The first thing Lestrade asked upon stepping into the flat that afternoon was, “Bad day?”
“Why would you say that?” Sherlock growled, and then proceeded to put a bullet through the Union Jack pillow sitting on the sofa.
Lestrade flinched at the noise. “Because you’re destroying inanimate objects. Again. With a firearm I’m pretending not to notice.”
Sherlock tossed John’s gun under a pillow, appeared to think better of it, and stuck it in the cutlery drawer in the kitchen instead. Lestrade crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow at Sherlock as he came back out into the living room.
“Well, what?” Sherlock snapped. “Go away, I’m trying to think. You’re being bothersome.”
Lestrade narrowed his eyes, trying to discern what might be troubling the detective.
“When was the last time you ate?” he asked finally.
“I don’t think that’s your concern, Detective Inspector.”
“I don’t think you have a good grasp on what is and isn’t my concern. And that’s not an answer.”
“It wasn’t intended to be one.”
“I raised two kids, Sherlock, I can play this game all day if you like.”
“Oh, what do you care?” Sherlock snapped finally. He put a hand on his hip and rubbed his temple with the other, deep lines creasing his forehead.
“Do you really think that I don’t?” Lestrade said in a low voice. “C’mon. Gimme.”
He nodded to the sofa before sitting down on it, crossing his ankle over his knee and calmly meeting Sherlock’s irritated gaze. Sherlock stayed standing in the middle of the living room, his hands on his hips, stance stiff and glare steady. But then he dropped his eyes to the floor and shifted his feet. He glanced back up at Lestrade, flicked his eyes to the window, and finally said, “I can’t sleep.”
“Sorry?” Lestrade asked in surprise. Sherlock’s eyes jerked back to his face and he scowled, instantly defensive.
“You heard what I said,” he growled, folding his arms tightly across his chest. “I’m not repeating myself.”
“You usually choose not to sleep,” Lestrade pointed out. “Seem to prefer it, really.”
“Nevertheless, when I do... require it, I expect it to come. And it’s proved elusive these past few nights. Irritatingly so.”
“So what’s it been?” Lestrade asked, mentally counting back in his head. They’d wrapped a case earlier this week, and that had commanded Sherlock’s attention for three days, so... “Ninety-six hours? One-twenty?”
Sherlock rocked back on his heels. “Closer to one-twenty-five.”
Lestrade let out a low whistle. “It’s a wonder you’re still on your feet, mate.”
“I can handle this.”
“Obviously not very well.” Lestrade nodded to the space next to him on the sofa. “Have a seat.”
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“‘Cause I’m gonna help you, that’s why. Sit down.”
“I don’t require your help,” Sherlock spat distastefully.
“I think you do. And I daresay getting -” he stopped for a moment, and then grinned, “- getting children to sleep is one area I have a bit more expertise in than you do.”
Sherlock wrinkled his nose. “I’m hardly a child.”
“Could fool me, most days,” Lestrade said. “Go on then. Sit.”
Sherlock hesitated for several long moments, and the silence that reigned between them was punctuated only by the ticking of the clock on the mantel. Finally, Sherlock gave a frustrated huff of breath and paced over to the sofa. He sat down heavily next to Lestrade, arms still crossed over his chest. Lestrade tugged his elbow, and eventually Sherlock allowed himself to be pulled until he was tucked against Lestrade’s side. Lestrade then threaded his fingers through the dark curls and started to rub gentle circles into Sherlock's scalp; after a moment, Sherlock tipped his head back so that it was resting on Lestrade’s shoulder.
It wasn’t often anymore that they had moments like this, not since John had entered the picture. Lestrade couldn’t deny that every now and again he felt a pang when he looked up and saw that Sherlock’s blazing gaze wasn’t directed at him; when he saw Sherlock prance and whirl around a crime scene, putting on more of a show than usual, and for someone else. But the twinges were fleeting, kissed away by a teasing mouth or chased off by an innocuous text - need milk - that meant, for a moment, Sherlock was thinking only of him.
Sherlock needed John in a way that he didn’t need Lestrade, but it was all right, because Lestrade was there for the things John couldn’t provide - or that Sherlock simply didn’t want from him. Sherlock had seen Lestrade at his worst - after a rough case, in the same clothes he had been wearing for days, stubble gone out of control and working his way through the alcohol in his kitchen. Lestrade had, in turn, seen Sherlock through the pains of withdrawal and two relapses.
He was still here.
So was Sherlock.
It worked, Lord only knew how, and Lestrade found it best not to think of why. He accepted the constants in his life for what they were and learned long ago that it was futile to look for answers that weren’t there.
“I’ve got some case files with me,” Lestrade said at length, for though he couldn’t see Sherlock’s face directly he knew by his breathing that Sherlock hadn’t fallen asleep. “If you’d like to take a crack at them?”
“s’not legal, removing files from the Yard,” Sherlock pointed out, words slow and slightly slurred. Lestrade grinned to himself.
“Oh, come off it. When have you ever cared about protocol?” Lestrade reached over the side of the sofa to snag the files from his briefcase. He grabbed one and flipped it open with one hand. Sherlock made to snatch the photographs that accompanied it, but Lestrade held it out of reach.
“Just listen; no looking,” he commanded. “I’ll read it to you, and you’ll have to make do with the barest amount of information. That should keep that mind of yours busy, yeah? Now, close your eyes.”
“Close ‘em,” he ordered, amused, and in a moment of boldness covered Sherlock’s eyes with his hand. The detective sputtered for a moment in indignation but Lestrade held firm. “The goal of this is to make you sleep, remember? Now, let’s see. Right, we’ve got a female victim, thirty-four years of age, found dead in her flat. She had been...”
He read like this for some time, listing causes of death and victims and ages and sordid family histories. Sherlock cracked the first one in ten minutes; the second one took nearly half an hour, and his speech had started to slow considerably. By the third one, he was drifting, quickly becoming a dead weight against Lestrade’s side and on his arm. Lestrade nudged him gently, moving him off his shoulder, and coaxed him down until Sherlock’s head was resting in his lap.
Lestrade placed his hand flat on Sherlock’s chest once he was settled, feeling it rise and fall gently as Sherlock’s breathing evened out. He returned to his file, and had just come to the part about the victim’s ex-wife and her alibi when he felt cool fingers on his hand. He faltered for a moment at the unexpected touch but kept going, calmly as he could, not daring to move his hand should the movement chase Sherlock away. Light fingertips traced each of his knuckles and then trailed up his arm, memorizing each hair, freckle, and scar. Finally, Sherlock grew bold, and took Lestrade’s hand in his own, lacing their fingers together. Lestrade paused, glancing down at him; Sherlock stared up at him through clouded, bloodshot eyes. He was on the brink, now.
Lestrade set the file aside and brought his free hand to rest on top of Sherlock’s head, sliding his fingers through the unruly hair.
“Sleep,” he murmured. “I’ll stay.”