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THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF JOHN WATSON

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 John crouches over the latest victim, his hands in blue latex gloves poking at rapidly cooling flesh. Two med techs hover uncertainly in the background, mutually questioning their presence at what has clearly become amateur hour. They look from John Watson's absorbed form to D.I. Lestrade, back to Watson again. They look at each other, eyebrows raised. They are confused, impatient and not a little indignant. Who is this so-called – did Lestrade call him a Doctor?

By mutual agreement, they both avoid looking at his ridiculously tall companion, the one with the dark shock of untidy hair and the cold assessing gaze that seems to strip flesh from bones. Uncomfortable, they turn their backs, stamp their feet, blow on their fingers. Anything to keep warm in this sodding cold.

Lestrade lets them wait and wonder. They are new, just sent over, don't know their arses from a hole in the ground. God knows he needs expertise and so will take what he can get when it is offered. He is absurdly grateful to John Watson at times. His two new – puppies – have a lot to learn. This latest in a string of murders can bloody well serve as a primer course.

Christ, he thinks: Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, 101.

It's classroom time, lads,” Lestrade muses. “Do pay attention. You might learn somethingThere will be a test.”

Lestrade stands a small way off from the crime scene, in order to give the two men room to work. He watches Sherlock watch John. The detective is completely absorbed in his preoccupation with Watson. Lestrade smiles. He shoves both his hands in his pockets and rocks on his heels, trying to keep warm. It's beyond cold out here and he is literally freezing his bollocks off.

Sherlock stands over John, kitted out in what Lestrade calls his I am Sherlock Holmes and I am Amazing outfit: gloves, scarf, bloody dramatic coat, bloody black curls twisting slightly in the frigid breeze, beyond strange gray-green-blue eyes. He stares at John thoughtfully.

Lestrade glances at the detective, sees the near naked longing in his face, and feels his own cheeks burn over knowing this about Sherlock and John. He glances away. After all, he has no wish to intrude. Well, not much. But a tiny bit of him is just a little, envious. He looks back at Watson. John's hair, normally a light sandy shade, glows in the thin afternoon sunshine. 

He looks ten years younger in this light,” Lestrade thinks.

Lestrade, a man totally comfortable with his sexuality and at home in his skin, can see these days just what he thinks Sherlock sees in this quiet ex-Army bloke. Besides the obvious, that is. Loyalty, intelligence, and a calm, steady presence notwithstanding, there is so much more to John Watson and it's not unpleasant to spend a little time listing his attributes.

Lestrade purses his lips, and begins to casually catalogue the good Doctor. Sherlock would be shocked out of his skin to discover he is not the only man who does this to John. And after being shocked, he would probably feel compelled to choke the living shite out of Lestrade for daring to think of Watson, his Watson.

Lestrade, of course, will never tell him.

"Doctor John Watson," Lestrade muses. “Soldier, doctor, loyal companion to the world's only consulting detective. Hell, he appears to have put himself completely at the disposal of said detective. And seems to be delighted with his decision."

Professionalism, dedication to his calling, the ability to become completely absorbed in the moment, an ex-soldier with a deadly trigger finger, crack shot.”

(Lestrade, only slightly at sea regarding that case with the two pills and the dead cabbie, had gone home afterwards, had a drink, pieced together the evening's events, remembered the odd way Sherlock had begun to deduce the shooter, then abruptly told Lestrade to "Just forget all that." Lestrade, mentally following the events to their logical conclusion, realized that the lone gunman they were looking for had assuredly been standing a few feet away the entire time, hands clasped behind his back at parade rest, watching the procedures, watching Sherlock.)

“John Watson,” thinks Lestrade, "is affable, attractive, 5' 7", with a firmly muscled, compact body, a flat stomach, slim profile. (Yes, Lestrade does notice these things.) John Watson has an open face with premature frown lines and dark blue eyes. John Watson has an endearing boyish grin and a warm, self-deprecating sunny smile. John Watson has a generous, friendly nature.”

Friday evenings, Lestrade meets his team at a local pub, where they are often joined by other Yarders. More often than not, John joins them. The doctor always buys a round, has a ready arsenal of frankly horrifyingly bawdy stories which he proceeds to tell with glee and to the utter enjoyment of those around.  Watson giggles -- giggles -- as the jokes fly fast and furious. Everyone likes JohnIndeed, Lestrade cannot think of a single person who doesn't like John, once they meet him.

He can think of one person, at least, who appears to need John - the way you need oxygen or food.

John Watson has rapidly become the unknown, completely unexpected variable who never varies, in the universe known as Holmes.

Lestrade thinks Sherlock is a damn lucky man.

He thinks of what a good influence the Army doctor has been on Sherlock, how much more steady Sherlock is these days, often more approachable, more ready to listen to the viewpoint of others. Frequently calmer. Obviously saner.

Watching John, Lestrade can't help remembering a much younger Sherlock, over five years earlier, before he had yet to become himself, before John.

He sees a Sherlock painfully young, incredibly awkward, not at all comfortable in his skin, a heart-breaking man-child with a wild dizzying intellect, desperate to prove itself. He remembers a rawly beautiful Sherlock, all elbows and knees and wild hair and equally wild emotional upswings. An unstoppable mercurial force, relying on constant mental stimulation in order to be able to function, to interact with those who venture into his orbit.

A genius with a mind like quicksilver… who Lestrade finds one early morning lying curled up on the floor of his filthy flat, not moving, barely breathing, oh so nearly dead from a cocaine overdose.

His lungs had stopped functioning.

And his heart -

A frantic call for an ambulance and then Lestrade is straddling Sherlock, attempting to breathe life into his lungs, pound it into his chest. If Sherlock Holmes lives, Lestrade vows, hands pounding and pounding and pounding against the painfully thin chest, if he lives, he will take this marvel in hand, force him to give up the drug cocktails, the cocaine, the morphine and whatever else he is doing to destroy himself, and he will help him to develop those incredible deductive abilities he has demonstrated. And maybe, just maybe, Sherlock Holmes will live to amaze them all one day.

Sherlock lives.

He accepts Lestrade's challenge and makes a valiant effort to remain clean and drug-free. He accepts because Lestrade has promised him cases, real honest to God cases to work on, provided he stays clean. He accepts it and manages it – somehow – with only the occasional minor relapse, but Lestrade can tell that every week Sherlock doesn't drug himself into a coma is a week bought by the promise of the challenge, the puzzle, the mental stimulation that Lestrade provides. He knows that Sherlock is clean not because of anything Lestrade has done.

Lestrade is not, himself, the distraction.

And he can live with that, Lestrade told himself at the time. After all, the entire point of the exercise was to save Sherlock's life. Not become his bloody mentor.

But all of that was before John Watson.

Lestrade knows it doesn't take a genius to figure out that John is better for Sherlock than anything or anyone he could ever have imagined for the detective. Better for Sherlock than he, Lestrade, even was. John Watson is a calm, steadying influence, a solid, moral presence in Sherlock's mad world. He is strength and patience and a deadly trigger finger; he is cups of tea, midnight takeaway, warm jumpers. He provides the fulcrum, the pivot point that Sherlock Holmes uses to anchor himself so he does not go spinning off into the void.

Lestrade has not seen Sherlock lose himself once since John came into his life.

He is absurdly grateful to John for that.

The fact that John is obviously besotted with Sherlock, goes without saying. But now Lestrade is beginning to realize that the attraction appears to go both ways.

Lestrade feels not one moment of sorrow that Sherlock has become a better man because of John's influence and not necessarily because of Lestrade's. He is not a devious man, nor a vain one. Indeed, he has always had Sherlock's best interests at heart and is extremely satisfied that Sherlock has this good man in his life.

He is frankly delighted for Sherlock and sometimes can't help but wonder if the detective even knows what he has in John.

Somehow he doubts it. Sherlock can be remarkably dense about some things.

After a few words with John, Sherlock wanders over to stand next to Lestrade. Both men watch John work.

"Another overdose victim," Sherlock says quietly. "He was unconscious when the drug cocktail was administered. John took samples for a tox screen."

Lestrade nods. He suspected as much but it's comforting to have the Doctor confirm his initial suspicions.

Lestrade is never sure where what he says next comes from. Maybe he feels the need to fill the silence while they wait. Maybe it's just that some things need to be said and this one has waited long enough.

"He's good for you, ya know, your Army Doctor. You're – better - with John."

He wants to add "and not so daft." But he doesn't.

His breath huffs out in the frigid evening air. He glances at the tall man standing next to him.

Lestrade waits for Sherlock's snide reply, waits for Sherlock to tell him to "piss off" or to glance at him pityingly and pretend that he doesn't know what the DI is talking about.

Sherlock, who has not once taken his eyes off John's back, only sighs. His deep baritone voice is a quiet murmur in Lestrade's ear.

"Don't you think I know that? That I'm aware he - I owe him everything, Greg. Everything."

Lestrade is nearly shocked out of his socks. Sherlock's tone is one of resigned acceptance tinged with wonder. There is also a little amused exasperation in there, as well, Lestrade thinks.

He clears his throat.

"Uh, okay . That was unexpected. I didn't think you —"

"Greg, Donovan's observations aside, I am not patently stupid."

Sherlock glances at Greg Lestrade, raises one perfect eyebrow mockingly.

“Ah, there he is,” thinks Lestrade.)

Sherlock turns back to watch as John, his examination apparently complete, begins to peel off the latex gloves. He will try to stand in a moment and Sherlock knows his friend has been crouching over the body too long in the cold, that there is a good chance his leg will rebel and buckle under him.

"Excuse me," Sherlock murmurs quietly.

He quickly goes to stand by the doctor, extends a hand and gently pulls Watson to his feet. The detective looks down at the ex-Army doctor, that same miraculous eyebrow raised in inquiry. John Watson looks up at his friend and gives a quick nod.

Sherlock has a half foot on John but he automatically leans in and John, without thinking, tilts his head slightly in order to meet Sherlock's eyes. They have long ago figured out this height thing and do not let it faze them. John begins to talk quietly. Sherlock replies.

Both men turn to look at Lestrade, to pull him into their circle. As Lestrade walks toward them, they come over to meet him, still discussing the case. The two med techs, immediately crouch over the body to begin their proper examination. They just want to get on with it, get out of this freaking cold.

Lestrade writes down John's observations, his head nodding as he listens to the doctor's analysis of the body's condition.

Sherlock adds his observations of the crime scene and Lestrade thinks, not for the first time, “Brilliant.”

But Sherlock appears bored. Or thoughtful. Hard to figure which sometimes, the DI thinks.

The two men wish him a good afternoon and as they walk off, Lestrade watches them go. He sighs and turns back to the stiff and his two raw techs. He's going to be a stiff himself if he doesn't get out of this sodding cold.

In the taxi, on their way back to Baker Street, John attempts to get comfortable. His shoulder is aching abominably and his leg damned well hurtsHe shifts around in his seat.

Sherlock adjusts his own position, puts his left arm around John and gently pulls the doctor against his side. John's muscles loosen and he leans against Sherlock, letting his head fall on the detectives shoulder. He sighs. Imperceptible, but Sherlock hears it.

"John?"

"Hmm?" John appears tired, more tired than he should be given that it's just early evening, not dark yet, and he didn't have a shift at the surgery that morning. Perhaps the intense cold is causing his shoulder to ache. Sherlock suspects this is the case but knows John will not complain.

"What is it?" Sherlock speaks quietly against John's dark blonde hair, his breath warm on John's neck.

John considers.

"It's just these cases. These overdoses. Each victim was injected after he was first rendered unconscious. I guess I just don't understand what kind of sick bastard –" He breaks off suddenly. "It's – disturbing."

He sighs again and shrugs. "I don't understand the motivation there but hopefully, you can sort it all out."

Silently, Sherlock agrees with him. But the detective can't help but think of another young man, one who frequently – deliberately, and with malice aforethought – did drug himself unconscious on a fairly regular basis. That he no longer feels the need for that sort of stimulus, well, that's something, isn't it?

The parallel between that young man and these cases does not escape him. He imagines it has not escaped Lestrade either.

He says none of these things to John.

John leans against the detective, inhaling Sherlock's particular scent: spicy aftershave, expensive wool, danger, and stares out of the taxi window. They are on the opposite side of London, at least an hour's drive from Baker Street and he should be horrified at the thought of the taxi fare but he cannot be bothered to think about it right now.

John is tired. He's been so damned tired for so long, he can't remember what it feels like not to be this way. He fights sleep, but it's a battle.

John is grateful for Sherlock's unnatural quiet. He can use the peace. The string of forced overdoses has his nerves on edge.

These cases. Drug overdoses. John muses on the few hints Lestrade has thrown out about a younger, drugged Sherlock, a drugged and nearly dead Sherlock, by the time Lestrade found him those years back. The similarity between that Sherlock and these murders does not escape him.

For his part, Sherlock frowns slightly and wonders, not for the first time that day, what has his friend so preoccupied and where the near constant exhaustion comes from.

Sherlock takes John's right hand in his left and intertwines their fingers. Neither one of them spares a thought for the cabbie. They have ceased caring about stupid things like that months ago. He remains silent, watching the scenery out the window, his quicksilver mind sorting through facts, sifting the data he has managed to glean, so far, about these murders.

Sherlock is achingly grateful for John Watson's presence. But he wishes John could sleep, if only for a little while. God knows he appears to need the rest.

John finally shuts his eyes. His fingers go slack in Sherlock's grip.

"Good," thinks Sherlock.

When they finally arrive at Baker Street, Sherlock murmurs to the cabbie to just keep driving for a while. He is determined to give John this much-needed rest and if it means taking it on the chin with an exorbitant taxi fare, then so be it.

He does not remove his arm from around John Watson's shoulder. Some things are just too good to stop doing.

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