He found Sherlock sitting on the ground behind the inn, smoking, wrapped up tightly in his great coat even though the night was fair and windless.
“I did not ask for company,” Sherlock said as Lestrade strode over to him. He had his face to the sky; his eyes were closed, and smoke curled lazily around his head.
“No,” Lestrade agreed. “But it looks like you need some.”
He let out a soft groan as he sat down on the ground next to Sherlock, his knees protesting the movement all the way down. He waited for Sherlock’s usual scathing comments about his age, and received none.
“Should I even ask where you found these?” Lestrade murmured as he reached into Sherlock’s pocket and lifted his packet of cigarettes off him. He stashed them in his own pocket, resisting the urge to pull one out for himself. “John’s gonna kill you.”
“He won’t know,” Sherlock said simply. He took a drag on his cigarette, blew out a stream of smoke, and reiterated, “I came out here to be alone.”
“But that’s not really what you want.” Lestrade drew his legs close to his chest and rested his arms on his knees, tilting his head back until it pressed against the rough brick of the wall. He traced the path of Ursa Minor with his eyes, the constellation easily visible thanks to the clear skies and Polaris.
“I’m not, you know.”
Sherlock smoked in silence for a full two minutes, and then said, “You were going to ask if I was all right. I’m not.”
Lestrade looked at him. “Why tell me?”
“I don’t know.”
Lestrade scrubbed the heel of his hand across his eyes. He was not in the mood to play mind games with Sherlock tonight, but still he found himself asking, “All right. What can I do?”
Sherlock snorted. “What makes you think there’s anything you can do? If I can’t figure out how to fix this, I doubt there’s anything useful that you can come up with.”
“You underestimate us normal folk,” Lestrade said mildly, too used to Sherlock’s insults to take any of them to heart anymore. He waited for a moment, and then said, “Generally, this is where you outline what’s bothering you. So, come on. Gimme.”
Sherlock cast a sidelong glance at him, considering. Then he clamped the cigarette between his lips and held out his hand - flat; palm-side down. It took Lestrade a moment to make out what Sherlock was trying to show him in the semi-darkness, but then he noticed a series of tremors ripple through Sherlock’s fingers.
“Surely you don’t need a genius to explain to you what that means,” Sherlock bit out darkly as he removed the cigarette from his mouth and resumed smoking. He finished it off, ground it out on the brick wall behind them, and picked Lestrade’s pockets for another.
“No,” Lestrade said quietly, because he had been fighting the same feeling of unease ever since their return from the moor. The case had been solved, the hound slain, and Henry Knight’s fears laid to rest. But that didn’t make the terror they had felt - and were still feeling - any less real. And because there was nothing he could do to ease his mind - much less Sherlock’s - he muttered an inadequate, “I’m sorry.”
“As am I.”
“You can stay in my room tonight, if you like. John’s already dead to the world - checked on him right before coming out here.” Lestrade shifted on the hard ground. “Beds are narrow in mine, but at least I’ve got two of them. Your brother’s doing, no doubt. His little way of saying thanks - got me a larger room, somehow.”
He tried to keep the bitterness from his voice, and mostly succeeded. After all, Sherlock had needed him, in the end. It was hard to find fault with that result.
“And - and it’d help, you know, not being alone,” Lestrade added cautiously.
“Thank you,” Sherlock murmured, which wasn’t an answer but Lestrade accepted it as the best he was going to get at the moment.
He returned his attention to the sky, fighting the urge to close his eyes. He ached everywhere, and the night was so calm that he knew he could easily fall asleep out here in the open, even with the latent adrenaline thrumming through his limbs.
“Hm?” Lestrade glanced at his companion, and Sherlock pointed to a figure in the sky. “Oh, no. Cassiopeia. Draco’s the dragon - that long string of stars near Ursa Minor. See?”
Sherlock nodded, and said, “I never knew your name.”
Lestrade blinked, thrown momentarily by the sudden shift in topic, and then he shrugged. “Oh, well. You’ve never exactly needed it, have you? It’s all fine.”
“I should have known,” Sherlock said sharply, turning to look at him at last. Lestrade was taken aback by the blaze in his eyes.
“Sherlock - sunshine, it’s all right,” he said hastily, reverting to an endearment he hadn’t used in years, not since Sherlock’s withdrawal-wracked body had taken up residence in his spare bedroom. “I don’t care. You can use whatever name you like.”
“Is that so?” Sherlock said softly, turning away from Lestrade to stare out at the dark woods that surrounded the inn.
“Yeah, ‘course it is. Always has been. Why?” Lestrade asked, his eyes narrowing even though Sherlock wasn’t looking at him.
“Donovan often accuses you of being too kind,” Sherlock said quietly. “Lately, I’m inclined to agree. You have had no reason to trust in me over the years, and yet you have not once given in to pressure from your superiors or from your team. You take my side over theirs.”
“‘Cause you’re always bloody right,” Lestrade said gruffly.
“And you came out here, though by all rights you could have passed the task off to another officer. Or even ignored my brother’s request.”
“Didn’t give me much of a choice, the git,” Lestrade muttered. “Came home to find I’d been given another week of vacation, and a new set of luggage had been packed for me.”
“You still could have said no,” Sherlock pressed. “You have in the past.”
“Yeah, all right, fair enough. But what are you getting at, Sherlock?”
“John was right,” Sherlock said. “When I first saw you here this morning - I was grateful. I never understood why you would go to such great lengths for me, but then I found that I was pleased to see you.” He let out a huff of laughter. “Can you imagine?”
“No,” Lestrade said, genuinely confused.
“Neither can I. It’s baffling,” Sherlock murmured, and Lestrade realized with a jolt that, sometime during the course of the conversation, they had shifted and were now pressed together, hips to thighs to knees. Even through their layers of clothing, he was aware of the heat radiating off Sherlock. “And I find I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“Sh -” Lestrade started hoarsely, but was stopped by a hand on his knee.
“Greg,” Sherlock said, and suddenly he was there, dry lips pressing against Lestrade’s in a kiss that was at once firm but chaste. And all-too-brief, because before Lestrade’s brain had a chance to catch up with the sudden turn of events Sherlock was pulling away, returning to his cigarette as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
“But,” Lestrade stammered, stunned, “you don’t do this.”
“No,” Sherlock agreed.
Lestrade cleared his throat, because while he had grinned good-naturedly at Donovan’s teasing of the two men, he had known Sherlock long enough to never even suspect that he and John were a couple. “This make me special, then?”
“You’re unique,” Sherlock allowed. He shifted, but his hip remained pressed against Lestrade’s. “Just don’t expect me to want to fall into bed with you.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Lestrade said around a slow smile. “Can I -?”
Sherlock ground out his cigarette and turned to kiss him again, his lips cold against Lestrade’s and his smoky mouth searing, full of ash and fire and so much promise.
Bright sunlight filtered through the trees at the cemetery, and dappled green light spilled over the grey headstones and slowly-reviving grass. The snow had melted long ago, and the flattened and browning plants were beginning to rally. Fresh flowers rested on the grave Lestrade was keeping watch over, no doubt laid recently by Mrs. Hudson. Everywhere he looked, buds were appearing - on the trees, on the ground; life finding its own way as winter faded into the background and spring took hold.
The headstone was gleaming and bare apart from the name, giving no indication as to how vibrant the occupant of the grave had been while he was alive. It kept Sherlock’s secrets as well as the man had himself, betraying neither the demons that haunted him nor the countless lives he had saved. It didn’t say that he was a prat, or a genius, or tortured, or far too young when he died.
It didn’t say that he was missed.
It didn’t say that he had been loved.
Lestrade stuffed his hands into the pockets of the jacket he wore to ward off the early-morning chill. He wrapped one hand around his mobile and brushed his thumb across the well-worn screen. He didn’t need to pull it out to look at it, because the last words that Sherlock had ever sent him, moments before the final phone call to John, were seared across his mind; a permanent fixture in his brain that he saw every time he closed his eyes.
Text from: Sherlock Holmes
Whatever happens today, please believe me when I say that I was, very sincerely, yours.