignorant. He’s seen the marks they leave - a black eye back in November; cracked ribs in December; a concussion on New Year’s Eve, which had led to a fight of epic proportions and resulted in this long silence. They had needed the space, both of them having said things that they probably shouldn’t have. Lestrade has a temper that can rival Sherlock’s, but he usually keeps himself in check in ways the detective never could - or never would bother to, at any rate.
                               
“I seem to have acquired a few of those over the years,” he replies as Sherlock joins him, leaning on the railing as he stares out over the buildings below. He stubs out his cigarette and rests his forearms on the railing. “Hello.”

“Cigarettes.”

“What?”

Sherlock nods to where the stub of the cigarette had fallen. “You’re so busy concerning yourself with things you can’t change that you overlook the one thing you can. Cigarettes. Smoking. It ages you quickly, in addition to impairing your health. Surely you know that.”

Lestrade snorts. “Since when did you add doctor to your growing list of amateur specialties?”

“Since I decided that I’m not quite ready to break in a new DI,” Sherlock says dryly. “I’ve grown fond of the one that I have.”

Lestrade feels the corner of his mouth tug upwards. “And me of my consulting detective. Have I been forgiven, then?”

“Only if I have been as well.”
                               
They lapse into silence, and Lestrade’s gaze drifts to his folded hands. The years have thickened them; the job, made them rough. They’ve finally lost the look of youth they held onto long after Lestrade stopped thinking of himself as such; most days now they’re cracked and calloused and taking on a knobby look as the veins in his hands start to push at the thin covering of his skin.
                               
“When did this happen?” he wonders aloud.
                               
“About the same time your hair turned, I expect,” Sherlock says absently. He picks Lestrade’s pocket for a cigarette and produces a lighter from his own.
                               
Lestrade snorts. His hair; a continuing source of angst. He can feel Sherlock looking at him now; between draws on the cigarette, and he knows he’s being scrutinized and catalogued. It’s an unnerving feeling.
                               
“Your hair was dark when we first met,” the detective says finally, almost wonderingly, as though the years had escaped him as much as they escaped Lestrade.
                               
“I was five years younger when we first met,” Lestrade points out, running a nervous hand through it. “It’s your fault, you know. Didn’t start going gray ‘til I’d met you.”
                               
“Hmmph. I’m sure. And don’t you dare,” Sherlock says in exasperation as Lestrade’s thoughts turned - as they did now and again before he dismissed them as inane - to the prospect of hair dye. He places the cigarette between his lips and reaches out to run a quick hand through Lestrade’s hair. “Leave it. Looks distinguished.”
                               
“Isn’t that just another word for old?” Lestrade says with a sly smile. Sherlock rolls his eyes.
                               
“I like it,” he admits, and runs another hand through for good measure. Lestrade can feel it sticking up in all directions, and is reasonably sure that it looks ridiculous.

“Right, then. Duly noted.”

“You think that I care.” Sherlock takes another draw on the cigarette while Lestrade says nothing. “You still think I care you’re growing older. But the only thing that’s ever mattered to me is your mind; surely you know that by now.”

“My mind,” Lestrade repeats with a laugh, because when has Sherlock ever given any indication that he appreciates the thoughts that come out of Lestrade’s mouth - or the ones he reads before Lestrade has a chance to say anything? Sherlock’s a genius and he is not, and that’s just fine - he wouldn’t have it any other way. But then Sherlock reaches out and taps Lestrade's temple with cold fingers.

“The only thing of importance to me is this,” he says shortly. “So long as you are you, the rest doesn’t matter. Understand? I don’t care about your gender or your age or even, frankly, if you sprouted a third arm. I was drawn in by your mind.”

He takes another pull on the cigarette and then adds, in a low voice, “It’s you, Greg. It’s always been you.”

Lestrade swallows. “And when that starts to go?”

“It won’t,” Sherlock insists firmly.

“I’m a good deal older than you, Sherlock. It’s not an unreasonable assumption.”

“It might not happen at all,” Sherlock points out.

“Sherlock -”

“It’s not like you to speculate,” Sherlock snaps harshly, and then continues after a moment in a slightly calmer voice. “If that happens - I don’t care. I’ll stay, because it’s you. How could I not?”

Lestrade doesn’t trust his voice for several moments, and even after he’s swallowed several times he’s not sure he can continue with the conversation, and so he says instead, “What are you doing here, anyway?”

“The suicides,” Sherlock tells him. “They aren’t suicides; not proper ones, at least.”

“Hmm,” Lestrade says noncommittally. “How did you do that, by the way? The trick with the phones.”

“They’re murders,” Sherlock persists.

Lestrade ducks his head for a moment, and then looks back up. “Well, they’re linked, at any rate. Dunno how, just yet, but we’re working on it.”

He closes his eyes for a moment, recalling the disastrous press conference. He’s not terribly fond of public speaking, but he usually manages to muddle through all right; he can hold his own, especially with reporters.

Except for yesterday. Yesterday was different. Everything about this case is different, even given all he’s seen over the years.

“You need me,” Sherlock is saying when he finally comes back to himself, and isn’t that the refrain to Lestrade’s life.

Lestrade shakes his head. “Not for this.”

“Why - ?”

“You know damn well why!” It comes out harsher than he’d intended, and he takes a moment to rein himself in. “Because you’re going to go off and do something idiotic. Might even get yourself killed. I’m not dealing with that right now.”

He doesn’t add that suicides really aren’t Sherlock’s area. He’s not good with victims, as evidenced multiple times in the past; he’s not good with their loved ones, and he’s not particularly comfortable with that realm of the human psyche. That’s an area that can’t be tested and re-tested and hypothesized and deduced – sometimes humans act in inexplicable ways. Sherlock deals in facts – he doesn’t care for motivation (or lack thereof).

He’s been after these cases from the first, thinking them murders, and Lestrade can’t help but feel that he’s correct.

But there’s something in particular about these murders - suicides - that leaves a heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach . It’s crafty, whatever (or whoever) it is, and Sherlock loves crafty.

He’s been afraid for his friend before, but not like this.

This is new.

And Sherlock thrives off what is new; what is unexpected.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you unnerved, Lestrade,” Sherlock says with a disdainful sniff, breaking Lestrade from his thoughts.

“And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen serial suicides before,” Lestrade says with a snort. “I think I’ve earned the right to be unnerved.”

“There will be another,” Sherlock warns. “You’ll come for me.”

“Well, we’ll see who’s right about this one,” is all Lestrade can think to say, and then decides that he’d much rather talk about something else. He’s been living with these suicides for weeks, now. They haunt him, even in his off-duty hours, and he’s not going to waste time with Sherlock talking about them. “Didn’t you tell me a while back that you were moving?”

“Hm. Yes. Martha Hudson’s been looking for a tenant. It’s a flat on Baker Street."

Lestrade recalls the area, and gives a brief nod of approval. Much better than Montague Street, at any rate.

“I take it you found a flatmate?”

“Perhaps,” Sherlock says with a shrug. “We’re going to look at it tomorrow. Name’s John Watson – a doctor home from Afghanistan.”

Lestrade tries to picture Sherlock living with a soldier, and fails miserably. Sherlock allows himself a small smirk while the other man chuckles, and then suddenly says, “No, don’t even think about it.”

“Think about what?”

“You’re trying to figure out how many John Watsons there could possibly be in London, and whether you have enough time to run a background check on them all before tomorrow.”

“Is that so terrible?”

“You always want to be the one to save people, Lestrade.” Sherlock shakes his head in disbelief, and draws on the cigarette. He says nothing for a very long time, so long that Lestrade thinks the topic has been dropped.

“Hamish.”

“What?”

“Hamish.” Sherlock glances at him. “Middle name. Can’t be too many of those in London, I gather.”

“No,” Lestrade says around a smile. “No, I don’t suppose there can be. He a good fellow?”

Sherlock shrugs. “Too soon to tell.”

“Bollocks. You read people in about half a second. Did you pull the whole deduction thing out before he’d even had a chance to introduce himself?” His question is answered by Sherlock’s silence, and he gives a bark of a laugh. “Show-off.”

“He agreed to come anyhow,” Sherlock points out.

“Yeah, I suppose he did.” Lestrade nods. “Must be quite the fellow, to not be scared off by your –”

“By my what, exactly?"

Lestrade smirks. “Intensity.”

“Good save,” Sherlock mutters, but Lestrade can tell that he’s amused. “You weren’t.”

“Ah, but there’s a good reason for that.”

“You’re mental?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re going to run the check anyway.”

“Without a doubt.”

Sherlock snorts and brings the cigarette to his mouth again. He turns so that his back is to the building across from them and leans, propping his elbows on the railing behind him.

“What will you tell him?” Lestrade asks suddenly. “About - well.”

He waves a hand vaguely; Sherlock shrugs, eyes fixed on the sky - too bright, with the city lights, to spot a single star.

“What is there that needs to be said? You are you and I am I.” He draws on the cigarette, and adds, “He’ll figure it out, if he’s clever enough, and if he doesn't - well, what does it matter? We'll just go on. Same as always.”

Sherlock  turns his head and stares hard at him for a moment, and what Lestrade wouldn’t give to have a look inside that mind. Sherlock must have seen inside his, though, because his expression shifts, as though he’s hit upon the answer to something.

“Here,” he says suddenly, putting the cigarette in his mouth to hold it. He reaches for his hair and flattens it along the part; Lestrade frowns at him.

“What?”

“Look.” Sherlock taps his hairline with one of his fingers. “Just there.”

Lestrade frowns but leans in anyway. And then he laughs.

“A gray hair,” he says in wonder, reaching out to touch the offender.

“A gray hair,” Sherlock agrees, returning to his cigarette and allowing Lestrade to run a quick hand across his head.

“Suits you,” Lestrade says finally, running the back of his finger down Sherlock’s cheek. The detective offers a smile.

“Not so well as it does you.” Sherlock tosses the cigarette on the ground and stamps it out with the heel of his shoe. He presses a kiss to the corner of Lestrade’s mouth, smelling of smoke and chemicals and fresh soap.

“I don’t care that you’re aging, Lestrade,” he says in a low voice as he draws away. “I care that I can’t do it with you.”

He straightens and readjusts his scarf, preparing to leave, but then something gives him pause. He turns back to Lestrade and slips a hand around the back of his neck, drawing him in and pressing their lips together.

“What was that for?” Lestrade whispers when he draws away.

“You appeared to need it,” Sherlock answers.  

“Oh,” Lestrade says. “Did I?”

Sherlock smirks and shakes his head. “Oh, so did I, you daft man. Did you ever doubt it?”

He doesn’t wait around for an answer; Lestrade doesn’t give one.

“Greg,” he says suddenly when he’s halfway to the door.

“Yeah?” Lestrade says in a much steadier voice than he was expecting, glancing over his shoulder at the regal figure.

“You know where to find me.”

Lestrade gives a brisk nod and a slow smile. “Always, Sherlock."