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The thing about going out with Lestrade whilst living with Sherlock--the thing he’d start with, John decided, if he were ever to try and explain it to anyone (which he never would, you’d have to be cracked, wouldn’t you?)--the primary thing was this: To begin with, it was all completely intolerable, and then it went downhill from there.

At least, that was what he thought on the bad days. Sherlock and Lestrade bickered and quarrelled incessantly, over everything from proper forensics procedures to whose turn it was to do the washing-up. It seemed the only way they knew how to speak to each other was in a barely controlled yell of utter scorn and frustration. Which was only what you might expect. John had failed to take into account what sort of effect it would have on him, though, day after day. Trying to shout over them was futile; head-in-his-hands silence was simply ignored. Reasoning with them separately, after the fact, got him a lot of defensive “But you know what he’s like, John!” speeches and grudging agreements to try harder the next time, but yielded no visible improvements to the situation.

They all went out to a restaurant, once, because John thought perhaps they’d behave better in public view, but it ended in utter disgrace. Lestrade attempted to tell a lighthearted anecdote about a case he’d once heard of in which the killer had baked the murder weapon into a loaf of bread, and Sherlock was onto it like a bloodhound.

“What sort of bread?”

Lestrade rolled his eyes. “I don’t know. What does it matter? It’s only a--”

“It’s only ludicrous, completely impractical at best, patently unfeasible at worst. Now, if the bread itself had been the murder weapon...but even so, that’s hardly innovative. Why bother repeating such a ridiculous story, if you can’t even--”

“Oh, for-- It’s dinner conversation, Sherlock!” Lestrade snapped.

“Yes, in hell,” John said under his breath.

Broken glasses, overturned furniture, and managerial intervention had ensued--or so John gathered, later on. He’d got up and left when the yelling had begun, just walked out of the restaurant without a look or a word to either of them, hailed a cab, and went to spend the night at Harry’s, where he was reasonably sure no one would come looking for him. He must have looked rough, because Harry didn’t even ask any questions, just poured him a very large neat whisky and set about making up a bed for him on the sofa. He left very early the next morning, though, not wanting to push his luck.

There were twenty-seven text messages on his mobile when he turned it on. Twenty-five from Sherlock, which he deleted without opening, and two from Lestrade.

Sorry. Call me.
GL

about an hour after he’d left the restaurant, and then, at three in the morning,

On second thoughts, don’t call.
We both deserve flogging.
GL

John wondered if Lestrade had got his habit of initialling his texts from Sherlock, or vice versa. He texted back:

Excellent idea, I’ll borrow his riding crop.
Punishment will commence at 1900 hours,
after I’ve finished giving flu jabs to the elderly.
Your place.

Lestrade was in the middle of cooking something complicated and French when John turned up at his flat that evening. “Nice,” John said, sniffing appreciatively as he came into the kitchen.

“Well. Least I could do,” Lestrade handed him a glass of wine, looking sheepish.

John took a swallow. “Very nice.” He put the glass down on the worktop and came over to stand behind Lestrade at the stove, wrapping an arm around his waist and nipping him on the ear. “So you think you can escape punishment this way, do you?”

Lestrade put down his spoon and turned around. “What, you were serious about that?” He sounded disbelieving, but interested; kinky floggings had never exactly been on their agenda before.

“Completely serious,” John said, and kissed him.

“Hmm.” Lestrade reached behind himself to turn off the burners. “You didn’t actually bring the riding crop?”

“No,” John admitted. “Not really my style. I do intend to punish you, though.” He steered Lestrade over to one of the kitchen chairs and pushed him down to a sitting position, leaning over to kiss him again.

“Do you now?” Lestrade sounded lazily unconcerned. “How’s that, then?”

John reached into his jacket pocket. “Flu jab,” he said triumphantly. “Roll up your sleeve.”

*

“I bloody hate needles, you know that," Lestrade complained, still grimacing as John finished off and affixed a Winnie-the-Pooh plaster to his arm. (“All we had in stock,” John claimed. “Unless you’d rather have had Disney princesses?”) He rotated his shoulder. “God, that hurts. I’d rather have had the riding crop.”

"Look at it this way,” John said cheerfully. “I saved you nearly all the anticipation of it. Did you a favour, really."

"You didn't. I wasn't going to have a flu jab at all."

"Oh, yes, you were."

"Wasn't. Doctors, God, you're insufferable, the lot of you. How in the hell did I end up going out with one?"

“Shall I show myself out, then?” John offered.

“Right after I’ve finished with you, yes.” Lestrade very suddenly twisted a hand into the neck of his jumper and yanked him close, pulling John in to straddle his lap, and John’s breath caught in his throat. He still wasn’t used to the dizzying suddenness with which Lestrade could sometimes turn rough and physical. John shut his eyes and leaned into the kiss, bracing himself with one hand against the table, wondering if they’d manage to get it on in the chair this time or if they’d topple over onto the floor--cold tiles, he thought, shivering, remembering previous encounters in this kitchen--

“Bedroom,” Lestrade murmured into his mouth, somehow managing to not quite break the kiss as he stood up and started backing John out of the room. “I want it slow. You on top. Make me beg. That’s the sort of punishment I like. Are you up for it?”

“I...well, yes,” said John. “God. Feel free to scrap with Sherlock all you like from now on, if this is the result. Do you--are we ruining your dinner, though, do you want to--right, never mind about that, never mind--”

*

The conversation with Sherlock was more difficult.

“I didn’t read your texts,” John told him, when he went home that night. “Deleted them all, in fact.”

“Did you?” Sherlock, dressing-gowned and sofa-bound, fingers steepled, hadn’t so much as glanced over when he’d come into the room. “No matter. Case-related. Solved it on my own. The skull was an adequate substitute. Are you going to the shops anytime soon?”

“No,” John said, and waited. “No apology?” he prompted eventually.

“Apology?” Sherlock’s brow creased, briefly. “What for? Oh. The restaurant. Mm...no, I don’t think so.”

“Really,” John said. “Really? Wow. No?”

Sherlock did glance at him finally, a quick calculating once-over, then gave a dismissive head-shake and went back to contemplating the wallpaper. “No. You enjoy it. You like the proximity of conflict. You even enjoy being fought over, in a way; it makes you feel valued.”

John tried to decide if this were in any way true. “No, I’m pretty sure it makes me want to move out and find a flatmate who won’t bait my boyfriend at every possible opportunity.”

Sherlock smirked. “Why did you come home tonight, then?”

John stood there wondering what would happen if he started throwing things at him, and then he shook his head.

“Unbelievable,” he said, and went upstairs.

About an hour later, as John was just dropping off to sleep over his book, his door creaked open. The hinges had needed oiling for some time; at one point he’d meant to get around to it, but then he’d realized it was a useful and necessary alarm system.

Sherlock lounged in his doorway like some sort of...large, lounging thing, John thought with irritation. Catlike, the way he claimed every space in the flat simply by draping himself all over it and refusing to budge. John had never been fond of cats.

“You want me to try and get along with Lestrade,” Sherlock mused.

“In an ideal world, yes,” John agreed, somewhat guardedly.

“All right,” Sherlock said, and vanished.

John lay awake for another hour after that, wondering why this was the most worrying thing to happen yet. Eventually he had to get up and take a sleeping pill.

*****

It was nice, Lestrade had to admit, having sex on a regular basis again. It was extremely nice having sex with someone like John Watson, who turned out to be extraordinarily enthusiastic about it, as well as being completely down-to-earth, open, emotionally mature, and level-headed. Really, what were the odds? It would have been too perfect, probably, except. Well. Except for the fact that he didn’t exactly come with no strings attached.

He came with a whole damned orchestra attached.

Perhaps it was for the best, Lestrade tried to tell himself. It wasn’t as though John Watson wasn’t as fucked-up as the next person. A lot more fucked-up, he suspected sometimes. But John seemed to channel all his fucked-upness into whatever it was he had going on with Sherlock, leaving the good parts for Lestrade.

And how could you complain about that? It should have been fantastic, shouldn’t it? Why not let Sherlock have all the difficult parts of John’s psyche and welcome to them? Why, in God’s name, should Lestrade feel jealous of Sherlock on that account?

They ought to go in for couples’ therapy, Lestrade thought. Or whatever you’d call it when there were three of them. Now that would be a comedy. Alone in his office, imagining it, he let out a rusty laugh.

At the sound, Sherlock appeared in his doorway as if summoned. From the depths of whatever unholy plane he normally existed on, Lestrade thought sourly. “How did I end up saddled with you for the rest of eternity?” he asked, as Sherlock came right into the room without invitation and settled himself on the edge of his desk.

“I could say the same,” Sherlock told him, picking over the contents of the desktop with one sweeping, incisive look and probably solving three or four cases on his way to glancing up at Lestrade’s face. “Would you have left me to get on with freezing to death in that unheated flat in Kilburn if you’d known? Anyway, too late now. I’ve come to ask for your help on a case. I know, I know,” he added, in response to Lestrade’s look of total disbelief, and made an elegant dismissive gesture. “I don’t need your help, clearly. But John’s at work, you’re obviously not doing anything, and I could always do with someone to hold things for me while I investigate. You’re terrible at it, far too many unhelpful comments, but, at a pinch, you’ll do.”

Lestrade rolled his eyes. “Oh, brilliant offer. How can I possibly refuse? And yet.”

“It’s an interesting case, and you’re bored to tears here,” Sherlock informed him. “Also, there’s this: You and I need a different venue in which to vent our frustrations with each other.”

Lestrade opened his mouth and then shut it again. “You’re suggesting we...what? Go off and argue over casework to get it out of our systems?” he said finally. “So we’ll argue less in front of-- But that’s--”

“Worth a try, don’t you think?” Sherlock unfolded himself from his perch on the desk. “We can only kill each other if it doesn’t work. Or he might--one of us anyway, I shouldn’t wonder. He’s a crack shot; better not to risk it, really.” He walked out, turning back at the door to say “Well, come along, then,” impatiently, and then whisking off down the hall.

“God help me,” Lestrade muttered, and followed.

*

It was, in fact, an interesting case. It also happened to be one with which Lestrade was already well acquainted. “The McFarlane case? You’re not poking around that again, Sherlock, it’s done and dusted. He’s guilty! There are fingerprints! How can you argue with fingerprints?”

Sherlock gave him an arch, infuriating look, and proceeded to prove McFarlane’s innocence by setting a house on fire. A house which turned out to be a good deal more inflammable than either of them might have suspected. Lestrade ended up making his statement to the press from the burns unit at Chelsea & Westminster, where he was treated for minor injuries and smoke inhalation. He managed to escape an overnight stay, but only just.

John was unamused. “I thought the entire point of setting me up with Lestrade in the first place was to make sure he took better care of himself,” he told Sherlock, scowling critically at the dressing on Lestrade’s arm once they’d finally all made it back to Baker Street late that night. “Doesn’t dragging him into burning buildings rather defeat the purpose?”

“Oh, sod that,” said Lestrade. “It was brilliant, John, you should have been there. The look on that old bastard’s face!” He’d forgotten how exciting it could be, how thrilling, even, to get swept up in Sherlock’s mad wake. He’d been so ground down and stifled by the sheer bureaucracy of his job--and you had to, after nearly thirty years in the force, you had to go a bit numb or you’d never survive--but this, this was why they were all in it, this was what it was about: throwing out all the rules and just doing it, catching criminals. Orthodox methods be damned. “Brilliant,” he repeated, grinning up at Sherlock with the dazzling force of revelation. “How did you know he’d be holed up in there? I didn’t quite catch it. Go over it again.”

“What in the hell did they give him?” John demanded of Sherlock, who was very studiously updating his web page.

“Whatever it is, can you prescribe me some more of it?” Lestrade asked. “I feel amazing.”

“Oxygen, mainly,” Sherlock said absently. “I believe.”

“He’s as high as a fucking kite,” John protested.

“What, you don’t get like this after a chase?” Lestrade asked him. “You do. I’ve seen you. Why should you get to have all the fun? All right, there may also have been some opiates involved. Something ending with an -ine. Or -one. You talked to them at the hospital, didn’t you? You didn’t ask?”

“No, I was a bit distracted by being terrified to death,” John sighed. “No matter. We should get you up to bed.”

“Oh, yes please,” said Lestrade, then, “Oh, look, I love that, when your ears go all red at the tips like that. Are you--and your neck, it’s adorable. Sherlock, look--does he ever do this for you?”

“I blame you entirely,” John told Sherlock, sounding somewhat strangled. “I hope you’re sufficiently entertained?”

“Quite,” said Sherlock, who seemed to be trying not to laugh. “Don’t mind me.” John gave him a quelling glare as he pulled Lestrade up off the sofa and out of the room.

*****

It was better after that, for a while, in its odd way. Sherlock made a point of involving Lestrade in more of the cases he took on, and John made a point of not having anything much to say about it--he knew he’d be a hypocrite to wish Lestrade back behind the safety of a desk more often and out of the line of fire. Lestrade made a point of coming round to spend the night at 221B at least once or twice a week; there were still arguments, but they seemed to grow more amicable, somehow.

So things were going along okay, really, until John had to go and fuck it all up entirely by getting himself kidnapped again.

*

He ought to be an old hand at this by now, John thought. This was, what, the fourth time? Fifth? Apparently, sharing a flat with Sherlock Holmes was tantamount to walking around London with a large sign that said KIDNAP ME taped to the back of one’s jacket.

Whoever was behind this one was refreshingly professional about it, at any rate. One minute he’d been walking to work, the next there’d been a bag over his head and a sharp pinprick in his neck--pentobarbital, he thought, when he came out of it enough to be able to think again. Dosage appropriate to his weight, which he appreciated, really.

He woke up in total darkness, which was always frankly terrifying, but at least he wasn’t bound or gagged or injured, so that was something, and after a bit he was able to feel around and determine that he was probably in a cargo storage container somewhere, the corrugated metal kind used for transport. Completely empty, save for three items, which he was easily able to identify by touch: a case of bottled water, a box of energy bars, and a plastic bucket.

So his kidnappers meant to keep him alive, whoever they were. That was...comforting.

They also apparently meant to keep him for some time.

Not so comforting.

He wondered who’d find out he was missing first, and how they’d react, and that was the thought that made him turn a little shaky, sweat breaking out on his face as he sank to the floor. “They’re going to kill each other,” John predicted, and shivered at the sound his voice made bouncing off the metal walls.

*****

For the first two days of it, Lestrade felt amazingly sharp and professional and in-control. This was something he was good at, after all: dealing with bad situations, putting his feelings aside. He avoided the eyes of his staff members, closed the door of his office, and had a very rapid-fire, very focused conversation with a paler-than-usual Sherlock, from which he emerged feeling confident that the situation would all be resolved within a few hours at most.

On the third day, the lack of food and sleep began to catch up with him.

On the fourth, he went ballistic on Anderson, spectacularly, in front of the entire team.

The fifth day, his DCI took him off the case and sent him home.

The fistfight with Sherlock happened on the sixth day, or was it the seventh?

Days eight to ten were extremely hazy in his memory. He only meant to have one drink to take the edge off, two at most. But after a while there seemed little point in staying sober--there was nothing he could do, and even if alcohol didn’t kill the pain, it at least changed the frequency for a while.

On the eleventh day, Lestrade awoke at three in the afternoon with a massive hangover to find his mobile buzzing.

Nothing conclusive yet
Come to 221B if sober
SH

He pulled himself together, cleaned himself up, and went round to Baker Street, where he used the key John had given him and walked into the flat to find Sherlock sitting at the kitchen table eating toast.

“Nice work if you can get it,” Lestrade said. “I thought you never ate when you were on a case.”

“On cases that stretch on for over a week, I’ve found that a minimal intake of carbohydrates is necessary to promote brain activity and prevent physical collapse,” Sherlock informed him. He did, at least, have the decency to look completely terrible. He was still wearing the same shirt as he’d had on on the fistfight day, Lestrade thought; there were bloodstains on the collar.

“You think he’s still alive?” It was horrifically blunt, but it was the only thing on Lestrade’s mind, clearly the only question in the world of any importance, and there was no point beating around the bush at this stage.

“I’m almost sure of it,” Sherlock said. "Sit down," he added sharply, and Lestrade did, almost involuntarily, his head spinning. “You’re worse than useless. I shouldn’t have contacted you, you’ll only muddle me, but I thought you deserved to know. I’m onto a lead at last. A good one, I think.”

“So you came back here to enjoy some toast.”

“I’m going to need the energy,” Sherlock snapped. “They’re not just going to hand him over. Their entire point is to keep him as long as possible, try and break me down.”

“Who’s they?” Lestrade had forgotten how dreamlike Sherlock Holmes’s world could be. He dealt with criminals every day, but only the prosaic kind. Sherlock’s villains were the weird ones, the ones out of trashy novels, so theatrical you couldn’t believe they were serious.

“The two younger brothers of a man I put in prison eight years ago.” Sherlock got up and went over to his desk, clicked on an email. “Who now wield a fair amount of power in a local smuggling ring. They’ve sent me a message, here, look--” Lestrade came over to read it. ‘How do you like having your loved ones taken away from you mister holmes, not much fun is it’ “Anonymous, of course,” Sherlock went on. “But I traced the IP address and did a bit of legwork while you were busy ransacking every last bottle in your drinks cabinet. You reek of crème de menthe, incidentally, it’s beyond pathetic. Anyway. I believe I can catch them in one of their areas of operation later this evening, but not until after six. Put down your phone. I will not have the police involved.”

“You’ll bloody well have this member of the police involved. As you must know, or you wouldn’t have told me all that.”

“I could use a bit of backup,” Sherlock admitted. “If you’re up to it.” He gave Lestrade a long hard look, clearly trying to decide whether a middle-aged wreck of a distraught DI with a heart condition was going to be more of a liability than an asset. “You have proven yourself fighting-fit recently,” Sherlock conceded finally. He rubbed at his jaw, which was black and blue under the growth of stubble, Lestrade noticed now with a mean little burst of satisfaction. “I only hope you can keep your emotions in check and not go flying off the handle. Can you, do you suppose?”

Lestrade hated him for asking, hated him for being so cold, hated him for causing this entire horror to happen in the first place. He knew from years of working with him, though, that Sherlock’s insane methods nearly always yielded results, and quickly. His success rate was certainly a hell of a lot higher than Scotland Yard’s.

“It’s only four-thirty now,” he said finally. “You’ve got time to help me tidy up around here before we leave. John’s going to be livid when he comes home to find nicotine-patch wrappers and toast crusts lying around everywhere.”

*

It was almost easy, in the end, after all that. Do the washing-up, take a cab to a South London storefront and beat two weedy-looking smugglers to within an inch of their lives. Take another cab to an unused loading dock in Park Royal and use a crowbar to break into a rusted yellow storage container. Lestrade was the one to do the honours with the crowbar, because Sherlock’s hands were suddenly shaking so much that he dropped it--the first real indication in eleven days that he wasn’t made of stone. Lestrade might have been impressed if his attention hadn’t been otherwise occupied. Sherlock was the one to dart inside as soon as the blasted thing was open, because Lestrade hadn’t the courage; he was more than half certain they’d find a corpse inside. He closed his eyes and leaned against the cold corrugated metal. He could hear the ambulance siren, already on its way, he’d radioed for one as soon as they’d got the location, but it was going to be too late, of course, days too late probably--

Sherlock made a strangled sound, and Lestrade’s police instincts finally took over. Without even meaning to move, he was inside the door before he knew it, flashlight beam shaking all over the place and then finally illuminating two figures struggling in the shadows: Sherlock on his knees with an arm around his throat and a glinting shard of plastic aimed at his jugular, John with his teeth bared, snarling, barely human. Lestrade never knew what it was that he yelled out, it didn’t even have words, so far as he knew, but it made John stop and release his grip at once.

“Lestrade?” he said, hoarse, squinting against the light. “Oh, fuck--Sherlock? Took you long enough, you wankers.” And then Sherlock was laughing, sounding unbelievably human and breathless and relieved.

*

So everything was all right. John was all right, physically anyway, not a scratch on him, and they’d somehow managed to avoid actually killing the men who’d taken him, which would have been difficult to explain, and the smuggling ring was broken up, which made the powers that be at Scotland Yard much more inclined to look the other way over the whole affair. Anderson received a stiff note of apology. Everything was completely back to normal by the end of the week.

Except that when they finally got John home again, Sherlock refused to sleep in his own bed.

Lestrade didn’t find it too strange the first night. All three of them were whacked, and it was very nearly impossible for either Sherlock or Lestrade to take their eyes off John for a moment (he’d tell them where to get off soon, no doubt, but for now he seemed too exhausted to mind). So it seemed almost natural that when John threw himself down on his own bed, sighing in quiet ecstasy, Sherlock would collapse next to him with an echoing sigh and fall asleep the moment he was prone, one thin hand still clutching John’s wrist. Lestrade was entirely in sympathy with this idea, and after a moment’s hesitation he lay down too, on the other side of the bed, John in the middle.

“Are we all over you too much, d’you want us to piss off?” Lestrade murmured, making an effort to keep his eyes open for the moment so he could study John’s face. He looked just like himself, only very tired.

“No, good, it’s good,” John assured him, pulling Lestrade’s arm around over himself and nestling into the curve of his body, which felt so right that it made Lestrade’s throat ache. He smelled all wrong, of antiseptic hospital soap and mouthwash, but he was there. Lestrade hitched himself in a little closer, burying his face in John’s hair. The knuckles of his right hand were brushing Sherlock’s arm, he thought vaguely, but that was all right. It had been a long and harrowing ordeal, and now that it was over he was even prepared to feel magnanimous toward Sherlock, at the moment; he didn’t mind having him there, silent for once and with all the complicated angles of him smoothed by sleep.

It wasn’t until the next day that it began to seem a little weird. When John woke up around noon he declared his intention to take the longest shower ever and then do nothing but lounge on the sofa watching terrible television all day, and Lestrade said he’d better go out and stock up on some provisions, then, because there was nothing much edible left in the kitchen unless they were prepared to resort to cannibalism. Sherlock was still impersonating a corpse in John’s bed and stayed out of the conversation entirely. When Lestrade came back from doing the shopping, though, he found that Sherlock had emerged from the bedroom to station himself lengthwise on the sofa with his head in John’s lap before falling asleep again.

Lestrade cooked them all an enormous fry-up, casting looks out at the living room over his shoulder from time to time. It gave him a bit of a strange feeling to see the two of them like that, with John’s fingers absently moving in Sherlock’s hair, working out the tangles. Not entirely jealousy, he thought. There was something nice about it, somehow. Just...odd.

“Does he do this often?” he asked John finally, bringing him a steaming cup of tea laced with so much sugar that the spoon could nearly stand up in it.

“No, never,” John said, sounding bewildered and amused. “Does it bother you?”

“I can’t seem to mind much of anything, today,” Lestrade said, and kissed him. “He’ll have to shift it in a minute, though, unless you fancy eating with him sprawled all over you like that.”

All three of them ended up on the sofa for most of the rest of the day, dozing on and off and getting up for snacks and jostling lazily for space and not talking about much of anything. It was one of the nicest afternoons Lestrade could ever remember spending in both of their company, but after eight or ten hours of it, he did begin to feel as though some personal space might not be a bad thing.

“Think I might go home for a bit,” he ventured by late evening, standing up for a stretch. “Sleep there tonight, even, maybe, and then go in to work for a few hours tomorrow--will you be all right?”

“Fine, yes, I’m fine,” John said, almost snapped, really. Then, “Sorry. I mean, yes, of course, it’s quite all right, you should go.”

“You’re allowed to not be fine, you know,” Lestrade told him.

“Oh, leave him alone, for God’s sake,” Sherlock moaned, without opening his eyes. “He’s got all kinds of experience in being traumatized by now, he doesn’t need you to tell him how to do it.”

“That’s a bit much,” Lestrade said. “I was only--”

“All right,” John cut in, standing up. “I know things are getting back to normal now, if you two are starting to have a go at each other again. Come on, I’ll see you out; I could use some air.”

******

John closed his eyes and leaned against the door after he’d let himself back in, alone. He wasn’t sure whether he felt like falling apart or not, but it was difficult to know either way while he was being paid so much attention.

Not that he really felt much like being on his own again, either, he realised, and headed back up the stairs to the warmth and light of the flat.

Sherlock had disappeared, which caused him a few minutes of consternation, until he went up to his room and found his own bed half-occupied once more. “Is this going to become a Thing?” John asked him, but Sherlock was dead to the world again and didn’t answer him. John changed into his pyjamas in the bathroom and then came back and got into bed. He didn’t turn out the bedside lamp. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to sleep in complete darkness again, but he wasn’t awfully worried about it for now.

He woke at three-something in the morning to find Sherlock lying half on top of him, clutching his wrists. “All right,” Sherlock was saying, “I’ve got you, John, it’s all right, I’m here, I’ve got you.

“What, why, was I shouting?” John usually knew when he’d been shouting. The nightmares were vivid, with images that burned in his brain for hours after. There were no images now, just a sort of mild foggy confusion.

Sherlock released him and moved away. “You must have been,” he said, but John caught something puzzled in his look. “Do you need anything? Water?”

“No, thanks,” John told him warily. “Go back to sleep.”

*****

Sherlock was still crashed out when Lestrade dropped by the next evening with takeaway and beer. Lestrade wasn’t surprised to hear it, but he was a bit nettled when he learned that John’s bed had become the designated crash spot.

“Come home with me, then?” he asked. “I don’t have plans to jump on you, not until you feel up to it, but--”

“I am entirely up for being jumped on,” John said quickly. “In fact, I think it would be downright therapeutic. I’m...not sure how I feel about leaving Sherlock on his own, at the moment.”

"Oh." Lestrade mulled it over. "You...do know that's completely insane?"

"A lot of things about my life are completely insane," John said, with that tight smile of his that wasn’t really a smile. "There's always Sherlock's bed."

Both of them were silent, considering Sherlock's bed.

"Or we could just snog on the sofa like a couple of teenagers hoping someone’s parents don't come in too suddenly," John suggested.

"Hmm," Lestrade said, doubtful, but John pulled him close by his shirt front, and his mouth was very warm, his hands insistent.

Ten minutes later John was stretched out full length beneath him on the sofa and they were both beginning to get breathless and shaky. Lestrade had just begun to work a hand down in between them to start undoing some of the layers of clothing which separated them when a quiet whisper of a sound behind them made him freeze.

“Sherlock,” John muttered, like it was a swear word, and then, louder, over Lestrade’s shoulder, “Sherlock? What are you-- Are you making tea? Right now, you had to decide that making tea is one of your abilities?”

Sherlock shuffled into the doorway between kitchen and living room, wild-haired and dull-eyed. “I need tea,” he complained. Lestrade sat up, glanced down at his lap, and untucked his shirt very quickly. “What time is it?” Sherlock added querulously.

“Half seven,” John said.

“A.M. or P.M.?” Sherlock plodded over to the sofa, paused in front of it, and waited for John to shift over closer to Lestrade before flopping down next to him with a giant yawn. “What are you doing? The television’s not even on.”

They looked at him, then at each other.

“Not someone’s parents, coming in suddenly,” Lestrade said crossly. “Someone’s five-year-old.”

“Oh,” Sherlock said, sitting up straight. “Oh. You were-- Yes, of course. Well.” He started to stand, but John hauled him back down by the belt of his dressing gown.

“Stay,” he said. “You might as well, now. I’ll get the tea; you’d only scald yourself, or put arsenic in instead of sugar, the state you’re in.” He went out to the kitchen, leaving Lestrade to glare at Sherlock. Sherlock, in a post-case haze: he tried to remember back to the days when he’d still found it charming. Back before he’d decided that the revelation of endearing vulnerability was at least part calculated sham, like so much else.

“You do realise he’s been through a bit of an ordeal quite recently?” Lestrade hissed. “And you’re really going to make him wait hand and foot on you right now? Really?”

“It’s good for him.” Sherlock yawned again, collapsing limply over the arm of the sofa once more. “Takes his mind off himself. Anyway, he loathes coddling.”

“That is...completely fucked up,” Lestrade said, with more certainty than he felt.

John came back in, and there was tea, there was reheated takeaway, there was heated arguing over television programmes and a good-natured three-way wrestling match over the remote. It all began to feel oddly normal. Lestrade watched John, who laughed, whose smile was open and bright, whose hands did not shake. Who had recently been locked away inside a lightless cave for endless terrifying days with only his own memories for company.

“What was it like?” Lestrade asked, finally, when Sherlock had passed out on the sofa and the two of them had crept off to reclaim John’s room for their own again.

John didn’t have to ask what he meant. “Like? It was...horrible, it was a living nightmare,” John said readily, settling himself on his pillow. “Can’t think how to describe it.” He gave a brief shudder. “Brr. Anyway, it’s over now.” He gave Lestrade a reassuring smile, which was the last thing he wanted.

“You can’t just be okay about it, not this quickly,” Lestrade insisted.

“You want me to have a breakdown over it?” John said, his voice going a little deeper with something. Anger, or disappointment, Lestrade couldn’t tell. He was being selfish, ridiculous probably.

“Of course not!” But if you do, will you share it with me and not him? No, he couldn’t say that.

“What about you?” John asked.

“Me?”

“Yeah. What was it like for you?” Half challenging, half concerned.

He doesn’t want to be the broken one, Lestrade realized. Bloody doctors. Sherlock had the right idea after all, maybe.

John was waiting for his answer. Concern taking over a little more now, from his expression. “I was furious with you for letting it happen,” Lestrade said, and leaned over to kiss him, a hard ungentle demand of a kiss. “Furious. So. Are we going to sleep now?”

“No,” John said, sliding his hands up inside Lestrade’s shirt and kissing him back. “Not just yet.”

*****

John woke at some point during the night to the sound of the doorknob being rattled. Insistently. He stared at it for a while, hoping it would stop, and when it didn’t he got up and pulled on his boxers and a t-shirt before he had to find out whether Sherlock would actually go to the length of picking the lock.

“You could try knocking,” he said, opening the door.

“I didn’t want to wake you.” Sherlock looked genuinely uncomfortable, shifting back and forth on his bare feet in the hallway.

John waited, folding his arms.

“Can I come in?” Sherlock demanded, straightening up and summoning something of his usual manner. Imperious, annoyed.

John cleared his throat. “Well. Let’s see. Why?

“To sleep,” Sherlock bit out, with the implied you idiot hanging unspoken in the air between them.

“To sleep,” John repeated, and rubbed his chin. “Have you gone insane? I’m asking seriously.”

“We did it last night,” Sherlock pointed out. “And you’re not having sex at the moment. You did that earlier, and you never have it off more than once a night, so I’m not interrupting anything.”

John came out into the hallway and shut the door behind him. He put his hands on Sherlock’s shoulders and made eye contact with him, speaking slowly and deliberately. “Sherlock. This is-- You must know this isn’t normal behaviour. Are you on drugs? Perhaps you should be on drugs. Do you need a sleeping pill? I’ve got--”

“Oh, never mind,” Sherlock huffed, wrenching away, and went back downstairs. John stood there in the hallway with his head bowed for a full minute, listening to the replay in his head of certain parts of the conversation they’d just had, and then went downstairs after him.

“Come on,” he said. “Come to bed.”

Sherlock shut the desk drawer he’d been rummaging in. “No,” he said stubbornly. “Changed my mind.”

“Well, change it back then. Let’s go. I’m not having you down here doing drugs or whatever other kind of trouble you were about to get into on your own. Come on,” he repeated, and turned to go back upstairs, pausing on the third step until he heard Sherlock start to follow.

*****

What,” Lestrade said, when he woke to discover that the bed was triple-occupied again. “What the hell.”

“I know. Shh. Come on, we’ll go talk about it downstairs.”

“I’m not wearing any clothes!”

“Doesn’t bother me a bit,” Sherlock mumbled sleepily from the far side of the bed. “Anyway, I didn’t see anything. Much.”

“Oh, this, this is not on,” Lestrade grumbled, fumbling for his pants.

*

John made breakfast for him. “You should go in to work. We’ll be fine, really.”

You’ll be fine. He’s playing at having a nervous breakdown or something. Of all the times to--”

“Oh, give him one more day. You know how he gets, after a case.”

“Shamming.”

“I don’t think sleeping twenty hours a day can be shammed.”

“It’s horrible, it’s ridiculous, you shouldn’t have to be bothered about him right now!”

“Gives me something to do. I’m not on the rota at the clinic till Monday.”

“Come home with me, let him sort himself out on his own. No, you won’t, of course not. All right, I’m staying clear, then, I’ll only make things worse. Phone me when normality resumes. Well, what passes for normal around here, anyway.”

*

Lestrade firmly intended to take a break from everything Sherlock Holmes-related for a while. Let him and John work this thing out on their own; he refused to be jealous, it was ridiculous. He’d catch up at work, put in some time at the gym, go round to his sister’s and have dinner with her and the kids. Above all, he would not dwell on the fact that his boyfriend was essentially holed up in seclusion with a lithe and gorgeous madman who’d apparently decided to make him his security blanket.

He phoned John after twenty-seven hours. “How’s it going?”

“Good. Great. Really...great,” John said in a clipped, bright voice that indicated it was anything but. “No, it’s been lovely. The constant sleeping thing’s been and gone. We’ve been having some interesting conversations here. He’s given up.”

“Given up what?”

“Given up detecting. Sherlock Holmes, retired detective.”

Lestrade started to laugh; he couldn’t help it. “Give over.”

“Nope, completely serious. Changed his website and everything.”

“But that’s ridiculous,” Lestrade pleaded. “He’d go spare. More spare. What’s he think he’s going to do, get a job in a shop?”

“No idea. Research, he says. Non-case-related research. Funded by whom, I’ve no idea, but--”

“It’ll blow over in two days,” Lestrade predicted.

*****

It didn’t blow over in two days.

John experimented with leaving Sherlock alone in rooms for increasing increments of time; Sherlock seemed edgy, but didn’t actually object, although he insisted on coming along whenever John went out for any reason. And he continued to invade John’s bedroom nightly.

On Monday, John went back to work, expecting to feel a certain amount of agoraphobia and paranoia upon reemerging into the world outside on his own. He didn’t. It was wonderful. London was experiencing a rare sky-blue week of late-springtime glory, everything rainwashed and fresh-looking and simply perfect to his starved eyes, even the wheelie bins. He loved his patients, he loved his city, he loved his fucked-up life.

Sherlock texted him 112 times that first day, checking in.

When John arrived home, there was a horribly familiar-looking umbrella in the stand just inside the front door, despite the sunny day. He cursed under his breath and took the stairs two at a time, but there was no sibling détente in the sitting room when he burst in, no acts of violin-torture to drive the intruder away. Just Sherlock, slumped in an unhappy curl along the arm of the sofa.

“He’s gone,” Sherlock informed him. “Only just.”

“He’s left his favourite weapon behind. Is it a bug, do you suppose?”

“No, he just leaves them sometimes. Like a calling card. He must have dozens. Message to you, really. Contact me if he gets any more out of hand. It might as well have your name written on it.” He sounded drained, as if Mycroft had been performing acts of vampirism on him.

“What did he--”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Come here. You’re much too far away.”

He half-sat, reclining against the arm of the sofa, and John shed his jacket and went to him. Allowed himself to be enfolded. Sherlock pulled him back against his chest and breathed him in, burying his face in John’s neck and inhaling greedily.

“This is a bit weird, you know,” John told him eventually.

“Is it?” Sherlock asked, muffled in skin.

“You know it is. Anyone else, this’d be the precursor to.... Well. Sex.”

“Yes, but you know I don’t want that, so it’s all right.” Sherlock was apparently trying to burrow into John’s body. “You’ve got Lestrade for that. Thank God. When’s he coming back round, anyway?”

“He thinks you need space,” John said. “Or...we need space. Or he does. Something. Sherlock, I do need to breathe, I’m sorry.”

Sherlock relaxed his grip one fraction. “I don’t need space.”

“Well, obviously, no.”

“And I’m not changing my mind about retiring.”

“Of course not. Wouldn’t dream of trying to convince you otherwise.”

“You’re humouring me,” Sherlock sulked. “You think I’ll get bored, get over it.”

“No, I think you’re having a crisis. I hope you’ll get through it. And it seems a shame to give up the detecting, as you’re so suited to it. But you’ll do as you like.”

“You’ll miss the thrill of the chase,” Sherlock said thoughtfully. Then, “Doesn’t matter. You’ll be safe, so it’s better. Even if you end up leaving.”

John let his head fall back onto Sherlock’s shoulder, craned his neck to look round at his face. “I’d stay even if you decided to become a bloody florist. Have you had enough of this yet? Can I go and make tea? I would like tea.”

Sherlock released him. “Tea would be nice,” he allowed.

John envisioned a triangle as he made the tea. A triangle with shifting angles, its lines changing length as the energies between its three points waxed and waned. Lately, he was aware, all the energy had been directed at his point; everyone seemed to be requiring a great deal from him lately. Which he didn’t mind, exactly. He thought of the awful time, pre-Sherlock, when he’d been superfluous and alone, and shuddered. It didn’t bear remembering. Still. He wasn’t sure that he was going to turn out to be the solution to this particular problem. He pictured the three lines that made up the triangle, the vectors of energy all flowing down toward one point. One of the lines was weakened; it collapsed; the whole thing fell apart.

“It won’t work,” Sherlock told him, when John brought him his tea.

“What won’t?”

“Whatever you’re contemplating. You can’t manipulate me; I’m too clever. I’ve thought of it all already.” He looked unutterably weary, shoulders hunched as he sipped from the cup. “We do need him, though, you’re right about that. When it’s just us it gets too...” His hand described what he meant, a fluttery grasp at empty air.

“I’ll sort it,” John promised.

“You won’t. You can’t. He hates dealing with me when I’m like this, always did. You’ll see.”

*****

“I hate dealing with him when he’s like this,” Lestrade grumbled, when John rang him that night. “I can’t come round. We’ll get into a terrible row and you’ll go off and get yourself kidnapped again just to escape us.”

He thinks I like being fought over.”

“Does he? Well, look at that, the great genius is wrong for once. Although I do think there’s a part of you that enjoys playing the peacekeeper at times.”

“At times, perhaps,” John said. “Constantly is a bit much.”

“Well,” Lestrade said. Then, “No, I won’t come round. I’ve no patience with his prima donna act. He’s got you to coddle him; he doesn’t need me.”

John didn’t reply.

Lestrade couldn’t see the expression on his face, of course, but he had no trouble at all envisioning what it would be. He sighed. “Right, you want me to come round and not coddle him. Play the bad cop. Something like that?”

“I just want you to be here,” John told him. “I’m not being strategical. I like having you here. He likes having you here.”

“Is he still sleeping in your bed?”

John didn’t say anything for a minute. “It’s rather a large bed,” he pointed out.

“Oh, for-- No. No, absolutely not, it’s too bizarre. I can’t do this.”

“He’ll get over it. He needs to start working on cases again, obviously.”

Silence.

“I do have one weird one that came in today,” Lestrade admitted. “All right, I’ll come for supper tomorrow. More than that I won’t promise.”

*

“We don’t know if it’s kids playing pranks or some nutter who thinks he’s making a political statement,” Lestrade told John, stretching out on the sofa, comfortably full of curry. Sherlock was still picking at his own dinner at the desk, pretending not to listen. “They’re awfully determined, though. I suppose I could imagine taking a swing at a bust of Margaret Thatcher if I were passing it on the street every day, but breaking into someone’s house to do it? Three times? And how’d they know which houses to break into, is the real question--it’s not as if they were sitting right in the front windows.”

“You’re being pathetically transparent,” Sherlock snapped. “I refuse to get involved.”

“Didn’t ask you to, did I?” said Lestrade.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Pathetically,” he repeated.

“Well, why shouldn’t you keep on helping me out with the odd case now and then?” Lestrade demanded. “You needn’t get publicly involved. A little behind-the-scenes advice wouldn’t hurt; I’m not asking you to come to any crime scenes here.”

Sherlock picked at his curry some more; John went out to the kitchen and returned with beer. “You’ve questioned the man who decapitated that statue at the Guildhall Gallery a few years back, I’m assuming,” Sherlock said finally.

“Brought him in right away, yeah. Airtight alibi. I honestly believe he wasn’t involved.”

Sherlock declined further comment. And Lestrade declined comment when Sherlock came over on his way back from dumping his takeaway in the bin and inserted himself in the space next to John on the sofa. John made room for him without even taking his eyes off the television, his arm going automatically up along the back of the sofa so that Sherlock could nestle in alongside him. When Lestrade glanced over again, he saw that Sherlock was asleep or half-asleep on John’s shoulder, John’s fingers laced carelessly into his hair. John, following Lestrade’s gaze, looked over at Sherlock fondly, and then turned back to kiss Lestrade, more than fondly.

“How can this be easy for you?” Lestrade wanted to know.

“Hmm? I don’t know. It is easy, though. Does it upset you so much, honestly?”

Lestrade wasn’t sure if it did, or if he only thought it ought to. He decided to try not being upset by it, just to see. He suspected that Sherlock was awake when he and John left the sofa and went upstairs a few minutes later, but Sherlock didn’t make a sound, just shifted his weight onto the arm of the sofa. In return, Lestrade said nothing when he heard the bedroom door creak open in the middle of the night and felt the mattress give under a third person’s weight. John spooned up closer to him in his sleep, sighing softly, and that, Lestrade decided, he didn’t mind at all.

When he woke again, it was full daylight, and the sound that jolted him from sleep was the heavy thud of outer door to the building being pulled shut. There was a key in the lock, and footsteps walking away down the street, brisk.

The space in the middle of the bed was empty. A John-shaped no-man’s-land. “You’re kidding me,” Lestrade groaned, and Sherlock made a protesting sleepy sound and reached out an arm. His eyelids flew wide open in alarm a moment later.

“He’s just left for work, that’s all. Christ. Do you let him go to the loo by himself?” Lestrade felt bad as soon as he said it, because Sherlock looked genuinely panicked. Only for an instant, though. His eyes turned sharp and cold and self-aware as soon as he was awake enough to assess the situation.

“I suppose you’re meant to talk some rough sense into me now,” Sherlock said. “Your idea or his?”

Lestrade shook his head and laughed, rolling back over onto his back. “His. And fuck that. When did it ever work?”

“You tied me to a chair one time. That was fairly effective.”

“Massively different circumstances. And the revenge you took afterward would make anyone think twice about doing it again. No, you’re on your own.” He smiled lazily, though, thinking of it: the one day of his life he’d truly bested Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock was silent, scrutinising him with naked interest, and Lestrade glanced down at himself and remembered that he wasn’t wearing a shirt. The scar. Right.

“I’ve never seen it,” Sherlock said, unable to hide his fascination. “It’s a lot longer than I expected.”

“As the actress said to the bishop,” Lestrade quipped, but Sherlock barely smirked in response.

“You were how old, eight? But there’s a secondary-- Two operations. The second one two, three years later?”

“Three,” Lestrade said. “Three years.” He was surprised by what an effort it took not to turn away, cover up, after all this time.

Sherlock’s eyes flicked up to his face. “Sorry,” he said, and looked away.

Lestrade wanted to get out of the room suddenly, badly. He could handle Sherlock when they were both fully dressed and cloaked in professionalism, or with the buffer of John between them. He’d forgotten, though, just how much he hated the terrible feeling of exposure you inevitably got from being around Sherlock in any kind of personal context. He fucking knew everything, or if he didn’t, you couldn’t help imagining that he did. Lestrade almost sympathized with Anderson and Donovan sometimes, honestly. Only John could take it, and Lestrade still had no idea how he managed--but then John was indestructible, he’d proved it time and time again. Lestrade, as every doctor he’d ever met liked to tell him, was not.

“You can’t give up detecting,” he said, vicious anger coming out sharp and sudden in his voice, making Sherlock blink. “What in God’s name do you think you’re going to do? Your head’s made of razor blades. You’re going to stay in here and focus all of that on him? Even he’s not up to that. You’ll shred him. You’ll lose him.”

Sherlock had gone still, leaning back against the headboard with his legs up, long legs in striped pyjamas, arms wrapped around his knees. “Better that than let him be taken away, locked up, killed by some lunatic on the street,” he said, his voice and expression absolutely flat, as if this were something he’d repeated to himself a hundred times before. “Next time--”

“You’re insane. There might not be a next time. You’ll definitely lose him your way--”

“But he won’t be dead,” Sherlock pointed out, a needle of anger working its way to the surface of his voice at last.

“He can take care of himself. Jesus. Have you met the man? Besides, he’ll have us.” Lestrade realised that he was stupidly delivering exactly the sort of speech he’d planned not to make, and got up swiftly, stealing the topsheet to wrap around himself so he could make it out of the room with at least a shred of dignity left. “Whatever. I’m not doing this. Like I said, you’re on your own.”

*****

The umbrella was in the bin outside the front door when John arrived home from his second day back at work, which he took as a hopeful sign of returning life and energy. Sherlock had texted him a relatively moderate fifty-seven times that day, another cautious victory.

The flat smelled of sulphur and cooked bacon, and the kitchen tabletop was covered with beakers. "Stop grinning," Sherlock warned, as John entered the room and surveyed the chaos. "It's purely experimental research."

"Of course," John said lightly. "I'd never have suggested otherwise. Have a nice chat with Lestrade this morning, did you?"

Sherlock gave him a black look. "I've told you, John, if you think there's any chance these cheap manipulations are at all--" He stopped mid-rant as his mobile went off. It was sitting on the edge of the desk, within John's reach, and he read the message before tossing it over to Sherlock. His own mobile buzzed as he did so, and he fished it out of his pocket; the texts were identical.

Another Thatcher bust, and a body this time as well
Come instantly
131 Pitt Street, Kensington

GL

They looked at each other, then back at their phones. Sherlock shook his head and turned back to his beakers with a hand-wave and a sniff of disdain.

“Well, I’m going,” John said, and picked up his jacket from the chair where he'd tossed it when he'd come in. He was out the door and down the stairs again before Sherlock could object.

He waited on the front walk, glancing at his watch. Sherlock held out for another three and a half minutes before bursting out the front door at a run, coat half on.

John smiled, and turned to hail a cab.