"What was the number again, mate?"
"Two-two-one. Just there, on the left. Cheers." Greg Lestrade exhaled, already feeling the pinch of a headache behind his eyes. What a fucking day. What a fucking week.
He gave the cabbie a tenner, hefted his rucksack on his shoulder, and stepped onto the kerb. He looked up at that familiar door and his stomach lurched a bit. He stepped up and rang the buzzer for 221B.
A good fifteen seconds passed before the door opened. A haggard face peered at him from the darkness of the foyer.
"Hey." God, John looked like he hadn't slept in a week. Maybe he hadn't.
Guilt coiled in Greg's belly, hot and tight. He forced a smile that probably looked as fake as hell, but really, it was the best he could manage. "You've looked better, mate."
A small smile at that. "Come in."
John pushed the door open wider and stepped back. Greg followed him up the stairs in silence, up to a flat he'd been in four dozen times, had taken apart to look for illegal substances on two memorable occasions. But never like this.
"I'll put the kettle on. We'll get you sorted in a bit." John turned to the kitchen.
Greg dropped his rucksack on the sofa and looked around, not quite ready to sit yet. The flat looked different than it had done the last time he was here. It seemed to have been scrubbed of everything Sherlock, shelves and walls almost bare, the once-ever-present scientific equipment nowhere to be seen, the stacks of papers and journals and pictures and clippings apparently all packed away, hidden from view. The silence was oppressive. Greg wondered why John didn't just put on the telly for background noise.
"Um," John said, peeking out of the kitchen. He looked a bit lost. "It's one sugar and a splash of milk, right?"
Greg smiled. "Yeah, cheers." John disappeared into the kitchen again and Greg sat uncomfortably on the sofa. God, this silence only made it worse. "Thanks again for putting me up on such short notice."
John appeared around the corner again, two cups in hand. "It's no trouble. I could do with a spot of company anyway. Was she horribly pissed off at you?" He sat in a chair opposite and held out a cup.
Greg took it and shrugged. "After all the shit she's pulled, you'd think she'd be a bit more understanding." He paused to sip his tea. "But honestly, I think she was looking for an excuse. Me being disgraced in the papers was a fucking gift."
John wrapped his fingers around his cup and looked up at him. "Is it over, then?"
Greg sighed and sank back into the sofa. "Yeah." It was true, this time, he was sure of it. He was done, at any rate.
John stared into his cup. "Do you love her?"
"I did. God, I did." It was hard to process it now, how much they'd shared and lost. And for what?
"Yeah." John shifted in his chair a bit.
Greg tore his thoughts back to the present, to John's far more jagged pain. "Anyway, it's just for a few days, until I work out what to do."
"Stay as long as you like. I mean it." John looked up at him again.
Greg smiled. There were a hundred questions he wanted to ask, but now didn't seem the time. It wasn't any of his business anyway; if John wanted to tell him, he would.
"I don't want to be any trouble. God knows you've--."
"It's no trouble." John cleared his throat and returned the smile. "Enjoying your holiday from the Yard?"
Greg snorted. "More than you can imagine. That place was a nightmare after… everything, the last week. When they offered me administrative leave, I didn't even stop to think. Just said fuck yeah."
"Must be nice."
"Especially since they're still paying me, much to the chagrin of the readers of the Daily Mail." He grinned, and then caught sight of John's face and tamped it back down to a small smile. "How about you?"
John shrugged. "God, I haven't even thought that far ahead. I'm good for a couple of months, I think. We'd made a bit of money, you know, from all the cases. I suppose I'll have to get a job again." He frowned, as if he hadn't thought of it until now.
"I imagine you'd go mad otherwise."
"I went mad a long time ago. Didn't you notice?"
Greg opened his mouth, about to make a joke about the madness of living with Sherlock, but stopped himself and stared into his tea cup instead. "Yeah," he said at last. "I suppose so." He looked up again. John was watching him with clear blue eyes, and something about the expression on his face reminded Greg sharply of Sherlock. "What?"
"You've got questions. Go on, then."
Greg pursed his lips. "Why did you stay here, in this flat? I've been here all of ten minutes and it's… fucking weird, to be honest."
John didn't look away. "I'm not quite sure myself. I didn't think I could at first. I stayed with Harry for a couple of nights and…" He shrugged. "This is home, you know? Even with a huge gaping fucking hole in it, I couldn't just… I don't know."
Greg set his cup on the sofa table; the tea had gone cold. "When my dad died, I thought Mum would sell the house, find something smaller. I didn't think she could bear to live there without him. But in the end she decided to stay. Said it was her home, their home, and…" He paused and felt his cheeks warm: he'd just compared John and Sherlock's relationship to that of a long-married couple. Jesus.
John smiled and stared at his own hands. "Yeah, I suppose there's something to that."
Greg swallowed. Maybe it wasn't too far from the truth, then. He hadn't known, had never asked. It wasn't as if it was his business; John would have said if he'd wanted anyone to know. "I'm sorry."
John's smile was tight. "I know."
"I just can't stop thinking about what I could've done differently, you know? I should've--"
"No, please don't. I've had enough should've moments in the last week for a lifetime. I honestly can't bear any more of it." He swallowed and clenched his jaw, and Greg looked away.
"Of course." Greg exhaled. "Erm, the loo's through there, right?"
"Yeah. And you can… well, you can sleep wherever you like, but Sherlock's bedroom has been cleared out and the sheets are clean and… if you want, it's yours."
Greg nodded. "All right."
He pissed and washed his hands and stared at himself in the mirror for a long time. He could've taken a bedsit, or gone to stay with his sister in the country, or any number of other things, but this was where he felt he needed to be. John needed a friend right now, and Greg needed to be useful to someone. He wasn't quite sure how he was going to do that, but he was damned good at improvising.
And for now, being useful apparently meant sleeping in Sherlock's bed. It was a nice bed, truth be told, with ridiculously high thread-count sheets. He lay awake for hours, staring at the ceiling and listening to the unfamiliar sounds of Baker Street at night. The floor creaked above him and then there were footsteps on the stairs, a light on under the door. He thought about getting up, going to see if John wanted company. Not yet, though. He was an intruder. He hadn't yet earned the right to be anything more.
The light finally went off and John's footsteps receded up the stairs again. Greg closed his eyes and wondered if John had slept in this bed as well, had spent nights here, tangled in the sheets. It wasn't any of his business, but it didn't mean he wasn't curious. He turned onto his side and snuggled into the duvet. It smelled like laundry detergent; there was no hint of anything else that may have happened. It had all been wiped clean.