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A Friend in Need

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The long, lanky figure is sprawled over a chair in the interview room when Detective Inspector Lestrade walks in.

“I didn’t kill her,” the figure says, his voice slurred and muffled, but incredibly deep, incredibly posh. That voice says public school, that voice says wealthy. It also, likely, says entitled prat.

That voice would not usually say junkie and homeless, but the evidence is hard to refute—particularly the pungent odour. Lestrade glances down at Detective Constable Williams’ report.

…Found at scene clearly under the influence of some substance…when DC Jones and myself began to interview the subject, he claimed that he was not responsible for the victim’s murder but that her brother was and that he could prove it….

…subject became verbally abusive when we told him we were going to take him down to the nearest station for his own good, called us “liars, probably in league with [his] brother”…

…Items found on subject include 3.5oz of a white powder currently undergoing testing, a 12-inch kitchen knife with a suspicious stain—also undergoing testing…

When he glances back up, the figure hasn’t moved. The man’s head is lolling back over the edge of the chair and an arm is flung across his face, hiding it from view.

He sighs. This is only the third time he’s had the dubious honour of meeting Sherlock Holmes and, while the man is undoubtedly brilliant and a genius, he can be a complete idiot. Which is to say nothing of the headaches that his appearance on the scene of a crime tends to cause.

“You have to admit,” Lestrade says, “it doesn’t look good. You were found intoxicated, in possession of drugs and a knife that matches the wound pattern on the victim—”

Sherlock Holmes scoffs scornfully and props himself up to look at Lestrade disdainfully. “I don’t have to admit anything of the sort. If you knew anything, you’d know that the victim didn’t die from stabbing. The stabs were inflicted post-mortem to throw suspicion onto the woman’s flatmate. Obviously.”

“Obviously,” Lestrade echoes wryly, rolling his eyes. “Sherlock,” he sighs, trying to think of how to approach what will be a very difficult conversation. Sherlock himself is not helping, having allowed his head to fall back again. “Look, you’re a genius. You see things that other people don't see and you could be a real asset to us, but you can’t keep going on like this. You were found in possession of enough drugs to put you away for a few years at least.”

Sherlock waves a hand in his direction disdainfully and Lestrade frowns, thinking. Pleading doesn’t work with a self-diagnosed sociopath, and isn’t at all helpful when the man is high as a kite; threatening to throw him in gaol will obviously do no good, either. He should know—he’s already tried. Lestrade realises he’s going to have to strike at something that Sherlock holds very dear in order to get his attention. And, as far as he knows, there’s only one thing more important to Sherlock Holmes than the drugs.

It’s not without a certain amount of risk; though he doesn’t know Sherlock well yet, he’s seen enough to know that the man—boy, really—can throw a strop worthy of a two year old. Lestrade knows all about that, being a parent. Still, it’s about the only card he’s got left to play.

“Right, well, that’s lovely that you think it’s the brother, but I think it’s the flatmate. Looks open and shut to me,” he says brusquely. He doesn’t react at all when Sherlock’s head pops up to glare at him. “Thank you for your efforts, Sherlock, but I think the professionals can handle it from here.”

He’s not above a little bit of pettiness, especially if it’ll get the point across, but it’s all in the service of something better. Of course, he’d never say that out loud.

Lestrade watches neutrally as Sherlock straightens in his seat, glaring. “If the professionals could handle it, Detective Inspector,” he says, his words dripping with condescension, “then you wouldn’t need me to correct your obvious mistakes.”

“The only obvious mistake I see,” Lestrade says calmly, “is not arresting you for possession of a Class A substance with intent to supply.” Sherlock makes a strangled, angry noise that puts Lestrade in mind of a cat. “You could get life for that.”

“I won’t,” Sherlock says immediately. His glare has not abated in the slightest.

“Doesn’t matter,” Lestrade continues. “Even if Big Brother gets you out of that, I’ll know the truth.” Lestrade watches as Sherlock’s face briefly turns ugly at the mention of his brother—ironic, really, because he doesn’t seem to mind Mycroft when it’s convenient—before it smooths out into a blank look that Lestrade just knows is designed to hide everything. Sherlock is very good at it and Lestrade can’t honestly tell what Sherlock’s thinking. He has no intention of letting on, though.

“And what is the truth?” Sherlock asks, sounding bored and amused.

“That you’re a junkie, and I can’t have someone like that around a crime scene.” Sherlock’s face doesn’t change—not so much as a twitch—so Lestrade simply has to hope that his meaning is clear. “So, thank you for your help on those other cases, but I think we can handle it from here.”

“You can’t, that’s the problem,” Sherlock fires back, frowning. And there’s the crack in the armour, Lestrade thinks, the only chink he can pick at to worm his way through. To get this brilliant, infuriating man to listen.

“Regardless,” Lestrade responds seriously, “we’ll have to.” He forces himself to meet those eerie eyes—so pale, so sharp and hard and cold and desperate. Sherlock has to know how serious he is about this—the one deal breaker, the only thing that Lestrade won’t compromise on to get Sherlock’s help. “As long as you’re using, I won’t bring you in. You may think I’m bluffing or that I’ll cave in, but I won’t, Sherlock. Not on this.”

He can’t help picturing where the road that Sherlock’s on will lead if he doesn’t stop; soon enough, there will be no other paths, no escape from an abrupt, tragic end. Lestrade’s been a cop for too long and has seen it happen all too often; he knows how this story goes and Sherlock is too brilliant, too unique to come to such a mundane, all-too-common end.

It’s not so much that Lestrade fancies himself a saviour, or guardian angel; rather, it’s more that he sees what a waste it would be, perhaps more in this case than others.

There is complete silence in the room as Lestrade stares at Sherlock and Sherlock stares right back at him, a game of chicken that neither man is willing to break. It stretches on for long minutes, a silence that permeates the room. Lestrade caves in first—as he knew he would. “So what’s it going to be?” he asks.

Sherlock doesn’t answer, merely stares at him as if he can force Lestrade to yield.

“You have a choice here, okay? I can arrest you for the drugs, or I can call your brother and he can arrange some rehab for you.”

Sherlock’s look turns deadly. “No.”

“One or the other, Sherlock,” Lestrade answers back, leaning forward. “However you feel about him— and, personally, I think he’s a right creepy bastard— you can’t put one past him. He’s the only one I’ll trust when he tells me that you’re clean.”

“You shouldn’t trust him,” Sherlock snarls, eyes narrowed. “He’s a lying, evil, fat git.”

“Fine,” Lestrade says with a shrug, heading towards the door. “I’ll just call DC Williams, shall I? Have him take you into custody.” He gets as far as turning the handle on the door before he hears, “Wait.”

He stops in his tracks and turns around, surprised by the fact that Sherlock is already on his feet and swooping towards him. “You’re serious,” Sherlock mutters, almost to himself, as if he can’t believe it.

“Yes, I am.”

There’s another long silence as Sherlock studies him closely—his look not defiant as before, but interested, intrigued. Though Lestrade hasn’t known Sherlock long, he’s seen that look before, usually directed at corpses. It’s more than slightly unnerving to be the focus of it now.

He holds his breath and stays absolutely still; only his eyes move to follow Sherlock as he suddenly pulls away and paces in the small room.

“Fine.”

Lestrade exhales slowly and fumbles with his mobile to call Mycroft Holmes when the door opens and the man himself walks in, ever-present umbrella in hand. “Sherlock. Detective Inspector.”

“What are you doing here?” Lestrade asks before he truly thinks, and then berates himself when two pairs of piercing blue eyes turn to stare at him.

Sherlock scoffs and stares at his brother. “What do you think?” he asks the room derisively. “He can’t keep his fat face out of my business.”

“Oh, Sherlock,” Mycroft says, politely, but dripping with condescension, “when will you learn that your behaviour necessitates mine?”

“Sod off,” Sherlock retorts.

“No, I don’t think I will,” Mycroft replies with a creepy smile. “You’ve just acquiesced to the DI’s insistence that you allow me to help you get cleaned up.” Mycroft looks his brother up and down and probably comes to the same conclusion that Lestrade has, that Sherlock’s attention to his grooming requires the same attention as his other, more destructive habits.

Sherlock doesn’t say anything to that, simply narrowing his eyes. This, unfortunately, means that Mycroft turns his attention to Lestrade.

“Thank you, Detective Inspector,” he says. And while Lestrade thinks the man is creepy, supercilious, and more than a bit of a bastard, he also believes—very deep down—that Mycroft only wants what is best for Sherlock. In that, they are in agreement.

He doesn’t say this, merely nods at the man, who takes the gesture for what it is and returns his attention to his younger brother. “Come along.”

“Don’t treat me like a child,” Sherlock snaps, but is grudgingly following. Lestrade hastily looks down at his case notes to do his best to hide his smile; he thinks he only gets away with it because the Holmes brothers are too focused on their mind games to pay any attention to him.

“When you prove to me you’re not one, I won’t.”

Neither man acknowledges Lestrade as they leave. It’s all over so quickly that Lestrade stares around the empty room in disbelief. The Holmes brothers—both of them—are akin to a natural disaster; a force of nature, something to prepare for as best one is able and ride out the worst of it in the hope that it won’t utterly destroy you. And despite the devastation they leave in their wake, you almost can’t help but be a bit in awe of them.

Still, Lestrade thinks as he gathers up his paperwork to head back to his office, it’s better not to be directly in their path if one can help it. Much better survival odds.

*

“Colin Hancock,” Sherlock says quietly, his tone deadly serious. “Responsible for the abduction of John Watson.”

"And his family," Lestrade adds, not at all surprised that Sherlock neglected to.

The man in question has his back to a wall—rather literally—and has the appearance of a rabbit in the headlights. “That wasn’t me,” he says, white as a sheet and shaking.

“There’s no sense in lying,” Lestrade says when Sherlock simply glowers at the young man. “We know that you killed them when—”

“Shut up!” he screams, looking unhinged. Something in Lestrade’s gut clenches at the scream, because it sounds animalistic, completely detached from humanity. It’s chilling and makes him worry about what might have become of Doctor Watson while in this man’s grasp.

“I didn’t kill anyone,” Hancock says, still looking wild and untamed—a wounded animal backed into a corner. Suddenly, the situation feels far more dangerous and Lestrade holds himself still, stopping a few feet from their suspect.

Sherlock—as per usual—seems to have no concept of exercising caution. “Of course you did,” he says, almost savagely. “And then you went to Moriarty to help you cover it up and all he demanded was one tiny little favour in return,” he says mockingly, eyes narrowed dangerously. It’s worrying, how Sherlock is channelling his worry and anger over John’s disappearance, because it’s leading him to take risks that Lestrade is sure the good doctor wouldn’t approve of. Like now.

“No, it wasn’t like that,” Hancock whispers, face extremely pale and eyes huge in his face. Lestrade can see how dilated they are, making him look simultaneously mad as a hatter and scared stiff. Not a good combination, and it makes the hairs on the back of Lestrade’s arms raise.

“Where is he?” Sherlock demands and steps very close to their suspect, either oblivious or uncaring of the danger signs. Even as he does it, Lestrade takes an involuntary step forward, wanting to grab onto Sherlock’s coat to haul him back.

“I had nothing to do with that!” the younger man snarls and, in the blink of an eye—too quick, in fact, for Lestrade to process while it’s happening—he’s drawn a knife and slashed blindly at Sherlock.

Sherlock cries out—which is unnerving, because it sounds involuntary and nothing Sherlock does is involuntary—collapses back against a wall and clutches at his stomach.

“Sherlock!” Lestrade yells, and barely restrains himself from running over to the man. He remembers the training they’d had—training they’ve had to refresh from time to time. Stay calm, no sudden movements, low, soothing tones of voice.

Taking a deep breath, Lestrade carefully steps closer to check on Sherlock—wary of Hancock and, more specifically, Hancock’s knife, especially the way it’s trembling in the young man’s hand.

“Sherlock, are you okay?” he asks quietly, keeping his eyes mostly on Hancock, but glancing over at Sherlock. From what he can see—still a couple of feet away—the wound is bleeding profusely. Sherlock’s clothes are in the way, of course, but already his shirt looks damp and the dark stain seems to be growing larger.

Sherlock manages to grunt at him, which Lestrade hopes is a good sign. He hesitates for a moment—check how Sherlock is in more detail or try and talk Hancock down? Ultimately, though, the decision is almost a no-brainer; if he goes to look Sherlock over, he’ll be turning his back on Hancock, which is simply suicidal.

He takes another careful step forward. “Look,” he says calmly, his hands held out in a placating fashion, “we know you were involved, all right? Your fingerprints were at the scene, several witnesses saw you with Doctor Watson. We need to know where he is.”

“I didn’t do it,” Hancock replies weakly, his hands shaking.

Lestrade eases forward carefully. “Okay, fine,” he says gently, now nearly next to Sherlock, who is glaring up at their suspect from the ground, but it lacks its usual sharp quality. It doesn’t take a consulting detective to tell that Sherlock is in pain. But Lestrade takes heart at the fact that Sherlock has remained conscious and more or less coherent. He refocuses on Hancock.

“But you can still help us find our friend, can’t you?” he asks gently, keeping his voice low. He’s doing his best to keep the panic at bay, but despite everything, he’s aware of how little time they have—not only to find John, but also to get Sherlock some medical attention. He thinks he’s doing well, all things considered, but he can feel shudders of fear and worries crawling up his spine, lodging in his hindbrain. He has to keep talking. “You did see him, after all. We just want to find him, make sure he’s okay. You understand, don’t you?”

Their suspect is crying, shaking so hard that his grip on the knife is almost completely slack. “Yeah,” he whimpers. “I didn’t know anything. Some…some bloke just asked me to follow and to get his attention in an alley.”

“What happened then?” Lestrade asks, aware of the fact that Hancock is lying, or simply in deep denial—they know that Hancock sought Moriarty out specifically, after all—but now’s not the time. He spares another brief glance at Sherlock and is relieved that Sherlock doesn’t look much worse. Apart from being extremely pale and in obvious pain, he’s still following the conversation and still aware, if the glare at their suspect is anything to go by. Lestrade looks back at Hancock, whose arms have gone almost limp, the knife not even pointed at anything specific any longer. “A couple of big thugs knocked him over the head and dragged him away.”

“What did the first man look like?” Sherlock manages to say. Lestrade hears the strain in Sherlock’s voice, but he suspects that someone who didn’t know him well would find it more difficult to pick up on.

“Big,” Hancock says, “Irish.”

“What else can you remember?” Lestrade says, doing his best to exude calmness.

“I…” he shakes his head, tears streaming down his face. His hand shakes harder and he readjusts his grip on the knife, which is worrying. “He said he would help me, but I had to do something first. Nothing big, he says, just follow this small blond man and call him over into an alley. I…I think he was military.”

“The blond man?” Lestrade asks, surprised that Hancock could have known this about John.

“No,” he sniffles, “the Irish one. He had one of the thugs with him and they saluted him.”

“Okay,” Lestrade says, sparing a glance at Sherlock. The man looks grim, and Lestrade can only imagine why. He’s heard the whispers about Moriarty, but this doesn’t sound like the man at all. He pushes that thought away and focuses on the fact that he has to get the knife away from Hancock and call for an ambulance. “It’s going to be all right,” he says, even as he knows it might not be. “Why don’t you give me that knife and let me call an ambulance for my friend, okay?”

“I didn’t do it,” Hancock repeats automatically, with much less feeling in it than previously.

“I know,” Lestrade answers and holds out his hand for the knife. “Just give it here and you won’t have to worry. It’s going to be all right,” he repeats, fighting to keep his voice calm.

Hancock doesn’t move to stop Lestrade when he takes the knife away with one hand and fishes out his mobile to call 999 with the other. He simply crouches near the wall and buries his face in his hands.

“Sherlock? All right?”

“Of course I’m fine,” Sherlock grunts, lying through his teeth. It’d be much more convincing if he weren’t bleeding all over his hands and white as a sheet.

Lestrade doesn’t contradict him, though, simply steps over to him and drops his coat over Sherlock to stave off shock. He’s just thankful that Sherlock has remained coherent and aware, if obviously in pain.

Once the ambulance has arrived and the paramedics have inspected Sherlock—moderate abdominal wound, not too much muscle damage, thank goodness—and their main suspect is in custody, Lestrade feels at a bit of a loss. According to Sherlock, Hancock was their main lead for information on John and now, without that, they’re back to square one. They’re running out of time.

Which is the only reason he insists on being transported with Sherlock in the ambulance; well, that and to make certain that Sherlock actually gets in the ambulance and receives the rest and care he needs. Sherlock had attempted to say that he didn’t need it, but Lestrade knew better and knew that—with John missing—it fell to him to make sure Sherlock didn’t neglect his own health. “Well, that wasn’t helpful,” he says, pointedly ignoring the scowl on Sherlock’s face.

“Of course it was,” he answers haughtily, which is quite a feat, given that Sherlock is lying prone on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance.

“And how is that?” he asks.

“We know who took John.”

Lestrade waits a moment for him to continue, but when Sherlock doesn’t, he sighs in defeat. “All right, I’ll bite. Who took him, besides a ‘Big Irish Bloke’ who may or may not have been in the military.”

“Moriarty.”

“What?” Lestrade says in surprise, staring at Sherlock. “I know you said he was Irish, but—”

“It’s him,” Sherlock says grimly, a truly ugly look on his face. “He promised to burn the heart out of me at the pool and—”

“I know, but—”

“—this is how he intends to do it.”

“Through John.” It’s almost a question, but not really, because Lestrade may be slower than Sherlock, but he’s not stupid. A person would have to be truly blind not to see how the man feels about John Watson.

“Of course through John,” Sherlock says, but his disdain is done by rote without much passion behind it. Lestrade has no problem ignoring it and wondering if it’s worth broaching the topic. But just as he’s trying to formulate the words to ask if John knows how Sherlock feels, if Sherlock knows that John feels the same way—because he’s got eyes and John’s always looking at Sherlock as if the man had hung the moon—just as he’s mentally calculating how awkward and uncomfortable such a conversation would be, Sherlock glares ferociously at him. It’s so severe, and so at odds with the vulnerable position that Sherlock is in, that it temporarily robs Lestrade of speech. It’s only temporary, of course, but in that moment any half-formed plans of broaching the topic are abandoned; Lestrade doesn’t like to think what it would cost Sherlock to vocalise those words.

When they finally find John three days later, beaten, bloody, almost broken but not dead, thank God, Lestrade thinks Sherlock’s solicitousness—despite being obviously injured himself—and the way he hovers by the doctor, the way he fights to be allowed to stay with John in hospital past visiting hours (and the way that John leans into him, the way that John doesn’t protest at Sherlock’s hovering)--all of it says more about their feelings than words ever could, and he thinks that it shouldn’t be long, now. They’ll finally get their act together and talk to each other.

It’ll make being at crime scenes with them difficult, perhaps, but the unbearable tension will at least be gone.

But it’s not. The next time he sees them, it’s blindingly obvious that the life-affirming exchange of feelings that should have happened hasn’t. Sherlock swoops around here and there, tossing out deductions and insults in equal measure, while John alternately stares longingly at his flatmate and then determinedly looks away. Lestrade can’t explain it—why haven’t they said anything? Everyone can see that they’re mad about each other.

Surely soon, he tells himself. He’s not sure how long either of them can bear to put up with the status quo, since they’re both men of action and often willingly leap into danger.

It changes, but it only seems to get worse over the next few months, with Sherlock barely looking at John and John’s gazes growing sadder and more weary. It begins to look uncomfortably like resignation.

When the call comes in about a dead body in a locked room in Elephant and Castle, he calls Sherlock in at the beginning and resolves to talk to either Sherlock or John, to encourage them to talk, damnit.

But he’s hardly had a chance to get a word in edgeways with Sherlock when he spots John, determined look on his face, approaching their new DS—DS Morstan—and asking for her number and a date.

He looks over at Sherlock incredulously, but Sherlock is ignoring him, his focus instead on berating and insulting Anderson. Lestrade doesn’t fail to notice that Sherlock sounds particularly vicious today.

It’s enough to make him want to shake Sherlock and ask him what the hell he’s thinking—perhaps pull John aside and ask why he never said anything—but he know it’s not his business. And every time he thinks about it—when John and DS Morstan share a laugh, when Sherlock (perhaps thinking he’s not being observed) stares at John just a little too long, when John stares back when Sherlock’s in the middle of one of his monologues—he remembers the way Sherlock looked, fierce and vulnerable on his back on a stretcher and the notion dies.

It’s not his place to say anything, and he suspects that—at this point—neither man would appreciate his well-meaning interference. He’ll stop Sherlock from destroying evidence and use his authority to get his team to work with the genius, and he’ll stay the hell out of the man’s private life.

It’s what’s expected of him.

*

Lestrade pins his flower to the coat of his morning suit and inspects himself in the mirror, fiddling with his cravat which has somehow become crooked. He frowns at it and he’s just debating the merits of asking his wife to retie it when he hears the door behind him open. In the mirror he can see Sherlock behind him, looking especially sharp in his morning suit —not a thing out of place, from his hair to his cravat to his cufflinks.

“Your cravat is crooked,” Sherlock informs him imperiously, which just causes Lestrade to scowl at him in the mirror.

“Thank you for stating the obvious,” he says, with no real heat. Being irritated would be easier and, he suspects, more welcome than pity.

Sherlock doesn’t dignify that with a response, brushing the remark aside as if he hadn’t heard it.

“Moriarty’s getting ready for the endgame,” he says instead. It probably shouldn’t surprise Lestrade that Sherlock jumps straight onto talk of crime and criminal masterminds, but Lestrade suspects it’s down to the fact that Sherlock can’t abide talking about anything more personal right at this moment. All things considered, Lestrade can’t blame him.

“How do you know that?” Lestrade asks suspiciously. He has a right to be suspicious, he thinks; after all, this is the same man who invited a mad criminal mastermind to meet him in a pool with no back-up.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Isn’t it obvious? He’s ramping all of his business up—drugs, arms, his criminal consulting. He’s making his final push.” Sherlock pauses and then lowers his voice even further. “He’ll want me out of the way for good soon.”

An uneasy feeling creeps up Lestrade’s spine at these words. “What are you going to do?”

Seeing Sherlock hesitate does not help the dread that is sinking into the pit of his stomach. “Sherlock…” he says, quietly and intensely.

“I have a lead,” Sherlock answers after a moment, his eyes unfocused for a moment before they regain the more familiar sharp focus. “It’s not much at the moment, but…”

“What is it?” Lestrade demands.

“A cold case, a mysterious death from the mid-90’s; a well-respected Professor of Mathematics at Trinity College named Patrick Fitzgerald was found dead in his bed, apparently of heart failure.”

“And you think this is related to Moriarty?” Lestrade asks, dubiously.

Sherlock smiles at this, but it’s a sharp and bitter smile. “Oh, yes.”

“How?”

“I think the man was Moriarty’s father,” he says.

Lestrade knows he’s gaping at Sherlock, eyes wide. After a moment to collect himself, he clears his throat. “Right, so, what? He took his mother’s last name then?”

Sherlock shakes his head. “No. Her maiden name was Connelly. Her mother’s maiden name, however, was Moriarty.”

Lestrade sighs. “That’s not much of a connection. How do you know—”

“I’ve done my research,” Sherlock snaps, glaring a bit. “Anna Fitzgerald died in 1986, left her only son—James—in the care of her mother, Edith Connelly nee Moriarty. The Connellys lived in Brighton, which is where Carl Powers lived.”

“Okay, so, we know who Moriarty is,” Lestrade says slowly, ignoring the growing noise from out in the church. He can’t help but realise, though, that they don’t have much time until the ceremony starts. “So what?” he asks, looking at Sherlock. “He’s going back to Dublin? That doesn’t sound like a place he’d want to return to.”

Sherlock’s lips twitch, as though he wants to smile; Lestrade barely has time to wonder if he’s said something intelligent, finally, when Sherlock shoots that notion down. “Don’t be absurd,” he hisses in annoyance. “Of course that’s where Moriarty’s heading; it’s where his operation began and his connections are deepest. It’s at the very heart of it all.”

Lestrade stares at him, convinced that the man is lying through his teeth—he may not be brilliant and he may be prone to being deceived on occasion, but he’s also been a cop and he’s seen hundreds of criminals. He knows a lie when he sees one and everything in him is telling him he’s seeing it now. The problem is, of course, that he’s just not sure which part Sherlock’s lying about, or if he’s making the whole thing up; so he says nothing, sure that his scepticism is clear.

“You don’t believe me—even though you really should—but we don’t have time to discuss it now.”

He could argue—really, he could—but Sherlock is right; then again, he suspects that Sherlock brought this up now for this very reason. “Fine, all right. Dublin. When are you going?”

Silence stretches out between them and Lestrade looks at Sherlock, who won’t look at him in return. The dread that had settled in his stomach grew heavier. “Sherlock,” he says cautiously, already knowing he isn’t going to like the man’s answer.

“Tonight,” Sherlock answers, quietly.

Lestrade stares. “Tonight?” he repeats, dumbly. “But John’s supposed to be going on his honeymoon—”

Now who’s stating the obvious?” Sherlock asks, and Lestrade thinks he’s aiming for irony, though it sounds more pained than anything. It does make one thing breathtaking clear, however.

“You’re not going to tell him,” Lestrade breathes, horrified.

Sherlock doesn’t say anything, which is as good as an admission.

“Why?”

“Because he’s made his choice,” Sherlock says suddenly, sounding agonised.

“That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want to know,” Lestrade says, trying to sound reasonable, though it’s hard, given the way that Sherlock’s face has scrunched up as if he’s swallowed a lemon. “He has every reason to want Moriarty brought to justice.” There’s a long, awkward pause. “He’d want to help, and I know you want him to. You should at least tell him—”

“Tell him what, exactly?” Sherlock growls, stepping in close to Lestrade. “That I’m leaving tonight—without him, on my own—to face the greatest criminal on earth? That I don’t know when, or if, I’m coming back? Should I tell him there’s nothing he can do, should I spoil this day for him? Is that what you’d have me do, Lestrade?”

Lestrade flinches and Sherlock glares at him, and then takes a deep breath and steps back. “He doesn’t want to know that,” he says firmly, his eyes roaming around the room. “He’s happy now; he wouldn’t want that ruining his honeymoon. Besides, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that he’s terrible at goodbyes.”

“You don’t have to go alone. I’ll come with you—”

“No.”

“Why not?” Lestrade asks crossly.

“My brother already knows. He’ll see to it that I have backup.”

They’re both silent in the wake of this pronouncement. Lestrade thinks about it and he can’t shake the feeling that Sherlock should tell John, that Sherlock is wrong and John would absolutely want to know about this. “I still think someone should tell him,” Lestrade mutters, glaring at Sherlock. “And if you won’t do it…”

“No.” Sherlock stares at him intensely. “I won’t tell him, and neither will you.”

“Why?” Lestrade asks, defiantly.

“Because you don’t want to spoil this day for him anymore than I.”

Lestrade tries to deny this, tries to tell himself that he’s going to tell John anyway, but the man himself picks that moment to pop in—looking nervous, ecstatic and practically glowing. Sherlock’s right; he can’t possibly ruin this day for John.

And, glancing over at Sherlock, he knows that Sherlock knows.

“Finally. I was wondering where you two’d gone off to.”

Lestrade looks back at John and smiles. “You found us.”

“It must be nearly time,” Sherlock says, sounding subdued.

Lestrade sees John’s face go soft and almost sad when he looks at his friend. “Nearly,” John answers quietly, the glow that he walked in with dissipating slightly.

“Are you ready?” Lestrade asks, more to distract both Sherlock and John than out of any real curiosity about the answer.

“Yeah,” he says, seeming to recover himself enough to smile at the two of them—though Lestrade doesn’t think he imagines the way John’s eyes linger on Sherlock. “That’s a nice morning coat,” John adds, nodding at the incredibly sharp—and probably incredibly expensive—suit.

“Thank you,” Sherlock says quietly, awkwardly. It breaks Lestrade’s heart just a little to hear it, mainly because he realises just how much Sherlock has changed over the years. Well, since John.

John’s face loses its nervous anticipation for a moment—something about the furrow of his brows and the way he licks his lips subconsciously broadcasting his nerves and betraying his feelings for his best friend. There’s something in the way his eyes lock on Sherlock’s—the tension in the room ratcheting up to nearly unbearable levels—that tells the story as much as anything else. Lestrade desperately wishes that things were different, that John wasn’t marrying Mary even though Lestrade knows John loves her, too; he wishes that Sherlock would tell John how he feels and what he’s going to do. It’s not that Sherlock doesn’t trust John, but Lestrade still can’t work out what’s been holding Sherlock back all this time. Perhaps it will be one of those mysteries that only Sherlock Holmes himself can solve; in which case, Lestrade rather suspects it will remain a mystery.

“Well,” Lestrade says, interrupting the moment and ignoring Sherlock’s glare. Perhaps if Sherlock weren’t glaring at him, if he’d only look over at John, he’d see the same thing that Lestrade does—that everyone does; maybe Sherlock would see the yearning in John’s eyes, the look of wonder that he only ever directs at Sherlock. But Sherlock doesn’t, and Lestrade can’t help but think that, for all Sherlock’s brilliance, he has his moments of blindness. “Suppose we should take our places, eh?”

John clears his throat and blinks before smiling at them. “Right. But before we do, I just want to say…thank you.” He’s really only looking at Sherlock as he says this, but Lestrade doesn’t take offence. “Both of you.”

Lestrade sneaks a peek at Sherlock and the man looks speechless, as if he isn’t sure what he should do or say. So Lestrade steps in to save him from himself. “You’re welcome,” he says and moves to clap John on the shoulder. “Good luck.”

Shaking himself slightly, Sherlock holds out his hand and nods at John. “Good luck,” he says formally. John laughs at him and raises an eyebrow. “Really, Sherlock, a handshake?”

Sherlock splutters, looking like an offended cat as John bats his hand away. But his face twists into something almost like pain, almost like triumph, almost like a hundred other things—both good and bad—when John says, “Come here,” and pulls him into a tight hug.

Lestrade can’t bear to watch his face for long, because it’s too painful and heart-wrenching to see. So he mumbles a few words of excuse and leaves the room.

He doesn’t wait long for them; they both exit a few moments after him, but with very different expressions. As always, John’s face is incredibly open; Lestade can read his excitement, his nervousness, and also his sadness for the life he’s leaving behind. Sherlock, on the other hand, has schooled his features to a blank mask, letting nothing out. To Lestrade, it’s as good a confirmation of what the man is feeling, but he can’t help wishing—not for the first time—that he weren’t so good at it. If he’d let something slip, if John had seen something in Sherlock’s face, then maybe…

There’s no time for that now, though, because they’re taking their places and waiting for the ceremony to begin.

The ceremony passes in a blur; the only impressions that stick are Mary looking lovely and John calm and steady, watching her raptly; Sherlock remaining impassive throughout the ceremony, even at the end, when the vicar pronounces them man and wife and John and Mary kiss. Lestrade purposefully does not glance in Sherlock’s direction.

And then everyone is making their way to the reception hall, and that passes in a blur, too—except for a completely different reason, thanks to all the expensive booze. He’s so wrapped up in dancing with his wife and handling the babysitter mini-crisis that he almost misses Sherlock slipping away from the reception.

He finds himself glancing over at John—John who’s oblivious, who is completely wrapped up in his new wife—and thinks about his options. He’s already decided to let John be, so that means he could follow in Sherlock’s wake, which he almost as quickly discounts, as he suspects Sherlock will be long gone. One thing he can do is call a friend of his in Dublin and check up on Sherlock’s information about Moriarty. But it’ll have to wait, as it’s already late.

Lestrade thinks, a week and a half later, that he really shouldn’t be surprised that Sherlock lied to him. It’s hard to feel anything other than numb, though, when—a scant half hour after his contact in Dublin informed him that there was no known criminal network like the one Lestrade described to him—Donovan enters his office looking sick and hands him a paper, which relates the discovery of two bodies that had washed up not far from the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. The two bodies, he reads, feeling heartsick, later identified as James Fitzgerald—also known as James Moriarty—and Sherlock Holmes.

And his first thought, as he sees both names in black and white, in print, is for John; John, who remains oblivious. John, who is still on his honeymoon in the Caribbean.

Who, he wonders as he rubs his face with his hands, is going to tell John?

*

Three years later, Sherlock Holmes returns.

Lestrade walks into his office at Scotland Yard one afternoon to find a dead man sitting in his chair, staring at him.

He can’t even get a word out—because he was at the funeral, damn it, and Sherlock Holmes is in a casket in the ground, couldn’t possibly be alive and well and sitting in a chair in his office.

Sherlock—dear God, Sherlock—remains quiet, apparently content to let Lestrade speak first. The only problem with that is, of course, that he has no idea what to say.

“Sherlock….what…?”

Sherlock sighs and rolls his eyes. “Yes, I’m still alive.” The obviously is heavily implied in his tone, and Lestrade finds himself absurdly grateful—despite his anger and grief—to learn that some things never change. “Yes, Moriarty is dead, as is most of his criminal network. His right hand man remains alive—which you would know if you were capable of some observation, since the man is responsible for Adair’s death—and which is why I’ve returned. Are we done with the tedious part of this conversation now?”

“You call a discussion about where the hell you’ve been for three years tedious?” Lestrade asks, more than a little furious.

Sherlock, predictably, doesn’t react, and Lestrade sighs. It’d be nice if that had changed.

“I was at your funeral, for God’s sake. We mourned you. How the hell can you call anything related to that tedious?” he says, his hands shaking even as he tries to keep his voice and face calm.

Sherlock flinches—and that surprises him—before the mask reasserts itself. “Yes, yes, it’s a bit not good, I know,” he says, annoyed. As if he has the right to be annoyed by this conversation, by Lestrade’s anger, and he’s just gearing up for a rant of epic proportions when a sudden thought takes the wind right out of his sails.

“Does John know?”

Sherlock grimaces and looks down. “He does.”

And it suddenly becomes clear; the flinch, the parroting back of a phrase he’s heard John utter many times, the annoyance and disdain—a clear defence mechanism, now he thinks about it—it all adds up to Sherlock having already seen John and John not taking his appearance well.

Lestrade can’t even imagine what that must have been like and the anger is replaced by weariness as he sits down and looks across the desk. “What happened?”

Sherlock doesn’t speak for a long moment, staring down at his hands.

“He…I wasn’t sure what sort of reception I expected when I stopped at his flat. But I had hoped that…” Sherlock trails off, looking pained. Lestrade—despite himself—can’t help but feel just a bit sorry for the man. Despite allowing everyone to think him dead for three years, it was obvious he hadn’t had it easy.

“He…was rather unhappy. Oh, he was glad I wasn’t dead after all, I believe, but on the whole…. He punched me,” Sherlock admits, grimacing.

Now that Lestrade is closer, he can see where the area around Sherlock’s right eye is darker than the rest of his skin. It was still faint, but Lestrade had no doubt that John had packed every bit of strength into that hit and that Sherlock was in for a spectacular bruise.

“Ah,” Lestrade says. “You realise that you deserved that?”

“Yes,” Sherlock answers immediately. “That’s why I didn’t try and duck out of the way.”

“Do you…how much do you know? About what happened to him, I mean.” The while you were gone is left unsaid, but hangs heavily in the air between them.

Sherlock sighs and looks away. “Mycroft updated me.”

“So you know what happened to Harry, and about Mary’s acci—”

“Yes. But even if I hadn’t, one look at him would have tipped me off.”

Lestrade doesn’t doubt that; saying that the last three years had been unkind to John Watson had to be the biggest understatement of the year.

“Will you talk to him?” Sherlock asks suddenly, looking mortified at himself.

“What?”

“Don’t make me repeat myself,” Sherlock snaps, his mouth turned down in disgust.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to,” Lestrade answers firmly. “And then you can explain why you think I should.”

Sherlock sighs and grits his teeth. “Will you speak to him? For me?” Sherlock says, haltingly. “You’re his friend. You’ll…know what to say, to help him.” It’s astounding to see Sherlock so awkward, and Lestrade can’t help but stare. That’s probably why it takes him a few moments to realise that Sherlock has said as much as he’s able.

“That’s it?” he presses, leaning forward. “Nothing else?”

“I just want to know if he’ll forgive me,” Sherlock mutters lowly, staring at his hands.

Lestrade’s eyes widen. Of all the things he might have expected out of Sherlock, begging for forgiveness was not one of them.

As much as there was a part of Lestrade who wanted to deny Sherlock, who wanted to punish him for what he’d put them all through, the greater part of him wanted to help because he knew that, ultimately, helping Sherlock in this would be a help to John, too.

“All right,” he says finally, and is intrigued by the way Sherlock slumps as if all of his strings have been cut. “But I’m doing this for John because, right now? I’d rather like to punch you myself.”

“You wouldn’t, though,” Sherlock mumbles.

Lestrade scowls at the man, but damn if he isn’t right. “I should,” he says gruffly and sighs when Sherlock flinches away from him. Sherlock manages to straighten up and stare at Lestrade with something approaching his old hauteur, but it looks fragile and more of a mask than it ever used to.

“But in the meantime, you’re going to tell me why you’ve come back now.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes and huffs, but explains about Sebastian Moran—Moriarty’s right hand man—and his reappearance in London.

“Christ,” Lestrade says when he’s done, rubbing his forehead. “So, you think he killed Adair?”

“I know he killed Adair,” Sherlock says, the old, familiar persona settling into place, albeit imperfectly.

“Fine, fine. So what’s your plan? I assume you have one.”

“Of course I do,” Sherlock says, and then he leans forward to outline his plan. It’s risky, obviously, but it could work. They’ll need John’s help, of course, which immediately raises Lestrade’s hackles.

“Are you serious about wanting his forgiveness?” he says sternly. Because he absolutely won’t manipulate John like that, especially given everything the man has been through.

“Yes,” Sherlock answers immediately, eyebrows raised in true surprise. “Yes,” he says again, and his fingers twitch restlessly. “Those…those feelings you accused me of three years ago,” he continues begrudgingly, “still exist.” There’s something about the tone of his voice that makes Lestrade expect the word ’unfortunately’ to come out of Sherlock’s mouth. It doesn’t, but it’s strongly implied.

“They’re stronger, in fact. And I just want...need...” Sherlock flounders for a moment, clearly lost, which is really painful to see. It only lasts for a moment, but Lestrade’s certain he’ll never forget it. “I want him to forgive me,” Sherlock says firmly, looking at the wall off to his left. “And I want...hope...we can still be friends.”

Lestrade stares at Sherlock, who looks as though he’s just admitted to something truly horrific. He thinks about telling Sherlock that love is nothing to be ashamed of, but he suspects that Sherlock’s not in the frame of mind to listen. Also, he rather thinks that, if John forgives him and returns his feelings, Sherlock will learn it for himself.

With a shake of his head, he idly sorts through some of the paperwork on his desk. “Fine. I had to be sure, though.”

“I suppose,” Sherlock responds, almost sounding as he used to. “Of course, if you’d only observe—”

“Get out,” he interrupts, but without the bite that statement might otherwise have had. “I have work to do.”

Sherlock huffs and stands. “Well, I suppose I’d better leave you to it, all things considered.” He turns to leave and Lestrade rolls his eyes, thinking about how some things never change, when Sherlock stops and turns.

They stare at each other for a long moment and Lestrade wonders if Sherlock is actually going to thank him. Sherlock opens his mouth and hesitates before he says, “And if you want to solve the Jefferson case properly, you should talk to the landlord. He was there and his flat is directly below the victim’s.”

Lestrade shakes his head and fights a small smile as he points towards the door. “Out.”

Sherlock sweeps out and Lestrade shakes his head. Yes, some things never change. And, for once, he’s glad of it.

*

Lestrade glances up at 221B Baker Street and takes a deep breath. He can’t believe he’s here for this, but he has nowhere else to turn. And he’s absolutely certain that Sherlock can help him.

Whether he will help is a completely different story.

But he has no choice and, frankly, it’s not even an option; he’ll do whatever’s necessary, even if it includes begging. He straightens his shoulders and knocks on the door.

Hardly any time passes before John is opening the door with a smile. “Hi,” he says. “New case?” he asks as he leaves the door open for Lestrade to follow him up.

He steps in, closing the door, before following John up the stairs.

“Yes and no,” he answers vaguely when they make it to the landing. John shoots him a curious look, but doesn’t ask questions as they move into the sitting room.

“Ah. Lestrade,” Sherlock greets, not looking at him as he’s entirely focused on the microscope in front of him. “I do hope whatever you’ve brought me this time is more interesting than that last case.”

“I don’t know how interesting this will be,” he says, and there must be some sort of quality to his voice that causes both of the other men to look over at him. Sherlock, particularly, is gazing intently at him. He’s never been one to beat around the bush and—despite the fact that he’s here on a personal matter—he won’t start now.

“My son’s in trouble,” he says bluntly, looking at Sherlock.

There’s silence for a long moment before John clears his throat. “I’ll get some tea,” he says and disappears into the kitchen.

“I need your help,” Lestrade says, distantly surprised by how little those words hurt, how little it costs him to say.

Sherlock waves at him to continue, still staring intently at him, and Lestrade does. “Jack. My son. He…” he trails off, faltering for the first time. It’s not that he regrets it or wants to leave, but he’s not even sure how to say what he needs to.

“Here you go, Greg,” John says, handing him a cup of tea. “Now what’s the matter?”

Lestrade takes a sip and a deep breath and that’s enough to get him back on track. He explains what happened calmly, how he’d received a call from DI Donovan saying that his son had been arrested for murder, that the victim had been his new girlfriend and that Jack was the prime suspect—the only suspect. How Jack didn’t have an alibi because he’d been in his flat alone all night.

“I know he didn’t do it,” Lestrade tells them certainly once he’s finished. “He wouldn’t—he couldn’t—and he can’t lie to me. He’s never been able to.”

“Hmm,” Sherlock says, and Lestrade stares at him. He’s prepared to argue, cajole, threaten, plead, do anything necessary. As much as Lestrade hates to admit it sometimes, Sherlock is the best and Jack deserves—needs—the best right now. Anything else is unimportant.

Lestrade opens his mouth to say something—and he’s not even sure what, just that it has to work—when he sees Sherlock glance over at John. They share a Look—and it absolutely deserves the capital letter because it’s dense, packed with all sorts of unspoken words and communication—before Sherlock turns to him and says, briskly, “Right. I’ll need access to the files, of course. DI Donovan, you say? Well, I can only hope her observational skills have improved over time, though I sincerely doubt it.”

Lestrade blinks in surprise. It’s the result he wants—what he had every intention of getting when he turned up—but it came so easily that at first he’s worried that he’s just imagining it. But when Sherlock looks at him with annoyed anticipation, as if he expects Lestrade to be carrying the case files around with him, the world rights itself and Lestrade nods gratefully. “She is good at her job, you know,” he can’t resist saying, feeling a huge weight off his shoulders when Sherlock merely rolls his eyes and turns his attention to John.

“John, text Sally and tell her I need to see those files and then I’ll need to see the victim’s flat. I have no doubt she’s missed something obvious, especially if she was forced to rely on Anderson.”

John huffs in annoyance at the order, but his eyes are smiling as he pulls out his mobile and begins his slow hunt-and-peck method of typing. “I doubt she’ll be terribly pleased to hear from us,” he comments and neither he nor Lestrade is surprised when Sherlock vaguely waves that away.

“What’s this going to cost me?” Lestrade asks Sherlock, as the man begins pacing. He’s already picturing outrageous demands for access to crime scenes or evidence, or...his imagination fails him. Perhaps he really doesn’t want to know, but regardless of what it is, it’s a price he’ll willingly pay.

“What?” Sherlock asks shortly, but it’s more from distraction than anything else.

“What do you want?” he clarifies.

Sherlock waves an impatient hand at him. “Not now,” he says, sounding irritated and distracted. “Take it up with John later.” He grins and a sharp, brilliant light glints in his eye. “I’ve got more important things to worry about.” And with that, he sweeps from the room.

Lestrade doesn’t know what to say to that, because he knows the dismissal for what it really is—that Sherlock is not going to take advantage of Lestrade’s need. He doesn’t really know what to say—words of thanks and gratitude stuck in his throat—but he doesn’t get the chance to say anything before Sherlock is rushing down the stairs, demanding they follow.

There’s no time for gratitude now, and maybe not later; maybe he’ll never have to say the words because Sherlock will already know—the man is a genius, after all. He’ll solve this case, like he solves all the others, and Lestrade will demand Sherlock take him through it and Sherlock will be annoyed that no one was clever enough to see how he did it, that he constantly has to dumb down his methods for the masses to understand.

Sherlock won’t care to hear how grateful Lestrade is—he’ll more than likely be on to the next thing by then—so he’ll show his gratitude in other ways. Access to cold cases, access to evidence; perhaps even access to the Black Museum.

They don’t need words—words are uncomfortable, words can go wrong, actions are so much easier and can mean so much more. But there is a word for it, one Lestrade’s not afraid to think even if he never says it.

And that word is friend.