Greg Lestrade had been happily married for six years. And unhappily married for a further seventeen. Or at least that was the official line. Unofficially, he and Mrs Samantha Lestrade (née Colwell) were still as fond of one another as when they'd initially discovered there was someone else gay in Bridgwater nearly thirty years ago. And at first it had seemed a distinct advantage, in a sometimes homophobic town, that they could pose as a couple there, and then go off together for an evening pursuing their separate dates in some of the more laidback Bristol clubs.
The problem was, they'd been chicken about coming out. Sam had wanted to stay near her large and cheery family, live an ordinary life, even if it meant becoming a hairdresser and pretending that she and her hair were both naturally straight. Greg had opted for coming out at a distance and spent three gay years in London. And then he came back home at twenty-one, after having his heart broken and his bank balance emptied, to find that his parents had been telling all their neighbours about his exciting London job and his string of posh girlfriends.
He hadn't been able to humiliate his parents by revealing the truth. He was stuck in Bridgwater until he got his life together, and he still wasn't sure how. It was inevitable he'd renew his friendship with Sam, and she was the one who suggested joining the police. The day he got accepted by Avon and Somerset Constabulary, he'd asked Sam if there was anything he could do to make her life better...
Sam wanted kids, she informed him. She'd been an aunt at twelve, and adored it, and Greg knew she'd be a bloody great mother, even as a single parent. He sneaked off to Taunton and bought a turkey baster and did his best, over the summer of 1987, to solve Sam's sperm-egg introduction problem. It took a worryingly long time for them to figure how the process worked, but at last Greg got Sam successfully knocked up. Job well done, he thought.
That was when he found out about the less cheery side to the Colwell family. And that the Somerset police had rashly given several of Sam's uncles shotgun licences. His parents were equally determined: Gregory was going to do the right thing. They weren't going to lose access to the forthcoming grandchild due to him having no parental rights. Sam and he got married hastily over Christmas, when she could still just about look respectable in the photos when holding a strategically posed bouquet. He wondered if it counted as getting your life together if you were married and had a kid and a responsible job as a police constable at the age of twenty-three. Possibly not if you were gay and married to Somerset's straightest-acting lesbian. Still, at least sometimes he or Sam could still head off to Bristol for a close encounter of the non-straight-and-narrow kind, while the other one babysat Tina.
And then it got even more complicated, and he found himself with two kids. Shaun was definitely an accident. Shaun was proof that with enough scrumpy on Bonfire Night anyone's sexuality could get temporarily warped. Somehow his normal sleeping with Sam, who was warm and cuddly, had ended up as sleeping with Sam, and she hadn't been on the pill, of course, because she hadn't thought she needed to be. Greg had to admit it had been slightly more fun than the turkey baster, though from the reproachful looks Sam was giving him during pregnancy, it wasn't the time to explore if he had a lurking straight side. What it was the time to do, he decided, was to get them out of the Somerset closet.
He finally got offered a job in the Met when Tina was five and Shaun nearly one. Give themselves six months to settle in, he thought, and then he and Sam could go their separate ways, with no hard feelings. All pretty straightforward, they agreed with pleasure. Which showed just how naive they still were.
The moment Sam and him talked to a solicitor about divorcing, the difficulties got him temporarily up to thirty cigarettes a day. If they split up, Sam lost all rights to police accommodation, even though it was her and the kids who really needed their flat. And he couldn't afford to rent anything decent for them in London, while Sam wasn't earning. He asked if she wanted to take the kids back to Bridgwater, but she said firmly she wasn't going to let them grow up without their father around.
In the end they settled for an informal sort-of-separation, but he made the mistake of mentioning that to some of his colleagues at the Yard. By the end of the month, he'd had five offers of who he could go and stay with for a while. All of them from women. He was a gay bloke with two lovely kids, and a wife he adored, and while Sam was quite happy at the idea of him finding a boyfriend and living happily ever after, she'd have skinned him alive if he'd so much as looked at another woman.
In theory, she was the one looking for another woman. In practice, with two small children and a husband on ever changing shifts, Greg suspected she had gone off sex with anyone. And, he had to admit, he was half-hearted at looking for someone else to settle down with. He didn't have the time for dating, and what did he tell any guy he fancied, anyhow? Married with kids suggested a man who was just looking for a bit of fooling around, not a serious relationship. And the men who wanted to sleep with him turned out to be a remarkably unreliable bunch.
What he wanted, he worked out, after a string of unfortunate encounters, was a sweet, calm, practical man who liked kids and didn't mind his partner working horrendous hours. No, what he really wanted was Sam being a bloke. It was bloody frustrating not getting turned on by a woman he was so fond of. He still surreptitiously had a few brief affairs – he didn't want the kids knowing till there was something definite, let alone his colleagues. But nothing ever seemed to work out.
Twice Sam and he had almost made the break. Once when Sam had met Clare, and then with him and Alan. Those ought to have worked out, but that was life for you. Their life.
Clare was a part-time yoga teacher and living in a studio flat in a street so dodgy it even worried Greg. He and Sam still couldn't afford to split up, so the short-term solution was obvious. Clare moved in with them, officially as a lodger. Then they explained a few things to the kids, and Greg relocated to the spare bedroom.
They stuck it out for six months before Clare packed her mats and moved out. It had been mainly the arguments over the kids that had killed it, Greg thought afterwards. He and Sam were automatically united on that strategic front after more than ten years, whereas Clare's ideas on child-rearing were frankly stupid. He had tactlessly intervened to back up Sam's suggestions once too often , and Clare had lost all that calm that yoga was supposed to give you, had a screaming row with Sam and left for good. That had been bad enough, with Sam being quietly miserable for weeks, but then it got worse. When a very drunk Anderson came up to him at the Christmas party that year, and said: "Hear you got a vacancy in the harem. Who you planning to invite this time?"
"What?" he demanded.
Anderson gave him a look of glassy concentration: "You had your wife and your mistress living together. That is just amazing. How the hell do you manage to get women to agree to do that sort of thing, sir?"
Oh shit, Greg thought, and hoped that neither of them remembered this conversation in the morning. But yes, he confirmed with a little probing in the next few weeks, the Met rumour mill now had him down not just as straight, but as a successful polygamist. Not going to help his chances with men, that one.
Still it seemed that some policemen had working gaydar. DI Alan Grant transferred to the Met from Surrey, and five weeks after arriving, came round to Smokers' Corner to find Greg and asked him out on a date. Three months later, Greg moved in with him. The kids were unhappy about him leaving, especially Shaun, but he made sure he still saw lots of them. It all seemed about to work out; Sam was even talking about starting dating herself again, said she'd met someone she fancied in the beauty salon she was working in now. And then Grant saw a chief inspector's job going with the Northumbria Police.
"It's my home," he told Greg. "I've been saying for fifteen years that I will get back to Tyneside, and now's my big chance."
"I can't move," Greg replied. "Tina's doing her GCSEs this year, Shaun's only just getting settled into secondary school. And Sam's happy where she is. I couldn't uproot them all."
"I'm not asking you to," Alan replied. "It's Newcastle. It's not the bloody end of the world. You can come back and see them at weekends. You don't see much of them as it is, you're always working all hours."
"I can't leave my family," he said.
"It's a sham marriage," Alan said, his clever, cool blue eyes looking Greg up and down. "It always has been."
"My kids aren't a sham...and I don't want to walk out on Sam like that."
"You already have," Alan said. "Or had you not noticed? You're staying in my flat. Or doesn't it count as walking out if you're still in the same Underground Zone?"
The thing was, Greg had seen what happened when your kids were the other side of the country. He'd watched some of his own officers lose contact, step by step, with their children that way. Till it was birthday cards a day or two late, and You have to visit your father at Christmas even though you don't want to.
"No," he said. "I can't go with you. I'll come and see you at weekends."
"God, you are scared of commitment, aren't you?" Alan said. "No thanks. I don't want a part-time boyfriend. You go back to your precious family, if they'll have you back now."
It wasn't so much Sam taking him back, as everything returning to normal. Home. Family. Intense arguments about homework and whether Inspector Morse was any use as a detective. And though he missed the sex, he wasn't entirely certain that straight blokes married to straight women actually got that much more at his time of life. Or perhaps they did, just not with their wives. There were once again a worrying number of his female acquaintances who seemed to have decided that since he was clearly having a midlife crisis, he should have one in their direction.
"Sir," DC Donovan asked him, when they were lounging round at the end of a shift one evening, "can I ask you something personal?"
"What?" Greg said, grinning slightly nervously. Sally Donovan was turning out to be a good copper, but she wasn't exactly his most tactful team member.
"Is it true that you once had three women all living with you at the same time?"
"Or that you seduced an inspector called Grant and he ran away to Newcastle when you dumped him?"
"Not true, either."
"Or that there are loads of pictures on the internet of you semi-naked?"
"That's possible, actually," Greg said. "I did some modelling, when I was twenty or so. Well, when I say modelling, it was more posing around in skimpy underwear while my boyfriend tried to do artistic things with a camera." Shit, he shouldn't have said boyfriend, should he? But Donovan just smiled and said: "Glad some of it's true, at least. Be a bit boring if I wasn't working for the Stud of Scotland Yard."
"The Stud of Scotland Yard?" Greg demanded incredulously.
"Haven't you seen the graffiti in the loos? Need your collar felt? Ask the Stud. Though I presume it's not your actual phone number up there."
"They don't have that sort of graffiti in the Gents."
"What sort of graffiti do they have then, sir?"
"You wanna be a detective, find out yourself, Donovan. Just don't talk to me about it when you do."
He suspected Donovan worked out about him eventually, but didn't feel the need to discuss it. It took Sherlock less than three weeks to spot Greg's sexuality, and, of course, he did have things to say.
"So how long have you been in denial?" he asked, when they were standing outside Southwark Cathedral having a sneaky fag and discussing how you could steal half a tower's worth of lead and then drop it on someone's head.
"I'm not in denial," Greg replied immediately. "The cigarettes will kill me if the overwork doesn't first. And, yes, my hair is going gray, and it's gonna go grey even faster if I have you behaving like a prat all the time."
"I meant about the fact that you're gay," Sherlock retorted.
"Not in denial about that, either," he said. "No more than you are. I don't talk much about my personal life, but that's a different matter."
"You're married. To a woman. With children."
"No," he said, "bloody boring, I'm afraid. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family's unhappy in its own way." It was true, even if he couldn't remember if someone famous had said it or if he'd read it in a Christmas cracker.
"There's no such thing as a happy family," Sherlock replied.
"Who's in denial now?"
"But your wife – oh, of course, she's asexual. No, because then you'd recognise the signs in others. Humiliation kink, no, your behaviour's not blatant enough. Your wife's the one in denial, but then that's hardly a definition of happy. Your wife, your wife-"
"My wife is called Sam," Greg said. "She'd like your hair. I don't think she'd care much for the rest of you."
"Ah, I see. The Rainbow Alliance. Well, you're statistically less likely to kill your partner if you're not having sex with them regularly, so it's probably all for the best."
"Is that true?" Greg demanded, stubbing out his cigarette.
"Yes, but correlation is not causation, so it's not a recommended strategy. And why are we talking about this, anyhow, when we could be discussing dropping heavy weights from church towers?"
Maybe it was a sham marriage, Greg thought occasionally, but it had lasted longer than most of the real ones he'd known. He was still terrible at getting home on time, but he had finally quit smoking. And to celebrate, Sam had decided they were going to have the house done up, get rid of the burn holes in the carpets, and the yellowing ceilings. And rejig Tina's bedroom, while they were at it, so she could run her new website design business from there. After which Shaun had decided that that even though he was still a student, he no longer needed to have his walls painted black. Brilliant white was apparently the new black, as far as Shaun was concerned. Something to celebrate in itself, Greg thought, when Sam, giggling, told him the news. 2011, it seemed, was going to be the Year of Sorting Out the House.
And then it happened, out of the blue. The big one; the real thing. And in the unlikeliest of places: the Somerset lesbian scene. There was apparently, if not a scene in Bridgwater, at least a web-based support group. In late August, Sam and the kids had gone down to stay with their Colwell cousins while Greg pulled his weight domestically for once, supervising the plasterers. While Sam was down there, she'd somehow sneaked under her whole family's radar and met someone from the Bridgwater Todger Dodgers. And then, by some kind of perilous word of mouth, ended up going to a bar in Taunton for a blind date and falling for the teacher she met. (Greg supposed it made sense that teachers were at their most riotous in the school holidays).
Sam came back at the end of the week and wept on his shoulder about Julie. That she couldn't possibly stay with her, but she couldn't live without her. And he said the words they'd said before, when it had been Clare, when it had been Alan: "We agreed if one of us found someone else, it'd be OK." Then he added: "The kids are grown up. It'll be messy, but no messier than half their friends' parents."
Once she'd made up her mind, it was Sam who was the practical one, who sorted out the details. The big thing was going to be coming out to her family. And she was nerving herself to do it even now. Sam had gone down to Taunton a month ago, supposedly to stay with an old school friend; he'd told his colleagues they were having a trial separation, but not why. (Though this being the Met, they'd undoubtedly be coming up with some hair-raising hypotheses). Sam was going to go up to Bridgwater and spend Christmas with her parents, Tina and Shaun. And then he was going over there on Boxing Day, allegedly for a reconciliation, but actually to help pick up the flak when Sam explained to her parents that she'd left him for Julie.
And then he'd come back to London and tell his colleagues that the reconciliation hadn't worked, and that actually he'd realised he was gay and so was Sam. It was a bloody complicated way of doing things, but he knew exactly why Sam was doing it. She didn't want any of their friends to know she was gay until she was absolutely certain that she wasn't going to bottle it with telling her parents. He had a nasty suspicion it was going to be down to him to break the news to Sam's parents in the end. Because Sam did not like upsetting people and they were going to be upset about this. Maybe they shouldn't be, but they would.
It was going to be a god-awful mess, and he and Sam would get through it somehow. But he was glad he didn't have to turn up till Boxing Day, not have to spend Christmas Day with her relatives this year. He could stick safely in London on his own till the last minute. He half wondered about not going along to the 221B party, but he decided to in the end. Nothing else to do and he'd just worry about things if he kicked around at home on his own. No, not just that. He was terrified he was going to get drunk and phone up Sam and tell her how much he'd miss her, beg her not to go through with it. How could something you both wanted to happen hurt so much?
The party rapidly started going wrong, but at least this time it wasn't his fault. As soon as Sherlock stopped playing and started talking, it was downhill all the way. And it got even worse when Molly Hooper turned up. She was obviously in the state of nervous Christmas jollity where everything she said was going to come out wrong. After she'd made an unfortunate joke about Mrs Hudson's hip, she turned to Greg and said: "I wasn't expecting to see you – I thought you were going to be in Dorset for Christmas."
He didn't have the heart to tell her that she'd got the county wrong. Instead, he just smiled and said: "That's first thing in the morning. Me and the wife, we're back together. It's all sorted." He'd been saying it for a fortnight and it came out naturally now, even though the lie was no longer necessary. Nobody was going to leave 221B and go off and alert Sam's parents at this point if he told the truth.
On the other hand, it would take at least five minutes to explain what was really going to happen on Boxing Day, if not actual diagrams, and it was tomorrow's problem, anyhow, not tonight's. Tonight he was just an ordinary bloke with a mostly happy family, and tomorrow he still would be, just not in the same way. And then Sherlock opened his big fat mouth and said:
"No, she's sleeping with a PE teacher."
Fuck, thought Greg, as he kept on smiling. Then Molly said something else ridiculous, and John snapped at Sherlock, who had clearly decided that they were playing party games and his choice was Humiliate the Guests. Greg went and got Sherlock a drink and didn't smash him in the face, because it was Christmas and it wouldn't help. Then he stood there and watched Sherlock make every deduction about Molly's love life except the obvious one.
Sherlock was too clever, that was the thing. He couldn't understand about stupid love. The person you shouldn't care for, but still did. Molly and Sherlock, him and Sam. John and Sherlock. For that matter, Mrs Hudson's husband had been a catastrophe, and Jeanette and John were a disaster waiting to happen, the way all John's girlfriends were. Call this whole party a meeting of the Baker Street Chapter of the Fucked Up by Love. Plus extra Fucker Up in Sherlock, of course. Maybe he should ask Sherlock if he knew how to play that old Buzzcocks song:
Ever fallen in love with someone?
Ever fallen in love? In love with someone
Ever fallen in love?
In love with someone
You shouldn't've fallen in love with.
Then Sherlock apologised and kissed Molly Hooper, like that would make it better, and Sherlock's phone promptly gave some kind of stupid gasp, and he found an extra present and vanished into his bedroom. And Greg decided that he was already slightly drunk and it might be a good night to get very, very drunk.
He didn't, in the end, because once Sherlock had emerged from his room and muttered something to John, and disappeared down towards the street, and John had then said something to Molly Hooper, who had also promptly left the flat, Mrs Hudson beckoned him over.
"Tell me we're not about to start playing Postman's Knock," he said, "because it'll end in bloodshed."
"I don't know what's going on," she said, "but it might be a nice idea to leave John and Jeanette alone together, now Sherlock's not around to interrupt things. Do you want to come down to 221A?"
They got downstairs, and sat in Mrs Hudson's tiny living room, and then she turned to him, and said, kindly: "I couldn't help noticing, dear, that you weren't actually shocked about Sherlock's PE teacher line. Do you want to talk about it?"
It didn't need diagrams, that was the thing, not where Mrs Hudson was concerned. She was much cleverer than Sherlock in that respect.
"It sounds completely mad, I know," he said, when he'd finished. "Well, not normal, at least. Not even Normal For Bridgwater." He half-smiled at the old joke and Mrs Hudson looked at him quizzically. "Doesn't matter," he added, "none of it matters."
"Course it does," she said, "it takes it out of you doing the right thing. But don't worry, I've heard far worse before."
"Really?" he said, smiling despite himself.
"I lived in Florida," she said. "Love-triangles and alligators are not a good combination." They both started giggling at that, and Greg was just starting to relax when he heard someone hurry down from the flat above and knock on 221A's door. Then John came in, with an even more harassed look on his face than earlier in the evening. Something that would take more than a few extra drinks to sort out.
"Mrs Hudson, would you be able to help me?" John asked. "We need to find something."
"What is it, dear?" she said. John gave a sideways look at Greg and didn't reply.
"OK," he said, because he was a detective, after all. "The next party game, we're not playing Hunt the Slipper, but Hunt the Syringe, I take it."
"Mycroft phoned to say that a body suspected to be Irene Adler's has been found," John said. "He thinks there may be a...reaction from Sherlock."
"I'll come and look," said Mrs Hudson. "It's all clean down here," she added to Greg, slightly too emphatically.
He gave her a reassuring smile. "Do you want me to help, or would you rather I went?"
"I don't want you to have to turn a blind eye to any more illegal goings-on," John replied.
"Fair enough," he said. "Thanks for having me. I could take Jeanette home, if you liked?"
"No," John said hastily, "She's staying. She says she'll be fine. We'll be going out somewhere a bit later."
Boxing Day blues for him, as well, I reckon, Greg thought, but all he said was: "It might be worth checking the inside of the skull. I remember Sherlock hiding stuff there sometimes."
John swallowed rather hard, almost at the same moment as Mrs Hudson said cheerily: "Oh, we know about the skull, dear." And then she beamed, and said: "Lovely of you to come round, and I hope it all goes well down in Somerset tomorrow. And if you do want to come round and have a chat when you're back, my door's always open."
And Greg smiled and kissed her, and then went out, trudging almost happily through the snow to find his car. Because even things that weren't normal in Bridgwater could seem entirely unremarkable once you were in Baker Street.