Calvin was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the living room, playing with his set of toy cars while Lestrade was occupied in the kitchen, working on some reports while he waited for dinner to finish cooking. He didn’t often have Calvin over during the week, but John was at work and Sherlock had called him in a rush earlier in the afternoon, vague and demanding, needing someone to watch Calvin for a few hours. Luckily, it had been Lestrade’s day off.
“If you had to choose, would you choose him?”
“Say again, sport?” Lestrade asked, glancing up from his laptop. The timer on his mobile went off, and he got up to check on the food while Calvin contemplated his response.
“If you had to choose,” Calvin said at last, “between Jack and me. Who would you pick?”
Lestrade’s insides shrank and he gripped the edge of the counter, knuckles going white as the room around him shifted. He had to swallow several times past a dry throat before he could formulate a response. He kept his eyes fixed firmly on the pot of boiling water as he said, haltingly, “It... doesn’t work like that, bud.”
“But if it did.”
“Daddy said you would pick Jack.”
Lestrade’s stomach plummeted.
Oh, hell, Sherlock.
“He said that you love me, but you love your son more. And that you want him back.”
“That’s not how it works,” Lestrade repeated dully. He set aside the spoon and turned down the burner on the stove until it was little more than a simmer. He brushed his hands on his trousers and walked into the other room, ignoring his protesting knees as he took a seat on the rug next to Calvin. The boy looked up at him, curious.
“Yes, I miss my son,” Lestrade said quietly, opening his arms. Calvin went without resistance, curling up happily in his lap. Lestrade smoothed down his fine hair absently. “And I love him; very much. I wish I could have him back, and sometimes I still get sad about it.”
And wasn’t that the understatement of the year, but Calvin was not yet able to comprehend such layers of grief.
“So you want him instead of me.”
Lestrade hugged Calvin to his chest, heart pounding as two little fists dug into his shirt.
Just like Jack.
“No, my beautiful boy,” he muttered into the blonde mop of hair, ignoring the twinge in his chest as the words left his lips. “No, I wouldn’t trade you for anything.”
“But don’t you love him?”
“Yeah, ‘course I do,” Lestrade said gruffly. “I love him very much, even though he’s not here anymore. And I love you, too. Okay?”
“Okay,” Calvin agreed readily.
“Good,” Lestrade said, dropping a kiss onto the top of his head. “Now, why don’t you show me what you’ve been building over here?”
Calvin scooted over to the car track and happily started outlining everything he had been working on while their dinner finished cooking. Lestrade smiled and nodded at the appropriate places, fighting to keep his mind on the present even as Calvin’s innocent question burned in his ears for the rest of the night.
“Is Sherlock around?” Lestrade asked later that evening when he dropped Calvin off at home. John had arrived back only moments before them from work; he was still in the process of tugging off his shoes.
“He’s upstairs changing,” John said as Calvin tore past him and bounded into his room. “One of his experiments went wrong - again - and ruined his shirt. No burns this time, though, thankfully.”
“Ah, well. D’you mind if I wait for him here? I need a word.”
“Oh, God.” John looked horrified. “What’s he done now?”
Lestrade wished he could reassure him, and stole a glance around the corner to ensure that Calvin’s door was still shut.
“He told your son that, if given the choice, I would want Jack back and for him not to have existed,” Lestrade confided in a low voice.
John sucked a sharp breath, expression changing at once from concerned to murderous.
“I’ll kill him,” he muttered. “I will absolutely - good God, what kind of man says that to a child?”
“Sherlock,” Lestrade answered. “And it’s fine - well, I mean, it’s not, but I don’t think he meant any malice by it. I just - need to set him straight about a few things. And before you ask, I told Calvin I wouldn’t trade him for anything.”
“Thank you,” John breathed. “Let me just - here - Sherlock!”
He moved past Lestrade to call up the stairs.
“Busy!” Sherlock called back.
“Too damn bad. Get your skinny arse down here.”
“John,” Sherlock hissed, flying down the stairs, still in the process of buttoning his cuffs. “I thought we weren’t to say that in front of -”
“He’s in his room; he can’t hear a thing.” John jerked his head at Lestrade. “He needs to talk to you.”
With that, John turned stiffly on his heel and strode into the kitchen. Lestrade turned to Sherlock, who was staring dumbly after his husband.
“Let’s take a walk, yeah?” Lestrade prodded.
Sherlock, surprisingly, didn’t protest, and followed Lestrade down the stairs and out into the warm night.
The walked in silence for a time, the final rays of the blazing evening sun making the air around them thick and oppressive. Lestrade took advantage of the first low wall they came across, taking a seat on the warm bricks as the sweat-slicked skin on his back made his shirt cling uncomfortably to his spine. Sherlock hovered nearby, hands in his pockets, shifting his weight from foot to foot. His face was flushed with the heat, though he made no concessions to the temperature. He didn’t meet Lestrade’s gaze, either; Lestrade knew he would be the one to break the silence if it was to be broken at all.
“How’s the writing coming?” he asked after several long moments.
“Well,” Sherlock answered shortly.
Lestrade ran his eyes over Sherlock for a moment before turning to look at the park across from them. He had lost a dangerous amount of weight since Lestrade had seen him last - nearly five weeks ago, now. His already-prominent cheekbones appeared as though they might break through the translucent skin, and his eyes sat in deep hollows in his face.
“Things have been all right?” Lestrade ventured.
Sherlock let out an impatient breath. “Lestrade, you know how I despise it when you preface your conversations with idle talk. Get to the point, please.”
That was the point, unfortunately, but Lestrade resisted saying as much just yet. Much had changed since Sherlock’s near-death in Russia. He had, for all intents and purposes, quit the work. He had taken down the website and stopped taking on cases with the Met. He had even dropped the majority of his private clients’ cases, except for the occasional robbery or love affair. Dull, mundane, boring, predictable. That’s all he would accept nowadays, and when he wasn’t working on those little cases he was writing. He spent a good deal of time shut up in Baker Street, working on articles, getting a few on track for publishing.
And it was this transition into domesticity, this attempt of Sherlock’s to become something that he was not, that had Lestrade fearing for his mind.
“You told Cal I’d rather have Jack around than him,” Lestrade said finally, seeing no other way to broach the subject except the direct.
Sherlock snorted. “That’s what this is about? Lestrade, I didn’t think you to be the type to want me to lie to my child.”
“It’s not - Sherlock, this is very Not Good. You can’t go around telling Cal I don’t want him around. You don’t do that to a seven-year-old. Hell, you don’t do that to a twenty-seven-year-old. He deserves to know he’s loved. And wanted. He’s done nothing wrong.”
Sherlock frowned. “I never said he wasn’t wanted, Lestrade.”
“You may as well have.” Lestrade pulled out a packet of cigarettes from his top pocket.
“I thought you’d given it up.”
“I have,” Lestrade said. He offered the packet to Sherlock, who appeared to consider it a moment before shaking his head. Lestrade nodded in approval. “Good man.”
He lit his cigarette and took a pull before speaking again. “D’you remember that conversation we had, back when Cal was a baby?”
“We had many conversations back then, Lestrade.” Sherlock finally sat next to him on the wall.
“Yeah, right, true. The one where you wanted to know if I resented you - resented Cal.” He drew in a deep breath through his nose. “I told you that some things were better off left unsaid. I don’t know if that’s right or not, and I don’t know if this is, but I’m going to do it anyway.
“Yes, it bothers me that you have a child and I don’t. It bothers me that I lost Jack and, subsequently, my wife. It bothers me that every year Cal grows bigger; stronger, while Jack... rots in a grave that wasn’t meant to be his.” Lestrade drew a deep breath. “And sometimes... sometimes I find myself hating you for that, because you will never know what this is like.”
Sherlock stiffened beside him. Lestrade paused, taking another pull on his cigarette, holding it between trembling fingers. “But sunshine, that doesn’t give you the right to tell your child I would rather have mine back, because it doesn't work like that. You know better than to indulge in might-have-beens. That isn’t like you.”
“So you would rather have Jack back,” Sherlock pressed, “and for Cal to be gone.”
“Those are two situations that won’t happen, Sherlock,” Lestrade said furiously, fingers clamping hard around the cigarette and brows snapping together in a deep frown. “I can’t say.”
“Can’t say, or won’t say?” Sherlock countered.
“Christ,” Lestrade swore. “What the hell has gotten into you, hey? Why did I just suddenly become the bad guy?”
“I don’t understand,” Sherlock hissed finally, running his fingers through wild hair, “how you can separate your feelings so easily.”
“I don’t follow.”
“You love Jack, and yet you also love Cal, or have at least said as much on a number of occasions. I don’t - I can’t understand how both are possible. How can you not resent Cal for existing?” Sherlock grunted in frustration and hung his head, hands dangling between his thighs. “I would.”
“If our situations were reversed, you mean?” Lestrade dropped the cigarette on the ground and stubbed it out with his foot, all of his anger melting away as the intensity of Sherlock’s words hit him. He rested his arms on his thighs and laced his fingers together, turning his gaze to the park across from them. “I love your son, Sherlock; that’s not a lie. I love him with all that I am. But it’s a different kind of love than what I feel for Jack. No less; just different. That is possible, you know.”
“I don’t know that I could do that,” Sherlock muttered. “I don’t know how it’s possible. Calvin is everything, Lestrade. He - there is no one and nothing more important.”
“To you, yes,” Lestrade said gently. “And you might not be able to do the same, should our roles have been switched. That might not be possible for you; that’s fine. But not everyone is you, Sherlock, and I need you to believe me when I tell you how much I care for your son - or when I tell him that. Even if you don’t understand it. There are some things in this world, like it or not, that you’re never going to get.”
“I don’t -” Sherlock scowled at the horizon. “I don’t want to lie to him, Lestrade. Not about this. He...should know that your feelings aren’t sincere.”
“That’s - Sherlock, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s not that they aren’t sincere. That isn’t the point at all.”
“What’s the point, then?”
“That it’s useless to try to play this game of what if. People only end up getting hurt in the end. I’m never going to have to make that choice, so why even bring it up? I love Cal, and nothing will stop me from doing so. I love Jack as well. One I have; one I’m never going to see again. It upsets me that Jack’s dead; I’m grateful beyond words and so very thankful that Cal is in my life. Do you see?”
“No,” Sherlock admitted. Lestrade laid a hand on his shoulder, squeezed, and withdrew.
“Be that as it may, even if you don’t - can’t - understand this, Cal needs to.” Lestrade contemplated reaching for another cigarette. Instead, he twisted his fingers together and added, “Please don’t tell my godson that I don’t love him, or ever insinuate that I think of him somehow as something less because he isn’t my natural son. You of all people should know that blood doesn’t determine one’s emotions. I’d die for that child, Sherlock, and then some.”
Sherlock stiffened. “I of all people?”
“Don’t,” Lestrade said severely. “You know what I mean by that.”
“I’m not certain I do,” Sherlock snapped.
“You love your son, even though he’s not yours biologically. Why am I incapable of the same?” Lestrade returned heatedly. “Are you implying that the past seven years have been a lie? Or, hell, the past seventeen? How dare you. Don’t fucking pretend like everything that’s happened has been fake. I deserve better. So do you, for that matter.”
Sherlock appeared to shrink at Lestrade’s words. He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs, shoulders slumping and back curving as he curled in on himself. It was as though all the fight had drained from his limbs, leaving him a shell of his former self.
Or, Lestrade realized as he took in the sharp cheekbones and bruised eyes once again, perhaps there was another agent in play here.
A quiet, “No,” slipped, unbidden, from his lips. From the way Sherlock started beside him, he may as well have shouted the word.
“Don’t do this to me, Sherlock,” Lestrade said weakly, mind reeling as the pieces fell into place. He raked his eyes over Sherlock’s thin frame and then tore them away just as quickly, bile building in the back of his throat. He knew what that profile - what that look in Sherlock’s eyes - meant. Lestrade swallowed hard and said, in as steady a voice as he could manage, “I lost Jack. I can’t handle Calvin drifting away as well, especially - especially when it looks like I’m losing you, too.”
Sherlock’s voice was wary; a far cry from his earlier fury. “What do you mean, losing me?”
A wave of hot anger surged through his chest at Sherlock’s disbelieving words, and Lestrade fought to keep it from bubbling over. Anger at Sherlock for his feigned innocence; his thinking that he could pull one over on Lestrade; his turning to the drugs before his family. But there was also an underlying current of fury that was directed inward, because Lestrade had wanted so badly for everything to be all right. He had thought that finally, finally, they had conquered the boredom and found Sherlock his niche.
“I saw your pupils right before we left the flat tonight,” Lestrade said through gritted teeth. “It’s an evening in the middle of summer, and yet you’ve kept your sleeves rolled down all this time. Not to mention the fact that you look like a walking skeleton. Might’ve taken me longer than it should have to put it all together, but I’m not a fool, Sherlock.”
He blew out a furious breath through his nose before voicing one of his deepest fears. “How long’ve you been getting high?”
Sherlock jerked abruptly, moving to leave; Lestrade snatched his wrist, hauling him back. They still didn’t face one another, just sat on the wall and stared straight ahead.
“I know you’re trying to change,” Lestrade said stiffly. “I know that you and John had a scare with the kidnapping case. Hell, I had a scare. But sometimes simply wanting to change is enough, Sherlock. You can’t scale back your work like this; it’s killing you. For God’s sake, did you even think about Calvin?”
“Of course I thought about him!” Sherlock snapped. “He is all I think about, Lestrade.”
“Is that why you wanted me to take him this afternoon, then?” Lestrade asked furiously. “John wasn’t home, and you thought it would be the perfect opportunity to shoot up. Jesus.”
“I called you,” Sherlock forced out through clenched teeth, “because John wasn’t home and I couldn’t - fuck, Greg, I was going to slip and I didn’t want Cal around when it happened!”
Lestrade swallowed hard, the fight forced out of him by Sherlock’s desperation.
“Sherlock, I am begging you,” he said, turning abruptly to face him, “stop this. Come back to the Yard; go back to taking private clients. Put your website back up. You cannot keep existing like this. It’s only been a few months; you can’t go on like this for the rest of your life.”
Sherlock’s eyes were red, bloodshot, and Lestrade didn’t know if it was from the drugs or the emotions he fought so hard not to possess. “I can’t do that to John and Calvin again -”
“And you can’t quit the work altogether. So compromise. But for the love of God, get rid of the drugs. However you need to - if that means taking on more cases, then do it. Because I promise you, if John finds out by accident - if you slip up and come home high one night while Calvin’s home - he will leave you. And then you really would lose your son. Don’t underestimate that husband of yours.”
“That’s not how this is supposed to work,” Sherlock said in distress, resting his elbows on his knees and leaning forward to run trembling fingers through his hair. “This was supposed to keep them around, not drive them away!”
“Sherlock, you can’t change,” Lestrade said desperately, tired of the refrain he had been repeating for years. “You’ve been through this before. John knows there are things you can’t do; he accepts this. He has accepted it. He knew the risks that came inherent with your lifestyle, and he agreed to marry you and have a child with you anyway. He wasn’t deterred; it’s worth it, to him. Why can’t you see that?”
“Because I don’t want to be this way!” Sherlock exploded at him. “I don’t - not anymore. Circumstances have changed, and why can’t I change with them?”
He looked so distraught that Lestrade did the only thing he could think of - the one thing he had not felt the need to do in years. He turned sideways on the wall and gathered Sherlock’s slight form into his arms, ignoring the weak sound of protest.
“Cal’s so lucky to have you as a father,” he said softly. “You know that, right? You don’t need to change. You’re just dad to him, and you always will be. He loves you for it.”
“I can’t be what he needs.”
“He needs a parent who will love him. You can’t guarantee anything more than that. You don’t know that you’ll always be alive for him. But you will always love him.”
“This is maddening, Greg,” Sherlock whispered into his shirt. “I am suffocating. I can’t - my mind is rotting and I - why aren’t they enough? Why can’t it ever be enough for me?”
“Because that’s not how it works,” Lestrade said, arms tightening reflexively around Sherlock. “That’s not how it works for you. This is the hand you’ve been dealt, and you can’t change it.”
“I want to.”
It’d been years since Lestrade heard Sherlock’s voice sound so small.
“I know.” Lestrade sighed. “Fucking hell, lad. Why did you let it get so bad?” And then, in a soft voice, “And why didn’t we notice?”
He received no answer, not that he’d been expecting one, and finally drew back from Sherlock.
“I’ll get you back to Baker Street,” he said softly. “I want you to get rid of the drugs, however you need to. If you think giving them to me is best, then that’s fine. Whatever you need to do. You’re going to come into the Yard tomorrow morning, first thing, and work on a couple of cold cases for me. Next time we have a murder, I’m bringing you in on it - if I have to drive out here and force you into the car to do it, then so be it. We need to get you working again.”
“Are you going to tell John?”
Lestrade heaved a sigh as Sherlock tried very hard to avoid his gaze and asked, “Are you?”
“S’not really my place,” Lestrade said at last. “If he asks - yes. I will. But it’d be better coming from you.”
Sherlock’s lips disappeared into a thin line; he looked horrified at the idea. “I can’t.”
“You will,” Lestrade snapped, suddenly furious again. “Don’t you dare keep this from him. You are going to tell him. You’ll make it worse for yourself if he has to find out on his own; you know you will.”
Sherlock gave no sign that he had heard the words. Lestrade reached out and squeezed his wrist until Sherlock finally turned to look at him.
“If it gets bad - if it feels like you’re going to slip again - call me,” he said softly. “Tell John. Anything. We’ll work through this. Same as last time. Yeah? You have to trust in us, Sherlock. We're not going to abandon you."
He rubbed a hand across Sherlock’s shoulder blades and then drew him close once again. Sherlock shuddered against his chest. Lestrade held onto him as the night around them deepened, lamps flaring to life up and down the pavement when the last traces of sunlight finally disappeared beyond the horizon.
“You’ll get through this,” Lestrade whispered finally when Sherlock’s tremors started to abate. He rubbed the nape of Sherlock’s neck, an old gesture that he hadn’t employed since the years before John. He dropped his face into the mop of curls and added, as he always did, “I’ve got you, sunshine.”