By the time Sherlock hears Lestrade’s key scraping in the door that night, he has already been waiting at the man’s flat for over two hours. He had lingered at Bart's until the cover of darkness was sufficient enough for him to make the trek to Lestrade’s on foot because, irrationally, he felt as though that had been the safest option. He has had too many questionable experiences in London cabs as of late, and he’s tired of the havoc they bring in their wake.
He’s tired of many things right now.
Lestrade is arriving home later tonight than is normal for him; the nearby clock tower has just struck eleven, and Sherlock knows that even on the bad nights Lestrade doesn’t linger at the Yard much after eight. It’s probably his escape from arrest that has kept Lestrade so late, but he can’t bring himself to feel much remorse over it beyond the fact that time is running out, and there are things he needs to say.
The door to the flat clicks open and Sherlock hears Lestrade give only the barest of pauses on the threshold, indicating that he’s noticed Sherlock’s presence by the window. But Lestrade has come home to this sight too many times over the years to be startled by it, and a moment later Sherlock hears the door shut and Lestrade toe off his shoes as though nothing is amiss.
“‘Second to the right,’” Lestrade tells him by way of greeting, shrugging out of his jacket with a faint rustle, “‘and then straight on ‘til morning.’”
His voice is pitched low and sounds rough around the edges; he’s been doing a lot of shouting in the past few hours, probably consisting of barking orders at his team as they tried to catch the escaping men.
“Sorry?” Sherlock glances at him over his shoulder.
“Directions,” Lestrade replies, and at Sherlock’s puzzled look he clarifies further. “You looked a bit lost.”
“I fail to see how travel to a fictional land populated by children will aid me.” Sherlock turns his gaze back to the window, looking for prying eyes while Lestrade believes he’s looking at the stars.
“Ah, so you know that one. Didn’t delete it, then?”
“Obviously. It proved relevant for a case some years back.”
“Of course it did.” Lestrade heaves a sigh; it sounds equal parts angry and defeated. “What are you doing here, Sherlock?”
“Did you catch John?”
Lestrade huffs. “You know very well that we didn’t.”
“I don’t, actually,” Sherlock says. “We parted company some hours back. There were matters I needed to attend to.”
“He’s lying low, then.” Sherlock hears Lestrade scrub a hand through his hair. “We never found him.”
“Good. You’re late, by the way.”
“Excuse me?” There’s a bite to Lestrade’s voice; a quick snap of anger.
“I was expecting you some time ago,” Sherlock clarifies. He draws the curtains and moves away from the window, finally turning to face Lestrade.
“I don’t schedule my life around you, sunshine,” Lestrade growls. “And I was delayed because of your little stunt, though I’m sure you already knew that. Not the most brilliant move you’ve ever made, so the next words out of your mouth better be I’m turning myself in.”
“Then get out, Sherlock, now.” When Sherlock doesn’t move, he adds, “I’m serious this time. Get out.”
“Why should I?”
“Do you -” Lestrade passes a hand over his face; he looks as though he wants to laugh and scream at the same time and settles for expelling a weak puff of breath in exasperation. “Do you have any idea what kind of trouble you’re in? Or, for that matter, the trouble I’m in? You escaped arrest, Sherlock! You can’t be here.”
It is absurd; so much so that Sherlock spends a moment gaping at Lestrade. How can he be thinking of arrests and protocol at a time like this?
“Irrelevant,” he says finally, flapping his hands. “We have more important things to discuss.”
“I have nothing to say to you apart from this: leave.”
“Do you really think,” Sherlock grinds out incredulously as Lestrade makes to leave the room, “that I would be here if it wasn’t important?”
“You’ve come over here before for less,” Lestrade says with a weary snort. He tosses his jacket over the back of a chair and then pulls his mobile out of his pocket. Sherlock snatches the device from his hand with a growl and lobs it over his shoulder; it hits the floor and slides under the sofa. “Sherlock!”
“Will you listen to me?”
“You’re not telling me anything!” Lestrade explodes. “What is there to listen to?”
“You arrested me,” Sherlock blurts, and watches Lestrade’s face melt from furious to - ashamed? Guilty? John would know; he can distinguish between the finer shades of emotion much better than Sherlock.
“I had to,” Lestrade says quietly. “I - Sherlock, I’d’ve lost my job. I tried to give you warning.”
“Did you expect me to run?”
“No.” Lestrade gives an endearing quirk of his mouth, and Sherlock’s stomach does an odd twist. “Hoped you might, though. I didn’t want - well -” His face turns somber once again. “You’re only going to make it worse for yourself in the end, hiding away like this. I know - I know you didn’t have anything to do with those kidnappings, but what I believe doesn’t matter.”
No , Sherlock wants to cry, but the word lodges in his throat. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go; he hadn’t intended for Lestrade to feel shame over his actions. “That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean, then?”
That it wasn’t a proper goodbye.
“Sherlock?” Lestrade’s voice is quiet and concerned; Sherlock hates him for it, hates Lestrade for making him feel this. “What’s happened? Why did you come?”
“I had to.”
“That’s not an answer.”
Sherlock doesn’t respond. It’s the most sincere sentence he’s said all day and he doesn’t know how make Lestrade believe him. He had to come, because while there is a plan in place - several, in fact - none of them are foolproof. There’s a variable no one can account for - Moriarty - which means that, more likely than not, tomorrow morning Sherlock will be stepping off the roof of St. Bart’s, and he knows all-too-well the survival rate of people who plummet six stories with only the thin air to break their fall.
He had to come.
“Because -” he starts, and then finds he has no words to fill the silence that follows. Lestrade is looking at him expectantly, arms crossed over his chest, chocolate eyes shining with both irritation and kindness.
Sherlock doesn’t know how he manages it, this blend of emotions. He’s seen Lestrade annoyed-cheerful; frustrated-happy. He’s seen Lestrade truly furious, once and only once, and still underneath all of that he was kind.
He’s always been so kind.
“I’m a suspect in two kidnappings,” Sherlock says finally, John’s voice in his ear (You know, you could just tell the truth for once). “By tomorrow morning, no one will believe that Moriarty was real and everyone will think I’m a fraud. Two men were shot because they spoke to me; I watched them die. I had to come because everything is unraveling and the only thing I can think about is - is what I might never know.”
“What do you mean?” Lestrade asks, his voice strained. “Tell me, Sherlock.”
“I can’t,” Sherlock admits. He crosses the final bit of distance between them and cups Lestrade’s face in his hands, feeling the shadow of stubble underneath his fingers and watching the dark eyes widen. “I can show you, however.”
Lestrade takes an abrupt step back, pulling out of Sherlock’s grip. Sherlock recoils at the expression of disbelief on Lestrade’s face, his fingers curling into his palm as Lestrade leaves his grasp. “That’s what you want? At a time like this?”
Words fail Sherlock and he can only nod, because he wants...well, he wants. He aches with it, a slow and unfamiliar burn that sits deep in his ribcage, because he knows only how to not want; desiring something is an entirely new experience. It’s an unendingly frustrating one as well, because they are in the same room and Lestrade is right here...and yet he isn’t. He’s just out of reach; just over the threshold that Sherlock doesn’t know how to cross.
There are a million things he may never know; he can’t allow this to be one of them.
“Sherlock -” Lestrade starts while Sherlock is still grasping for words. He stops, and then worries his bottom lip between his teeth for a moment before saying, hesitantly, “You don’t do this.”
“No,” Sherlock agrees, finding his voice again as they move back onto familiar territory. “I don’t. I’m usually not interested.”
“But now you are?” Lestrade looks incredulous, eyebrows shooting up toward his hairline.
Sherlock rakes a hand through his hair, because he isn’t sure what else to do with it. He’s suddenly very aware of his limbs, all lines and angles and taking up too much space. He’d never been unsure of anything in his life until he met Lestrade, and now he can’t even think what to do with his damn hands.
“I - I have been. I only -”
“What, you thought now was a good time to bring it up?” Lestrade’s voice is brittle; it reminds Sherlock of a string pulled taut, just on the verge of breaking. “Jesus...”
“No,” Sherlock says, and for a moment is pleased to see that he’s been able to catch Lestrade off-guard. The man gapes, and Sherlock laughs bitterly. He has played this scenario out in his mind dozens of times before, but never had he pictured having this discussion on the eve of his suicide. “No, not at all, but I had no choice.”
“No choice,” Lestrade repeats dumbly. He pauses for a moment and then asks, very slowly, “Which means...Sherlock, what’s going to happen?”
There aren’t many who can surprise Sherlock, and he appreciates every time someone does. Lestrade is quicker tonight than he had assumed he would be.
“Something bad?” Lestrade presses him.
“Bit not good,” Sherlock says, and attempts a wry smile. It isn’t returned.
“I can help.”
“You can’t. Not with this.”
“I can try,” Lestrade insists, desperate, and lifts his hand as though he wants to reach out to Sherlock. He hesitates, and the gesture hangs between them, half-complete and uncertain. Sherlock reaches out and touches the suspended fingers; after a moment, they slide between his own as Lestrade fits their hands together. “If you won’t let me help with whatever it is you’re about to do, then why are you here?”
Sherlock has learned, in the past twenty-four hours, that he can suffer a number of trials and still remain standing. He can watch men being gunned down before his eyes; he can put up with Donovan’s disbelief; he can weather the indignity of being arrested in front of half of the Yard. But he can’t live - or die - knowing that his farewell to Lestrade was on Baker Street while he held a gun to John’s head.
He’s here because he’s never relied on another person the way he does on John, and he’s never needed another the way he does Lestrade.
Because I need you .
Sherlock doesn’t realize he’s spoken the last thought aloud until Lestrade gives him a rueful smile and says, “God help you.”
There are many things Lestrade learns about Sherlock that night.
Sherlock smells of ink and chemicals, but when his forehead is pressed against the man’s shoulder Lestrade discovers that there’s an underlying scent of cotton, too.
He hasn’t quit smoking as completely as he would have everyone believe, and Lestrade catches a whiff of tobacco underneath that of tea and mint as their noses bump together, lips skimming but never quite coming together as they move in tandem.
Lestrade also learns that Sherlock doesn’t like kissing - not on the mouth, at least - and for a man who would have everyone believe he’s made of stone he has an unbelievably sensitive neck; Lestrade finds he can make Sherlock twitch just by breathing on it. He shamelessly employs this new-found knowledge, alternating between nipping at the soft skin and pressing his lips to it with every snap of his hips, causing Sherlock to writhe and buck against him.
He finds that Sherlock is quiet in bed, letting out little nonsense gasps and biting back moans the way he wouldn’t ever hold back his words. He even throws his hand over his mouth and bites the base of his thumb when he comes, muffling the wordless cry that rips itself from his throat as he arches his back and warmth spreads between their stomachs. When Lestrade follows half a dozen erratic thrusts later, crashing over the edge as Sherlock squeezes his thighs together and engulfs him in heat and friction, he doesn't manage to be nearly as silent.
Lestrade comes back to himself with his face is buried in Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock unhooks his legs from where he had wound them around Lestrade but one hand has found its way into his sweaty hair, holding him in place. They stay like that for several minutes, chests heaving, Lestrade half on top of Sherlock until he gathers his senses enough to detach himself from the younger man. He rolls over and gropes for a piece of clothing; after disposing of the condom and cleaning himself off, he passes it over.
“You all right?” he asks as Sherlock wipes the cooling mess from his belly and tosses the soiled cloth across the room; it lands by the door, where they had discarded most of their clothes in their earlier haste.
“Of course,” Sherlock replies, but his voice is strained and raw. “Why?”
Lestrade takes Sherlock’s hand and presses the fingertips to his companion’s cheek, just below his left eye. Sherlock blinks and draws his hand away, staring in disbelief at the liquid on the pads of his fingers. Lestrade aches as he realizes that this is one revelation he could have done without.
Sherlock Holmes cries.
“Not exactly the reaction I usually get,” Lestrade says quietly. He cups Sherlock’s face and brushes his thumbs over the high cheekbones, erasing the trail left behind by the tear. “Sherlock.”
Sherlock shakes his head, wrapping slim fingers around Lestrade’s wrists and pulling his hands from his face. “I can’t.”
“Tell me something. Anything. What should I be preparing for?”
Sherlock gives a huff of breath - a despairing laugh - and shakes his head.
“Sherlock. God...” Lestrade brushes his lips over Sherlock’s eyelids and then presses a kiss to the other man’s forehead. “Let me help. When have I ever denied you that?”
“Answer me this, Lestrade,” Sherlock croaks at last. “What if you were to discover that everything you had thought about me was wrong?”
“But if, Lestrade!”
“No. No ifs, Sherlock. You are Sherlock Holmes, and you are brilliant. Nothing can convince me otherwise.”
“What if I wasn’t?”
Lestrade shakes his head. “I don’t believe that for a moment, but you know what? You could - you could be as ordinary as the next man, and I wouldn’t care. You would still be you, and I’d be me, and we’d still have whatever this has ever been. Okay?”
“I’m sorry,” Sherlock whispers suddenly, and Lestrade is so surprised by the fact that the words have sincerely graced Sherlock’s lips that he doesn’t think to ask whether the other man is apologizing for the trouble he’s caused or for what tomorrow will bring.
“It’s fine,” he assures anyway.
“It is. It’s always fine.” Lestrade draws a deep breath. “Whatever you’ve done - whatever you’re going to do - it’s fine.”
Sherlock stares at him; in the darkness, Lestrade can only faintly make out his eyes. But Sherlock has always been unreadable to him and the gaze tells him nothing.
Sherlock presses on Lestrade’s shoulder until he acquiesces and lies back against the pillows. He leans over Lestrade, planting his knees on either side of Lestrade’s hips and pressing his palms into the mattress by the older man’s shoulders. He ducks his head and touches his lips to the patch of skin just below Lestrade’s ear, teasing it with tiny, searing flicks of his tongue; Lestrade groans and tilts his head, allowing Sherlock better access.
“Not that I don’t appreciate this,” Lestrade says in a rough voice as Sherlock moves to trail open-mouthed kisses along his jaw, his lips catching on the stubble, “but I’m not thirty anymore, sunshine. I don’t think I could get it up again tonight if I wanted. Which - which I do. Very - ah - very much so.”
“I know,” Sherlock murmurs, and he’s moved to Lestrade’s neck now. He sucks a mark into the flesh where it meets his shoulder, working the skin with teeth and lips until blood pools beneath the surface, and then soothing the newly-formed bruise with his tongue. “I’m cataloguing.”
Lestrade, who has buried a hand in Sherlock’s hair, partly to stroke his scalp and mostly to urge him on, stills his movements. “Sorry?”
Sherlock lifts his head, peering at him with those eyes that hold too many secrets. “I want to know you, Lestrade.” He brushes calloused fingertips over Lestrade’s lips. “Every mark. Every scar. Every - every expression you’re capable of. What sound you make when I do this -” He drops onto one elbow and scrapes his teeth lightly over one of Lestrade’s nipples while he teases the other with his free hand, running fingernails over it until it tightens into a hard nub. Lestrade gasps and arches against the wet heat of Sherlock’s mouth, his cock giving a valiant twitch of interest. And just as quickly, Sherlock pulls away, looming over Lestrade once again.
“There’s not enough time in one night for all of that,” Lestrade tells him, breathless.
The silence lingers for a beat too long before Sherlock says, “There has to be.”
Sherlock’s eyes flick over his face.
“‘God gave us memory,’” he says at length and with uncharacteristic reverence, “‘so that we might have roses in December.’”
Lestrade feels a twinge in his gut. He dredges the rest of the words from some distant memory, one that is coloured by the musty smell of a yellowing book; the crinkle of a delicate page; dust motes in the air. He puts a finger under Sherlock’s chin and brushes his thumb over the bruised lips, murmuring, “‘The people I have cared for most, and who have seemed most worth caring for, have been very simple folk.’”
“You aren’t simple.”
“And you don’t believe in God.”
“No,” Sherlock agrees. He places his hand on Lestrade’s sternum; Lestrade covers it with his own. “I believe in what I can see, and what I can know.”
“You aren’t the only one, sunshine,” Lestrade says earnestly. “I believe in you, Sherlock Holmes. Don’t you ever make the mistake of doubting that.”
Sherlock is gone when Lestrade wakes just before dawn, and all evidence of his having been there in the first place has similarly vanished. The bed is cold and no longer holds his shape; his scent doesn’t linger on the pillow. Lestrade props himself up on his elbows, blinking the sleep from his mind and wondering if last night had been a particularly vivid, exhaustion-induced dream.
No , his protesting muscles scream at him as he pushes himself out of bed. No, it was most certainly not a fabrication.
The window is open and a cool breeze filters through, carrying with it the scent of the rushing dawn and the promise of a beautiful summer’s day. Lestrade pauses on his way to the shower, breathing in the tang of morning, his heart slipping out of sync even though he can’t pinpoint a specific reason for his unease. His mobile is quiet; traffic is moving smoothly on the streets below; the birds are starting to wake; Sherlock is about to do something stupid. It’s an ordinary morning.
When evening falls hours later, Sherlock’s body is cooling on a slab at Bart’s. John is holed up in Baker Street with Sarah Sawyer watching over him; Lestrade has sequestered himself inside his rapidly darkening office. The Yard is reeling from the abruptness of Sherlock’s departure, so there is a lull in the barrage of questions and phone calls. It’s a brief reprieve; the inquiries and investigation will resume before the week is out.
But he’s alone for the moment, having waved off Donovan’s concern and sent his hovering team home for the day. He sinks to his knees, his legs giving way as exhaustion makes itself brutally known. And there, on the floor, unsure as to whether the strangled noise that rips itself from his throat is a laugh or a sob (or both), he pulls out his mobile and types a final message to a man who will never read it.
To die would be an awfully big adventure.