"How long have you had that cough?"
Lestrade looked round from his desultory snooping through the contents of Sherlock's desktop, startled; he hadn't heard John come up the stairs. He'd come by with some crime scene photos for Sherlock--a nice grisly double feature, husband and wife, looked like your standard murder-suicide, but Sherlock seemed convinced there was something they'd all missed on this one.
"Sorry," he said, and cleared his throat. "Mrs. Hudson let me in. Sherlock around?"
John shrugged out of his coat and hung it up. "Bart's," he said apologetically. "Could be hours. Days, possibly. How long have you had that cough? Sounds nasty."
Lestrade hadn't even been aware he'd coughed; he'd had this low-grade yuck for so long it seemed like his normal state of being at this point. "Couple of weeks," he admitted. "Can't seem to shake it. Will you skip the lecture if I promise to stop by the surgery tomorrow?"
John laughed. "If you like," he agreed. "I'll hold you to it, though. Stay for a cuppa?" He didn't wait for an answer, but headed into the kitchen, bypassing various sorts of disturbing chemical, medical, and paleontological remnants on his way as if he didn't see them at all. Lestrade supposed you had to learn to ignore a lot in a household like this. He also wasn't at all sure he wanted to drink anything that came out of a kitchen frequented by Sherlock.
"All right," he said, against his better judgment. "Milk and sugar, no eyeballs, please."
"Mmm...fresh out of eyeballs, you're in luck," John called back. "Also, fresh out of milk. As usual. Sorry. What did you come by for, anyhow? Anything particularly horrible going on?"
"Not particularly horrible, no." Lestrade followed him into the kitchen and leaned against one of the less debris-filled surfaces, feeling a bit awkward. It was odd; he hadn't spent much time around John without Sherlock and really had no idea what the man was like. Mild-mannered to the point of annoyance, he'd thought when they'd first met, several months back, but he'd come to revise his opinion. You couldn't possibly survive living with Sherlock for this long without possessing some sort of invisible steel.
Sherlock seemed to suck all the energy out of any room that he was in, though--it was hard to even see a man like John Watson when Sherlock was about. He faded right into the furniture in comparison, quiet and brown.
To break the silence more than anything, Lestrade started to ask if John knew what Sherlock was working on at Bart's, but to his chagrin he didn't get more than two words into the sentence before he had to cough again--and then again, painfully, one of the deep, wracking bouts that had been making his nights miserable lately. He turned away, holding up a hand.
"Really nasty," John said, glancing up from the teapot with a wince. "Getting better or worse over the past few days? Any fever?"
"Er...about the same, I suppose. Low-grade fever, off and on. Really, it's--"
"Nothing," John finished for him, nodding. "Yes, I know. Always is, with blokes like you. Look, you really do need to get that listened to. I've a stethoscope upstairs; get your coat and shirt off while I go fetch it."
Lestrade blinked. "Oh, that's--I mean, thanks awfully, but--"
John was already leaving the room. "Don't be an arse," he said offhandedly, turning back briefly at the door to give Lestrade a wide-eyed no-nonsense look. "I'm saving you the trip to the surgery. Coat and shirt; you can leave your vest on."
"Huh," said Lestrade, to the empty room, and then took off his coat, draping it carefully over a chair, and began unbuttoning his shirt. Definitely a touch of steel. He wondered if John bullied Sherlock this way--oh, he must do. Wondered how Sherlock took it. With a lot of spluttering, probably. The thought made him grin.
He wondered what John had meant by blokes like you.
It was unnerving having your throat membranes peered at and your neck glands palpated by someone you knew, never mind while sitting on a kitchen table next to something that might or might not be a deliberate experiment in the stages of vegetable decay. Unnerving, and oddly intimate; John Watson had never stood this close to him before, he was pretty certain, not for any length of time. Lestrade could hear him breathe. His hands were warm and dry, his expression neutrally thoughtful.
"That's quite a heart murmur you've got," John said conversationally, listening. "Congenital?"
"Had an operation when I was eight," Lestrade said resignedly. "Atrial septal defect. No problems since. Yes, I see a cardiologist yearly, yes I'm very careful."
"Except for the smoking."
"I've quit. Mostly."
"Hm." John moved the stethoscope to his back. "When was your last ECG?"
"Oh...six months ago? Seven?" Lestrade was beginning to get annoyed. "I thought this was about my cough."
"Well, lungs, heart. Bit close together. All right, deep breaths?"
John was on his second beer in front of the match when Sherlock came in later that evening in an explosion of muttered curses and damp outerwear. "Raining again, then," John observed, without taking his eyes off the screen, as his flatmate scattered wet droplets across every surface in the room.
"Brilliant deduction," Sherlock huffed. "How's Lestrade?"
John knew he shouldn't be surprised by now, but Christ he was fast. "All right," he said guardedly. "He left you some--"
"Yes, yes, I see." Sherlock moved over to the desk, picked up the photos, tossed them down again with an exclamation of disgust. "Botched robbery. Housekeeper's boyfriend. Terrible cover-up job. Why does he waste my time? So you know about the heart thing now, then."
This was too much. John set down his beer glass, punched the volume on the telly down low. "Sherlock, you can't possibly...he thinks you don't...how, how do you know about that?"
Sherlock smirked, draped himself onto the sofa, stretched his legs, and recited rapidly to the ceiling: "Crime scene photos on the desk, two tea mugs on the sideboard, your stethoscope on the table, Lestrade's been poorly for weeks. You're not an utter charlatan, so I presume even the most cursory examination would reveal the fact that he had heart surgery as a child."
Sherlock stabbed one finger upward to forestall him. "Completely obvious, always has been. Keeps himself fit, but he isn't vain about his appearance, must be for health reasons. Has to be an old habit, because he neglects his health in other ways, has a bit of a death wish and a massive morbid streak, so: childhood illness. Checks his own pulse after any exertion, rubs at his chest unconsciously whenever scarring or scar tissue are mentioned--I'm only shocked you needed a stethoscope to make the diagnosis, John, I thought your deductive abilities had come along much further than that by now. Tea?"
"Make it yourself." John chucked a throw pillow at his head, which he batted away neatly. "You're not meant to know all that. He asked me specifically not to mention it to you--not that I needed asking."
"Of course, he thinks I'd make light of it in front of his team. Doesn't want them to see him as having any weaknesses, thinks it'd undermine his authority. It'd be very easy for you to put the kettle on when you get up to use the loo and fetch yourself another beer, you know. You were just about to when I came in."
John knew better than to ask how Sherlock knew that he needed to use the loo; there were some things he was much happier not knowing. "But you haven't made light of it to his team. Or told him that you know."
"I'm not utterly insensitive." Sherlock sounded mildly offended. "Besides, I have a soft spot for Lestrade. I hope he's not seriously ill?"
"You haven't deduced his diagnosis yet?" John asked sarcastically, but he got up and put the kettle on, figuring any display of personal sensitivity on Sherlock's part ought to be rewarded somehow.
"Of course not. I'm not a mind-reader. Nor a physician."
John was gratified by the admission that his own scope of knowledge exceeded Sherlock's in some areas, even if--he suspected--it was only a shrewd attempt to disarm him through flattery. "You are aware there's such a thing as doctor-patient confidentiality, though?"
Sherlock waved a languid hand. "Irrelevant." He sat up and studied John for a moment; John folded his arms defensively, determined not to give anything away. "You're not overly concerned," Sherlock decided, flopping back down. "Fetch me my mobile on your way back from the loo, will you? It's in my inside coat pocket."
John shook his head, rubbing at the back of his neck as he left the room. He wasn't overly concerned, though he'd no idea how Sherlock could tell. He'd sent Lestrade home with some codeine tablet samples and a strong recommendation that he take the next day or two off and follow up with his own doctor if the cough didn't improve. He'd felt dreadfully guilty about the accidental revelation of Lestrade's medical history, though; even if it wasn't causing him any problems currently, it was clearly something he was sensitive about. John could understand that. He wouldn't have wanted his old scars probed by a casual work acquaintance, either.
"Kettle's whistling," Sherlock called from the next room, and John finished washing his hands and went back out, absently retrieving the mobile on his way and tossing it to the puddle of consulting detective sprawled out on the sofa.
"I wouldn't worry about it," Sherlock told him, when John handed him a mug of tea (black, three spoons of sugar). "You were only trying to be helpful; I'm sure he wouldn't have let you examine him at all if he'd really cared about you finding out."
"I'm not worried about it," John said, and turned the volume back up on the telly. "Could we change the subject, please?"
Sherlock complied. He drank his tea; he offered observations on the football players' regions of origin based on variations and anomalies in their running strides; he wandered over to his desk and began typing madly on his laptop with one hand while simultaneously texting with the other. John drank his third beer, his fourth, and switched the channel over to a Hepburn-Grant film. He was about to drowse off in his chair when Sherlock spoke again.
"He is rather attractive, isn't he?" he murmured, fingers still flying over two sets of keyboards at once, and John knew he wasn't referring to Cary Grant.
"Shut it," he warned, and closed his eyes.
Nothing happened after that. Not for ages.
Lestrade spent two days in a blissful codeine-induced coma. On the third day, he returned to the Yard to find Sherlock, with Watson in his customary point guard position at his elbow, arguing heatedly with Anderson about how long it would take to murder someone using a paperclip. They were going toe to toe at full voice, the kind of thing you just learned to wait out unless you wanted to literally throw a bucket of cold water on them; neither of them saw him walk past. Watson turned and glanced at him, gave him a small, tight, smile, then turned back to interject his opinion into the argument.
Later on, he popped his head into Lestrade's office. "You look better," he said, and Lestrade said he was, thanks, much, and John gave a crisp nod and said he was glad of it, then jogged off down the hall after Sherlock. And that was it. Nothing at all had changed.
Except that now, apparently, he was going to start noticing John Watson.
Once he'd started noticing John Watson, Lestrade couldn't stop. Sherlock was in "constantly underfoot making a nuisance of himself" mode that month, and Watson was right there with him at least half of the time. Lestrade noticed that his silences had different tones to them, that he ordered his curry extra spicy, that he'd moved past the first stages of blind Holmes-worship and was capable of expressing sharp annoyance with Sherlock when provoked, and that his left hand almost never had that tremor anymore except when he was completely exhausted.
He noticed that he himself was actively disappointed on the days Sherlock turned up at the Yard on his own, and that John had quit looking at him at all ever since that time in his kitchen, and at that point he gave up and cornered the man.
"We should go out for a beer," Lestrade told him firmly. "You and me. On our own."
John gave him one of those wide-eyed unfathomable looks that he was still figuring out how to read. "Should we?"
"Tell Sherlock you're going out on a date," Lestrade suggested, and watched John's eyebrows lift another notch or two--and then he laughed, not derisively but delightedly, and Lestrade realized he was probably already a little in over his head here.
He was almost certain John and Sherlock weren't involved--not physically, anyway; he'd have bet his life that Sherlock was still married to his work, that was his line, wasn't it? Flattered by your interest, but. He wasn't sure, though, and he liked to be sure, so he asked John point-blank, nearly as soon as they'd sat down at the bar and before he had time to lose his nerve.
John dropped his forehead onto the bar-top with a thunk.
"All right, well," said Lestrade.
"What's your story with him, then?" John asked, after he'd picked his head up and shook it, and downed half his mug at a go. "You weren't ever...?"
"Oh, no." Lestrade frowned into his drink. "He did use to stay at my flat quite a bit, though," he added. "When we first met. It was...intense. In its own way. You know."
John didn't say anything, but his ears had gone a bit red, Lestrade noticed. He remembered how it had been: like having the full force of the sun turned on you and only you, blinding and burning and brilliant. Like living with a wild animal, something exotic with claws that couldn't possibly be kept, but you were so flattered by its notice that you had to try anyway.
"I really didn't ask you out to talk about Sherlock, though," Lestrade told him.
John's eyebrows went up again at the ask you out. "No?" He was smiling a little now, and Lestrade grinned back at him, shy and giddy. This might be something, this might actually be something, he thought, feeling a sudden lift in his chest.
His mobile pinged just then, and so did John's; they both froze and looked at each other in utter horror.
When you're done canoodling,
I need assistance with a box of ears.
"Ears," John said blankly. Their mobiles pinged again, not quite in unison.
Human ears. In salt.
Romance can wait.
"He's going to drive us absolutely bloody batshit," Lestrade said in wonder.
Lestrade asked John round to his flat for their second...date, if that was really what they were doing here, and John was insanely nervous. He could gun down a man in cold blood--well, tepid blood, anyway--and giggle about it after. He could watch Sherlock take a corpse to pieces using kitchen cutlery just to prove it could be done, without more than a mild moue of revulsion over the fact that it was his kitchen cutlery.
Dating, though. Now that was tough. He hadn't really done it in a while, and had no idea how any two people ever got from Not Snogging to Snogging. Did you have to ask? Or just start right in and hope they didn't pull away and leave you puckering into empty air? He couldn't quite remember. Alcohol helped, he recalled vaguely, so he'd brought a hopeful bottle of wine with him.
Lestrade was nearly as nervous as he was, John realized as soon as he arrived and Lestrade tried to take his coat, offer him a drink, and apologise for the state of his flat all at once. This should have been reassuring, but wasn't, not entirely; John would have liked someone here to know what they were doing.
He needn't have worried, though. He went to set the wine bottle down on the kitchen counter, and when he turned back around Lestrade was right there, and the Snogging/Not-Snogging divide seemed to take care of itself without too much difficulty.
"I thought we might just get that out of the way for a start," Lestrade apologised when he pulled back a few moments later. "Been wanting to do it for ages now. You don't mind, do you?"
"Mind?" John blinked up at him. "I...No. I...actually, would you mind doing it again, as a matter of fact? I think...again might be good."
"You've got your mobile turned off?" Lestrade broke off to ask a bit later, panting slightly.
"Left it at home," John gasped. "Er...bedroom?"
"Please," Lestrade said, and kissed him again, hands sliding to John's waist, untucking his shirt. It was a while before they could break free long enough to stumble out of the kitchen and into a more appropriate setting. Though John would have been fine with doing it right there up against the butcher's block, too, he thought. It had been a long time.
It was too urgent to be awkward, over too quickly to be fantastic; apparently they'd both been starved for it. In fact it took no time at all, once they'd gotten half their clothes off and Lestrade had shoved a hand down John's trousers--almost immediately John was clenching his jaw and burying his face in Lestrade's shoulder as he came, trying to resist the urge to bite. He cupped his hand over Lestrade's cock through his trousers and found it already pulsing, dampness seeping through the cloth and onto his fingers, which was somehow the sexiest thing that had ever happened to him, he thought dizzily. He wanted to slide down and press his mouth to the spot, but--really, on the second date? a part of his brain insisted, so he held back. For now.
"Sorry," Lestrade murmured into his hair, when they'd both quit breathing so hard and could speak again, hear again.. "I mean--not sorry at all, really, but...I have to say, I have absolutely no idea where we go from here. You?"
"Nope," John said, cheerfully. He was beginning to recognise in himself a demented fondness for situations that didn't go at all as expected, and this definitely seemed to fit into that category. "Shall we do the whole thing in reverse? Drink too much, watch a film, and then indulge in some awkward small talk about our families over dinner?" He started to sit up, but Lestrade caught at his shoulder, dragging John back down half on top of him.
"I'm not done with this part yet," he said seriously, and kissed him again. His fingers traced John's collarbone, encountered scar tissue, and he pulled back to look, frankly curious. John watched his face as he took it in, and then he reached out and ran his fingers lightly down the faint, neat white line that bisected Lestrade's chest.
There were a lot of conversations they hadn't had yet.
It was very late when John went home that night, around two, and he went right up the second set of stairs to his room and shut the door. Unwound his scarf, looked in the mirror. It wouldn't have taken a genius of any kind to see what he'd been at all evening, he fairly glowed with it: flushed skin, puffy lips, stubble burn, two--no, three clearly visible bite marks on his neck and jawline.
He went back down to the sitting room and cleared his throat. Sherlock was staring at a diagram of something on the laptop screen, something with a lot of branching lines: anatomical, botanical, or architectural, John couldn't tell. He glanced briefly up at John, then went back to gazing at the screen, memorising it probably, while making a lot of notes in a code-like shorthand without looking.
"Had a nice evening, then?" Sherlock sounded faintly amused.
"I really like him, Sherlock," John said, hoping he didn't sound too defensive; he only wanted to get it out there. It wasn't as if there were any point in trying to hide it, clearly. "You're not going to be difficult about this, are you?"
"Why should I?" Sherlock's right hand never paused in its flow of hieroglyphic scribbling, and his eyes remained fixed on the screen. "I thought the two of you might get on. I've no objections, as long as it doesn't begin to interfere."
John nodded, as if this weren't a completely insane conversation to be having with his flatmate at two in the morning. "All right, then," he said finally, and went up to bed, thinking Interfere with what, exactly? for some time as he lay in the dark.
He'd had thoughts about Sherlock. Of course he had. Thoughts that, he was very certain, fell under the jurisdiction of Sherlock's Not really my area. He'd started off thinking of Lestrade as a sort of release valve, he had to admit--Lestrade had seemed an extension of Sherlock's world, a way to have him without involving him physically, perhaps.
He wasn't sure now. And he'd no idea what Sherlock really thought of it all. He suspected Sherlock might not know what Sherlock thought of it all, which was worrying. All in all, perhaps not the best background for the start of a romantic entanglement--never mind that they were all three frequently involved in situations requiring teamwork and clear-headed acuity, with loss of human lives at stake.
Par for the course, then.
John Watson fell asleep smiling.
Things progressed. None of them talked about it much to one another, but John began spending the odd night at Lestrade's place, keeping a toothbrush there. Lestrade tried not to think too much about where it was going; he was afraid of discovering that this was something he could no longer do without.
He woke one morning to find John's head resting heavily on his chest, and it took him a while to work out that John wasn't cuddling, he was listening. "Oi!" Lestrade protested, and flicked him on the ear.
"Ow, hey! What?" John sat up, wearing such a guilty expression that Lestrade knew he'd been right.
He tried to decide how annoyed to be. He didn't mind John knowing about his heart condition--John at least knew enough not to use it as an excuse to treat him like something fragile. Now that they were sleeping together, though, Lestrade didn't particularly want to feel as though he was constantly being diagnosed.
"Well?" he said finally, because John had that look he got sometimes during investigations, when he'd noticed something but didn't know how to bring it up.
"Nothing," John said. "What? Nothing. Just," he added, and then stopped again. "Well, I mean. There's still a hole? They weren't able to close it fully, when you had the operation?"
Lestrade wondered if doctors were, in general, attracted to broken and damaged things. Things they could fix. "It was the early seventies," he said finally. "They were still experimenting with patch materials. It's broken down a bit, but it's functional. It's fine. I'm fine." He was, although he'd been advised that he might very well have another operation to look forward to eventually, which he didn't see fit to mention just then. He got out of breath a bit sooner than he used to, that was all.
"So...no arrhythmia, no palpitations?" John looked as though he knew he was pushing it, but couldn't help himself, and Lestrade resisted the urge to counter by asking him what he'd dreamt about last night. There'd been yelling, not a lot, but some. He wasn't sure if John remembered.
"You could try giving me some palpitations," he suggested instead, reaching up, his fingers seeking out the back of John's neck, drawing him down. It didn't take much pressure to make John yield. Several weeks into this thing and John still seemed starved for touch, his hands restlessly trying to grasp Lestrade everywhere at once, pull him closer, closer.
"A morning exercise routine," John assented, between kisses, "is considered one of the major predictors of cardiac health." He began working at the drawstring of Lestrade's pyjama trousers, opening them, giving a little hum of satisfaction at finding him already hard, and if Lestrade had ever thought that he was getting too old to maintain this level of demand, he was more than happy to be proven wrong.
But it wasn't going to work, Lestrade thought later, a solitary and proper DI again, frowning out his office window. Not in the end, not for long. He'd watched John race around the city after Sherlock on this case or that; he'd read his blog. Lestrade had had five years to grow weary of being the occasional sidekick of a mad genius, but John was still in the first flush of it, in love with the mad rush of it all, if not with Sherlock himself. What could Lestrade have to offer him that could possibly compete with that?
Well. Certain things. Lestrade flashed back briefly to the warmth of John's belly against his face, the clutch of John's hands on his shoulders, his shuddering exhale, soft reverent curses. Breathless laughter. He shoved the memory aside, resolutely; there was no use wanting something so much if you couldn't keep it. It wasn't enough, it almost certainly wasn't going to be enough, especially not if Sherlock decided to play with the balance.
Which he did, soon enough. Lestrade came up to the Baker Street flat with John one evening, late--they'd been out, they were going back to Lestrade's place again, but John wanted to stop round and fetch a change of clothes first, and Lestrade went with him, because it was ridiculous to wait outside, and it wasn't as if he had any reason to avoid Sherlock, he did see him at the Yard all the time and after all they weren't rivals or anything, not exactly--
John made a short, horrified sound and darted across the room, going down on one knee next to the pale fallen figure on the floor. Lestrade's hand was on his mobile, already punching the first 9, but Sherlock stirred almost immediately and tried to sit up. John pushed him back down with one hand, finding his pulse with the other, speaking to him in a sharp low voice--Lestrade, still hanging back in the doorway, couldn't catch the words, but Sherlock nodded and answered him in a groggy baritone rumble, eyes closed and face ashen.
"He hasn't eaten," John glanced back to tell him, worry and disgust fighting it out in his tone. "Not in a few days probably. He's fine, I think, but..."
"Right, well, I'll let you stay here and handle that, then," Lestrade told him, and turned and walked out. If it made him look unfeeling and jealous, he told himself, it was still better than how he'd look if he stuck around to give Sherlock a hard right to the jaw, which seemed the only other alternative.
Apparently you need feeding.
he texted Sherlock the next morning, and Sherlock, slightly to his surprise, showed up.
"That was a dickish move," Lestrade informed him, first thing.
Sherlock picked up the list of specials, his pale eyes flicking back and forth over the words for much longer than was necessary. "I do frequently forget to eat," he reminded Lestrade, glancing up finally. "It's happened before. I wasn't faking, if that's what you think."
The waiter came, and Sherlock ordered: soup, steak, salad. Lestrade shook his head when his turn came. "I'm not staying," he said, and when the waiter left, he added, "I'll buy your lunch, but I don't want to sit here and have a long heart-to-heart. I'm here to say this: I'm not going to play fucking games with you over John Watson. He's yours for the taking, I'm quite sure, if you want him."
"I don't want him that way." Sherlock looked alarmed. "I thought..." He stopped and looked out the window for a moment, then went on very rapidly. "You're good for him. I thought he might be good for you, too. I only don't want him to move out. But I meant him for you, too; I thought if we could--oh, what?" he broke off in annoyance, because Lestrade's head was in his hands now.
"Sherlock, you can't just...give people to other people! And you bloody well can't do it conditionally!"
A bowl of soup was set in front of Sherlock, and he began spooning it up calmly. "I think you'll find I have," he said. "It's an elegant solution to all sorts of things, really. You're going?"
Lestrade didn't answer. He put some money down on the table and walked out.
"You haven't been out with your boyfriend in a while," Sherlock observed, apropos of nothing, a few weeks later.
John looked up from his novel, startled. He rejected the too-obvious not exactly my boyfriend and the too-confrontational what business is that of yours? and finally settled on, simply, "No. No, I haven't." He bent his head to his book again.
John pretended to be too absorbed in reading to take immediate notice. "Sorry, what?"
"Did you..." Sherlock appeared to be searching for words in a foreign-language dictionary. "...break up? Is that what you say?"
John decided to play along. Easiest that way. "Hmm. You do say that. I don't know that I'd say it in this particular case. I don't know what's going on, to be honest. He's quit calling."
"Ah," Sherlock said. There was silence for another minute or so. Then, "Have you quit calling him as well, then?"
John put down his book. "Sherlock. What is this about, may I ask? Why the sudden third degree about my private life?"
"You don't have a private life. You have me," Sherlock told him, and John wasn't sure if it was supposed to be a joke or not, but it was undoubtedly true. "And it's not the third degree. I'm making polite inquiries. This is normal behavior, surely, between..." Again the mental rifling through the foreign lexicon. "...colleagues. Flatmates. Isn't it?"
His note of uncertainty reminded John that this was, from Sherlock, a legitimate question. Possibly. He did occasionally wonder if Sherlock's total lack of emotional intelligence might not be, at least in part, a sham. It certainly seemed to let him off from a great many inconvenient social niceties--many of which he could observe, John had noticed, when it was expedient to do so.
"I think," he said carefully, "that you made it fairly clear, not so long ago, that you'd prefer it if I didn't go out with Lestrade quite so much as I had been."
Sherlock looked discomfited at this. "I never said that."
"Said? No. No, you didn't," John agreed. Went on a bloody hunger strike, yes, he didn't add.
"I only..." Sherlock got up and began to pace, picking objects up at random and putting them down again. John waited. "You could have him round here, you know," he said accusingly.
John laughed. "Oh, right. That'd go over well."
There was a flicker of something in Sherlock's eyes--hurt feelings?--but before John could be sure, Sherlock had turned away, crossing the room in three long strides. "Going out," he said. "Don't wait up."
"Sherlock, hey, I didn't mean--" John tried, but his problematic flatmate was already vanishing down the stairs in a dramatic swirl of coat.
He woke, sometime in the middle of the night, to find Sherlock crawling into bed with him.
"Oh God, what's wrong, what's going on?" he said, reaching for the bedside lamp, only about one-quarter awake. The sudden light blinded him, making his confusion even worse. "What's happened? Are you bleeding?" He reached for Sherlock, patting him down.
"No, stop." Sherlock grabbed his hands, holding them. "Stop it, John, nothing's wrong, go back to sleep." He switched off the light and pushed John back down on his pillow, then curled up next to him, spooning him. "Everything's fine," he murmured, and brushed his lips against John's neck.
John lay there wide-eyed for a moment, until he'd worked out that he was not, in fact, dreaming this, and then sat up, reaching over Sherlock to switch on the lamp again. "No, everything is not fine," he announced. "We don't do this. Or had it slipped your mind? No. Nothing slips your mind. Are you sure you don't have concussion?" As his eyes adjusted to the light, he looked carefully at Sherlock; his pupils were enormous, and he was breathing very quickly. John turned over one of his arms, gently. "Three, Sherlock? Really?"
"Five," Sherlock admitted, extending the other arm.
"Christ!" John began ripping the nicotine patches off and tossing them on the floor, no longer bothering to be gentle. "You're going to make yourself ill, you know that? What is going on?"
"I've worked it all out, though," Sherlock insisted. "I need you. You need a physical relationship. If it's not happening with you and Lestrade, it'll have to be me. It does leave Lestrade out in the cold this way, it's a flaw, I admit, but we can work on finding him someone else. Preferably someone with a medical background, he really needs keeping tabs on, but I'm sure--where are you going? John?"
John left the room and came back with a glass of water. "Drink this," he ordered. Sherlock obeyed. "You can't direct people's lives that way, you idiot," John told him.
"No?" Sherlock gave him an analysing look, and then leaned in, grabbed John by the back of the neck, and kissed him thoroughly. Very thoroughly. John gave in to it for a reasonable amount of time, because, well, he had wondered. And also because it wasn't a bad kiss, technically speaking. Still. He hadn't realized just how much of a difference it made to snog someone who really, really wanted to be snogging you. He might not have known, if he hadn't so recently experienced the other kind of kissing, but since he had, there was really no substitute.
"You don't want this," John stated, when they'd stopped.
"I would, though," Sherlock insisted. "Honestly, I don't mind. It was...quite nice. Really." He reached for John again, but John held him off.
"I think that's very good of you to say," he said, "but...no. Definitely not. And now I'm going back to sleep," he added, because it seemed his best hope of escape. "You're going to spend the rest of the night in my bed, because I don't want to wind up feeling responsible if you die of nicotine poisoning in the night. Please stay on your own side and don't make me have to sleep on the floor." He turned off the light, walked around the bed, got in on the other side, and curled up with his back to Sherlock, as close to the edge as possible.
After a minute or two, Sherlock lay down beside him, not touching him. John listened to him breathing in the dark (still too fast, wonder how long he had all those patches on, surely he'd be vomiting by now if he'd gotten a lethal dose, never can be too careful though). He thought he'd never be able to drift off again, but eventually he must have done. When he got up to shower and dress for an early shift at the surgery, Sherlock slept on through it all in a tangle of black curls against the white pillowcase, looking angelically peaceful and not at all like the demon of chaos John knew him to be.
He phoned Lestrade that afternoon and asked him to meet him for a coffee after work, not saying why. He didn't even have to say anything; when Lestrade came in and sat down at the table where John had been waiting, he got one look at John's haggard, plaintive expression and began to laugh.
"He'll be the death of me," John complained. "It's really not funny."
"I know it's not," Lestrade apologised, composing himself. "Honestly. I'm just glad it's not me. Imagine him five years younger and strung out on cocaine, if you ever want to put things in perspective."
John shuddered. "I don't know what to do," he confessed, and briefly explained what had happened the night before. Lestrade built small structures out of sweetener packets while he talked, and offered no comment. "It was sort of...pathetically heroic of him, I suppose," John finished.
"Or incredibly manipulative," Lestrade muttered.
"Yes, well, that too." John took a drink of his coffee. "But he's not, he's not entirely...he worries about you, did you know?" he offered. "Or, worries, I don't know if that's right, but...yes, I think it is, actually. I'm not sure he didn't set this entire thing up on your behalf, once he'd figured out about the, your-- he thinks he set it up, at least," he amended quickly, because Lestrade was looking crosser by the second, and it probably wasn't the most judicious or flattering piece of information to have let slip, but it seemed like one of the more crucial pieces of the puzzle here, John thought.
It had probably been a very crisp little equation in Sherlock's brain, to begin with, he imagined. Lestrade, a lonely man, increasingly grey and breathless on occasion: John, a doctor, unattached and possessed of inconvenient physical needs: Sherlock, desiring to keep both of them close but not needing or wanting either of them sexually. All that had remained was to bring them together. Sherlock had probably even engineered that as well, John realised--noticed Lestrade's cough, sent him round to the flat that day on a flimsy excuse, waited for the rest of it to fall into place.
And hadn't had the slightest buggering clue how impossible human hearts are to arrange, how resistant to outside interference.
He looked over at Lestrade and saw that he'd worked it all out as well. Probably a lot sooner than John had. "I don't need anyone worrying about me. And I don't need a minder," he complained, looking more and more like a thundercloud.
Right, really not at all flattering, was it, from his point of view. The not-calling-for-three-weeks was beginning to make all kinds of sense to John, suddenly.
"I know that," he assured Lestrade, though privately he thought that the inspector could do with a bit of minding.
"It's damned insulting to both of us," Lestrade sulked. "Look, you're done with your coffee, I don't want anything--shall we go?" John nodded. He paid the bill and followed him out, followed him round the corner and over to his car. They got in, and Lestrade put the keys in the ignition but didn't start the car. He just sat there.
"Where are we going?" John asked eventually.
"No idea." Lestrade was frowning out the windscreen. "Why, do you have to be somewhere?"
"Not particularly, no." John had still been vaguely hoping that this would all somehow end with the two of them going back round to Lestrade's place, in fact, although that was beginning to seem a remoter and remoter possibility.
"You know that if anything happens with us now, it'll be all part of his plan," Lestrade pointed out snappishly.
John squinted, shrugged. "Well," he said. "I suppose it could seem that way." He licked his lips, and tried not to stare at Lestrade's mouth; he hadn't ever realised what a turn-on anger could be, when it wasn't directed at him specifically.
"Oh hell," Lestrade said despairingly, and leaned across the gear stick to kiss him.
"There's nothing going on with me and Sherlock," John assured him breathlessly, when they broke off. "This. I want this. You. We'll work something out, I'll--and I won't try to mind you, honestly, I sort of just want to get you in bed and do things, I've been missing this terribly, can we--damn this gear stick--can we go? Somewhere? Now?"
So they ended up at Lestrade's place after all--the drive there was torture--and Lestrade was furious at himself about it, but there seemed no help for it, because John Watson hadn't entirely stopped smiling once since they'd kissed in the car, and there were some things which he was still powerless to resist. Even if it was all going to end very badly, which he still had to believe.
I meant him for you too, Sherlock had said, the cheek of him, as if he'd created John, built him out of parts he'd scavenged from Bart's, no doubt, and Lestrade almost had to laugh at the idea, macabre as it was, because John was the very opposite in every way to anything a mad genius would dream up--he was so perfectly, blessedly ordinary, a miracle of ordinariness, in fact.
And yet not at all ordinary, either, Lestrade reflected, insofar as he was able to reflect while John Watson was toppling him down onto his bed and then climbing eagerly on top of him, hands busily working their way inside layers of his clothing. All the while still grinning delightedly, as if Lestrade was a Christmas present he'd been given to open. Ordinary, no, that wasn't the right word at all. Human, yes, he decided, sitting up and stripping John's vest off him in between hungry kisses, pausing to press his mouth to the scar at his shoulder, endearing proof of his--oh--breakability, perhaps. Yes, very human, Lestrade affirmed, tracing the soft and tender skin with his tonguetip, feeling John buck and shudder against him. Very unlike Sherlock, who'd always seemed like something carved from marble, or an alien life-form, with those cold eyes of his, cold and calculating--
But he knew that wasn't true, too, he reminded himself. He'd seen plenty of evidence of Sherlock's breakability in the past, despite his apparent determination to ignore his human side, as if he could rise above it if he denied it fiercely enough, as if--
"Stop that," John murmured into his ear, and gave him a sharp squeeze that made Lestrade gasp. "You're thinking about him, aren't you? Yes, you are, I can tell, and I have no desire to be in a bed with Sherlock Holmes in it, I thought I'd made that clear."
Lestrade gave himself up to the idea of that, for a white-hot flash, Sherlock Holmes in the bed between them, marble and ink, and their hands on him, their mouths. Would he snap out imperious orders, try to control the situation? Or would he, for once, submit?
John's cleverly darting hands soon brought him back to the reality of a less complicated and more attainable sort of pleasure, though. It was enough, really, more than enough: more than a cranky old sod like him deserved.
There seemed no keeping Sherlock Holmes entirely out of the bed, though. Even when they lay together afterward, in sated panting silence, he might as well have been perched on the footboard, commenting sarcastically on their technique. There would be no getting rid of the man, Lestrade realised, as long as he was with John--they were probably a package deal. He wondered if he could live with that.
"Would you move out, ever?" he asked out loud.
John looked very furrowed.
"It's not a dealbreaker," Lestrade assured him. "I'm only curious. I need to know what I'm getting into here, I suppose."
John gazed back at him for a moment, clear-eyed and unhappy, then turned his head away abruptly and spoke to the ceiling, spoke as if he were being forced to do it, as if he'd been ordered at gunpoint to reveal the truth of his feelings about Sherlock Holmes at all costs. "I don't think so," he admitted. "At least--not anytime soon. I think he's amazing. I do; I won't deny it. He's extraordinary. He changed my life. Saved it, maybe." He glanced back over and caught Lestrade's startled expression. "All right, that's a bit dramatic, but only a bit. When I came back from Afghanistan..." He trailed off, staring upward again. "There was nothing. I was nothing," he said, his voice flat.
Lestrade reached over and put the palm of his hand to John's chest. Neither of them said anything for a bit.
"I wouldn't make you choose between him and me," Lestrade said finally. His voice came out cross, but he hoped John had been around him enough by now to understand that it wasn't from anger. "I don't mean to do that. It's only...I've spent a great deal of time trying to distance myself from the train wreck that is Sherlock Holmes. I can work with him, just about, but...and honestly, John, I don't know that there's room for a third person in whatever it is the two of you have going on."
"Well, we'll try it out, I suppose," John said, sounding almost cheerful now. "You'll have to come round to our place a bit more, I'm afraid, but it'll be good, it'll be fine. We can gang up on him; you know he's easier to take when there's someone else there you can look to whenever he does something mad."
Lestrade considered it. "I will need a lot of beer," he said ponderingly.
They went back to 221B later that evening. Lestrade's mobile chimed just as they got to the front door, and he hung back in the downstairs entryway--"It's the Yard, I've got to take it, sorry"--glad of the excuse, John would bet, but he was feeling too fizzy and warm from the sex to be anything but amused at this point, really. He bounded up to the flat door on his own and opened it to find Sherlock ripping apart the flat.
John's stomach sank, but then he noticed that the flat-destruction was apparently centered around a purpose: Sherlock was trying to stuff half the contents of the room, it seemed, into an overflowing overnight case of battered black leather.
"Herefordshire," Sherlock announced, not looking round.
"Herefordshire. Packing for. You were about to ask. A woman's contacted me through the website, appears her lover's murdered his father on her father's land, she thinks he didn't do it, I'm required to prove his innocence." Sherlock struggled with the zip on the unfortunate leather case, eventually applying his teeth to the problem.
"...Oh," John said, trying to parse that sentence in some way that didn't make his head hurt.
"Never mind. You'll catch up." Sherlock conquered the zip at last. "Damn. I've forgotten clothes. Well, you're a neat packer; you can let me have a corner of your bag, can't you?"
"My...bag?" John wished he could at least get his coat off and sit down before being thrown in at the deep end this way. "So I'm coming along on this one, then."
John nodded. Really, he couldn't even try to pretend he was annoyed, though sometimes it worried him that he wasn't. "Well, I'll have to--"
"Phoned the surgery already. Family emergency. Really, that uncle of yours, John, it's a dreadful shame the demands he puts on you."
John nodded again. "Right, then I'll just--" He glanced back to the open doorway. Lestrade was laying into someone on the other end of his mobile, his grating voice drifting up clearly from the hallway below.
"Oh, he's coming as well."
Lestrade came up into the flat, still holding his phone. "John, bad timing, I'm afraid, it's the most ridiculous thing, but I'm being called in to advise on a case in the West Country, of all things, and--oh for Christ's sake," he said, when he saw Sherlock. "You're behind this, aren't you?"
Sherlock looked from one to the other of them, both scowling at him in the doorway with their arms folded, and broke into a pleased smile. It made him look about twelve.
"Rather unnecessarily, it seems," he said. "Still, it'll be a smashing holiday. They're holding the body for us at the local morgue. Phone the hotel back and cancel one of the rooms I booked, won't you, John?" He tossed over his mobile. "Well?" Sherlock demanded, when they just stood there exchanging complicated looks. "What are you waiting for? Let's go!"