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Nor the Years Condemn

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Spring drifts into summer. Lestrade’s already-slow love life had actually sputtered to a halt sometime around March but he doesn’t fully realize it until mid-June. He finds he doesn’t much care. Whatever he’s been looking for (and he still can’t put his finger on it, not really) has been found somewhere between shouting matches in his office and cold dinners consumed over paperwork and sleepless nights spent arguing over the finer points of protocol.

Sherlock’s expensive shampoo appears in the shower one day next to Lestrade’s generic one, and he finds the detective’s brand of toothpaste in the cabinet. There’s an extra razor there, too, which he smirks at because it’s still a wonder to him that Sherlock would actually need to shave. He’s never seen the detective as anything that could even be remotely described as “scruffy,” and never really thought that the man was capable of growing facial hair. He makes a mention of the steady migration of items once, off-handedly, and Sherlock levels that look at him, the one that’s reserved for when he thinks Lestrade is being abnormally daft.

“It makes very little practical sense not to keep such necessities here. Your flat is more conducive to my experiments; naturally, I spend more mornings here than at my own and it’s simply inefficient to have to run back to Montague Street for something as banal as a shower,” Sherlock tells him, and returns his attention to what must be some very captivating soil samples.

Some of Sherlock’s shirts start to appear in the closet where they sit, unassuming, beside Lestrade’s suits. His books start appearing in odd palaces around the flat and Lestrade comes home one day to maps and sketches attached to the wall above the fireplace.
                               
“Africa?” he asks as he makes his way to the kitchen.
                               
“Mmm,” Sherlock says, tapping a pen against his teeth. “I need to find the blue ball.”
                               
“I see,” Lestrade says, even though he doesn’t, and leaves him to it.
                               
He comes home the next night to a hastily-scrawled note from Sherlock: Leg in your freezer. Don’t even think about touching - I’ll know.
                               
He makes himself a quick dinner and goes to bed. It’s still there when he rises a few hours later and there’s no sign of Sherlock having been at the flat, so he sends off a quick text asking for instructions.
                               
Make sure freezer temperature is on lowest setting.
                               
“Right, then,” he mutters to himself, and double-checks the temperature before dumping out the remainder of his coffee and making to leave.
                               
It doesn’t occur to him until much later that he should find this strange.

----

He stands before the mirror, contemplating his stubble, razor in hand. His gaze drifts to his hair and he pushes a hand through it, watching as the light catches on the now-myriad strands of silvery-gray. Hadn’t they been few and far between just moments ago?

It would be woefully inadequate to refer to himself as “dark-haired,” now. “Salt-and-pepper” works, he supposes, but it won’t for very long.

----

Lestrade isn’t surprised when Sherlock gets himself kidnapped one summer afternoon.

Frankly, it’s a wonder it hasn’t happened sooner.

He’s leaning against a wall in the warehouse when they finally get to him and his captors are on the floor not feet away, unconscious. Lestrade doesn’t take the time to contemplate what might have happened; instead, he yanks Sherlock’s hand out from where it had been buried inside his suit jacket and hisses when it comes away red.

“Idiot,” he snarls with more vehemence than is strictly necessary as he all but kicks Sherlock’s legs out from under him in order to get him on the floor. A harsh shove lays him flat, presses his shoulder blades into the cold cement, and then Lestrade has his hands against the stab wound, ignoring the sharp hiss of breath from Sherlock as he applies pressure. Blood seeps between his fingers and flows over his hands, warm and sticky and shockingly red.

He’s aware that someone is calling for paramedics, and when the voice ceases as he pauses for breath, he realizes that it must have been him. His eyes remain fixed on Sherlock, though, watching the ragged breathing and the elegant hands painted with red and the way the detective keeps his gaze trained on the ceiling, biting his lip hard enough to draw blood in an effort to keep from letting out further pained noises. There’s dried blood under his nose, which is starting to swell, and his right wrist twice its usual size and cocked at a strange angle - broken, then. Lestrade can also see that both wrists are starting to bear the marks of their restraints, the bruises from the ropes becoming more pronounced as the minutes drag on.

“What happened?” Lestrade hisses finally.

“They were idiotic,” Sherlock snaps in a voice made sharp by the pain. His breathing is coming in quick gasps as he forces the words out. “I pick-pocketed the one - ah! - almost instantly. Got his pocketknife. Child’s play after that.”

A gross understatement if Lestrade’s ever heard one - it’s clear that Sherlock had a rough time of it even before the stabbing, going by the marks on his face and the boot print Lestrade spots on his torso, revealed now because his shirt has ridden up. It’s burned into the skin, purple and angry against the porcelain flesh.

It’s a good thing, Lestrade muses for a moment, that Sherlock was the one who got to the men first. He’s sure – quite positive, in fact, and this terrifies him to no end – that had he been the one to do it, they would not have made it out alive.

“You’re becoming attached,” Sherlock accuses. His blue eyes are trained on Lestrade’s face now; his expression, grave. “Don’t.”

“Oh?” Lestrade says mildly. The air between them holds the coppery smell of blood, sharp and tangy, and the scent brings forward all the other times Lestrade has been in this position with Sherlock.

“I’d rather not have you end up in prison on my account.” Sherlock gives a heavy sniff and fresh blood leaks from his nose. “It’s dangerous, letting emotions impair one’s judgment. You should take care to remember that.”

Lestrade hums in agreement, conciliatory, but it occurs to him later as they’re loading Sherlock into the ambulance that the detective might not have been referring to only Lestrade.

He sounded rather as though he was trying to convince himself.

----

Lestrade’s team is assigned to the murder of a teen one afternoon. The victim is young – though they’re all young, aren’t they? – and gaunt, with lifeless gray eyes that remain fixed on the ceiling and full head of unruly black curls. They have a suspect within hours, and Lestrade leaves the Yard just as the cleaning crews start to come through – early, for him.

He catches a whiff of bleach on the way out, and bile bubbles in the back of his throat. He makes one drink, then two, when he gets home, and paces the living room for half an hour. He fights faint waves of nausea and runs fingers repeatedly through his hair, trying to calm himself. It doesn’t work – of course it doesn’t; when had it ever worked? – and he eventually collapses in a chair and digs through his pockets for his mobile.

Sherlock answers on the third ring.

-----
               
“‘Houston, we’ve had a problem,’” Lestrade mutters as he enters his kitchen one night to find that it has been transformed into the front lines of a small war that Sherlock appears to have been waging against his cutlery. Sherlock only spares him the barest of glances before returning to his microscope.

“This is hardly what I would call a problem, Lestrade,” he says. “And even if it is, I fail to see how a city in Texas would be able to assist.”

Lestrade blinks at him dumbly. “Oh, come - Sherlock, really? Apollo 13. Spacecraft. Oxygen tank exploded mid-mission in 1970; nearly didn’t make it back. Houston, we have a problem and all that. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of it.”

“Irrelevant data. If I did know about it, I’ve since deleted it,” Sherlock says, and Lestrade gives a wearying sigh.

“Next you’re going to tell me that you don’t know the Earth goes ‘round the sun. Honestly, the things you go through life not knowing...”

“It’s served me well thus far,” Sherlock points out, and then lifts his head from the microscope long enough to raise an eyebrow at him. “I take it pub night was successful. You’re drunk.”

Lestrade waves a hand, giving the movement a bit more flourish than he normally would.
               
“Only slightly,” he says. “What’ve you been working on all this time?”
               
“Nothing that concerns you,” Sherlock tells him mildly.
               
“You’re conducting the experiment in my kitchen, which is looking a little worse for wear,” Lestrade points out. “And the question still stands: what the hell happened in here?”

“There was an incident,” is all that Sherlock will provide, and Lestrade snorts.

“What was the casualty count this time?”

“Two pots and a mug. And a portion of the ceiling.”

“Right, I’m gonna have to ban you from this flat.”
               
“You gave me a key already,” Sherlock returns.
               
“‘S not like you would have needed it anyway,” Lestrade says, and this whole thing strikes him as rather silly. He can’t bring himself to actually be angry with the detective. “Wouldn’t have kept you away.”
               
“Do you want me ‘kept away’?” Sherlock says, glancing up and giving him an infuriating smirk.
               
“Y’know damn well the answer to that,” Lestrade says fondly, and goes to pour himself a glass of water.
               
“Next time,” Sherlock says, turning to jot something down in his notebook, “you should outline the stipulations before handing over your key. ‘No experiments after five,’ for example.”
               
“Hmm,” Lestrade hums. “‘No noxious fumes after ten at night or before seven in the morning’?”
               
He takes a gulp of water. “Or, how about, ‘no unexpected body parts in the fridge’?”
               
“I”ll be sure to bring home only expected body parts, in that case.” Sherlock gets up and carries his own mug over to the sink. Lestrade has been leaning against the counter in front of it, content with his own thoughts and their quiet banter, and can feel the ridiculous small smile that tends to grace his features whenever he has any amount of drink in him. Alcohol makes him incredibly forgiving and far too pleasant, as Sherlock would say.
               
Sherlock nudges him out of the way with an elbow and rinses out his mug while Lestrade taps the rim of his empty glass against his teeth, absorbed in senseless thoughts. He feels the glass being lifted from his fingers, and a moment later it’s been refilled and is being pressed back into his hands.
               
“Thank you,” he murmurs, and they stand there for a while, shoulders and hips pressed together, until Lestrade is dozing on his feet and Sherlock is prodding him awake in order to shove him in the direction of his bedroom.

-----

He’s slowing down.
                               
He doesn’t notice it, not at the first, but upon reflection he can see the signs.
                               
The mad dash up the stairs to Sherlock's flat becomes more of a frantic walk and he pauses for a moment now before he raps on the door, lest Sherlock see him breathing heavily.
                               
An old injury to his ankle starts to give him trouble at inopportune times, and makes itself heard especially loud after a log sprint in Sherlock’s wake.
                               
It’s harder to get up in the mornings.
                               
It’s harder to stay awake at the office, and he rarely stays anymore past one because he simply can’t.
                               
Can’t. It’s an unpleasant word; it’s an even more unsettling thought.
                               
He thinks of these things now because it’s three in the morning and they’re at the A&E. Sherlock’s gone and done something stupid, which isn’t unusual and thankfully isn’t life-threatening, but it needn’t have happened at all. It wouldn’t have, either, if only Lestrade had been a half-second faster.
                               
For the first time, sitting there under the fluorescent lights, the thought occurs to Lestrade that someday, someday quite soon, he might need to leave the Yard.
                               
Leaving at a decent age, leaving under his own power, leaving and collecting his pension – these thoughts have never before occurred to him.
                               
He’s always thought that his career at the Yard would end the same way he believes Sherlock’s life will - maybe on his own terms, maybe not, but at least sudden and unexpectedly.
                               
This thought terrifies him more. Dying he can do; dying he does every day.
                               
He’s not sure he knows how to age.

----

Sherlock is impatient at a crime scene one morning, and gets to the young witness first. Lestrade’s not sure how he managed to slip past all the officers, but the damage is done by the time they manage to catch him. She’s seven, doesn’t understand a lot of what she’s seen (which Lestrade hopes means that the memories will dull as she grows) and doesn’t know that her parents had actually died in the attack until Sherlock breaks the news to her.
                               
There’s an inquiry, of course, and the inevitable argument - “Her memories would only have gotten more faulty as time went on, Lestrade!” - and the harsh reminder that there are some things Sherlock simply doesn’t get. It bothers him, Lestrade knows, but maybe not for the reason that it should. Sherlock loves to understand, loves to know, but there are some things just beyond his grasp. He covers by saying that he doesn’t care - that it doesn’t matter - but Lestrade knows, if no one else does, that that is where the detective lies to himself.
                               
Lestrade makes a promise then that he’ll avoid using Sherlock at crime scenes like these in the future - crimes where there is very little order; very little sense; crimes where the victims are too young or the witnesses are too fragile, unless he has no other options.
                               
He tells himself it’s better for everyone all around; in private, however, he knows that he’s doing it more to protect Sherlock than anything else. And he’s all right with that.
                               
Sherlock figures it out sometime after (of course he does), and Lestrade isn’t sure how long the detective’s been mulling it over but at some point he turns to the DI and announces that he doesn’t need to “triage” his crime scenes.
                               
“Oh?” Lestrade says lightly. He never had thought of it like that, but he supposes that’s exactly what he’s been doing - triaging the crime scenes, triaging Sherlock. Deciding what the detective can and can’t handle. It does sound a bit insulting, when put like that, but Sherlock doesn’t seem offended. He looks bright, as though he’s solved a complex puzzle.
                               
“No,” Sherlock says triumphantly, “because you’ll be there, Lestrade.”
                               
“I don’t follow.”
                               
Sherlock blows out a sigh between his teeth. “Of course you don’t. Keep an eye on me, Lestrade - isn’t that what you do best?”
                         
Lestrade holds off on saying that it hasn’t worked so far and settles for a non-committal, “Hmm.”
                               
“So long as you’re around, there’s no reason to keep me away. Don’t you realize that that’s why this has worked all along?”

Sherlock gets to his feet, smoothing his jacket and making for the door. He pauses on the threshold, as though a thought has occurred to him, and turns to Lestrade with a triumphant smile.

“I can be the great man,” he says, “and you can be the good one.”

----

He starts to put on weight.

He hasn’t thought of himself as slim since his teenaged years, not since approaching adulthood and years on a football field thickened his arms and legs; broadened his shoulders and chest. But then again, he hasn’t ever thought of himself as carrying around extra pounds, either. Every single bit of weight has been necessary up until he hits his early forties, and that’s when his body starts to rebel.
 
It irritates him more than anything else, because he lives off of coffee and toast as they’re the only things he has time for anymore and he’s never been much interested in eating, anyway. He’s certainly never had the enthusiasm for it that others seem to possess and does it absentmindedly, recalling at odd hours of the day that he’s skipped a meal and so where could his body possibly find this extra weight?

It does, though, and he starts fastening his belt on a different loop, fingering with dismay the old hole he had used for so many years. His shirts are tighter - not obnoxiously so, but noticeable to him all the same. His wrists and hands thicken and his torso grows softer and all the while he tries to ignore it.


----

One day they’re at a crime scene and Sherlock is in a particularly awful mood. He’s snapped at Lestrade twice, informed Donovan that her current boyfriend is cheating on her and that her father likely has cancer, and told Anderson to, quote, “Go fuck yourself.” There’s a moment when he rounds on Smith - who’s new and wide-eyed, torn between terror and amazement at Sherlock’s antics - and is halfway through analyzing her “daddy issues” when Lestrade finally intervenes. He seizes Sherlock by the arm on impulse and holds him there, hand fastened tight around the bony wrist, so thin that his fingers meet.

Sherlock slams to a halt mid-word and Smith scurries away. Lestrade stares at Sherlock and Sherlock stares back, and for a moment neither of them moves. Distantly, Lestrade can hear the bustling of his officers and notices the flashing lights out of the corner of his eyes, but they might as well be a world away for all the attention he pays to them.

Sherlock licks his lips and draws a deep breath while Lestrade holds on, and he gets the impression that he’s anchoring the detective, who briefly had been lost among heavy seas. Finally, Sherlock gives a  quick nod, and when Lestrade releases him Sherlock darts off again, calling for a jar of pickle juice.

----

Sherlock abhors nearly any and all physical contact, dancing out of the way or spinning wildly to avoid brushing shoulders or jostling arms with another. Lestrade has seen him give murderous looks to anyone who dares touch him - or anyone who comes close - and he knows why Sherlock always travels in cabs. He can’t imagine the man on the Tube, where he’d be forced to press up against half a dozen close strangers in addition to probably suffering from sensory overload at the experience.

Lestrade feels sometimes as though he needs to keep himself in check around Sherlock; as though he needs to refrain from making any startling movements or sudden noises, lest he frighten the man off. He’s learned to keep quiet at crime scenes while Sherlock works, because interruptions anger the detective and make him liable to withhold information until Lestrade can coax him to start speaking again.

He does little more in private, allowing Sherlock to make the first move if one’s going to be made at all. Sometimes he’ll be sitting in the chair at his kitchen table, and light fingertips will brush along the back of his neck as Sherlock passes. Other times it’s in his office, with the scratching of his pen providing the soundtrack to their evenings, and Sherlock will bump against his hand when reaching for something. It’s not always on purpose, he knows, but Sherlock doesn’t flinch at the contact the way he would if it were someone else.

And it’s inevitable, should they happen to share a bed, that at some point during the night they will migrate until foreheads are brushing or legs are tangled or fingers are wrapped loosely around one another. Theirs is an easy companionship, one where Lestrade allows Sherlock to set the pace and one where Sherlock is always in control; always cautious. He strikes the perfect balance, pulling back just before things advance, and Lestrade will never know how he manages it.

“Here, stir this,” Lestrade tells him one night as they’re making dinner – well, as he’s making dinner. Sherlock’s only in the kitchen because he’s using the extra burner on the stove for an experiment but what he’s testing, Lestrade doesn’t want to know.

He indicates the pot of stew, and Sherlock regards him warily before taking the spoon. He’s rubbish at cooking, in spite of the fact that he read chemistry at university, and Lestrade finds this amusing to no end. Usually he sets the detective to work chopping vegetables - he works wonders with a knife, which Lestrade finds both impressive and alarming.
                               
“This is far too much food for one person,” Sherlock says with a sniff, glancing in the pot before following Lestrade’s instructions. “You know I don’t eat when -”
                               
“Yes, I know, you don’t eat when on a case. I’m not about to fight that battle again,” Lestrade mutters. “But we’ll have it wrapped in the next day or so and then you’re going to eat that stew. There will be plenty left over.”

He moves to the liquor cabinet to mix a drink, and then returns to take over. Sherlock hands him the spoon and leans in, pressing his lips against Lestrade’s. The kiss is unexpected but hardly unwelcome, and Lestrade finds himself caught on the edge of having enough and wanting more. He places his free hand lightly on Sherlock’s back, waiting to see what will happen, and Sherlock, timing impeccable, breaks away after only a few moments. He returns silently to his experiment while Lestrade tends to dinner, bemused at the uncharacteristic gesture.
                               
And then the experiment explodes.
                               
Lestrade’s quick reflexes are the only reason he avoids a face full of whatever it was that had been in his pan. He throws up an arm and ducks into a crouch just in time, and when he looks up again he sees that Sherlock has dived for the remains of his experiment and is transferring it to the sink for disposal. He looks – gleeful.
                               
“All right?” he says quickly, seizing Lestrade by the elbow and hauling him upright again.
                               
“Yeah,” Lestrade says breathlessly. “What the fuck was that?”
                               
“The answer to your case,” Sherlock says, and he has that ridiculous smirk on his face, the one that always, always spells trouble for others.
                               
“How –“
                               
“Later,” Sherlock says shortly. “Do you have any rat poison?”
                               
“What? No, I don’t think so. What –”
                               
“Vinegar? An orange?”
                               
Lestrade gives up on speech and points to the cabinet under the sink, and Sherlock immediately begins rooting through it. He’ll get his answers eventually, but for right now he’s too amused to be concerned with such things. He should be angry at his near-death experience (all right, perhaps that was harsh – near-maiming) and at the state of his pan, but it isn’t often he gets to see Sherlock in this state of happiness; in this state of unguarded and outright joy at his life’s passion. And as Sherlock springs back up to his feet, triumphantly muttering about acids and reaction times, Lestrade wraps an arm around his waist and brings him in for a light kiss.
                               
Sherlock tenses beneath Lestrade’s hands – one on his hip, one along his jaw – and though he returns the kiss, Lestrade can feel the enthusiasm melt away as quickly as it had appeared. He breaks it off gently as he can and lets his hands fall away and Sherlock hovers there a moment, lips millimeters from his own, his breathing suddenly stunted. He licks his lips, and Lestrade can see him casting about for his train of thought. He doesn’t pull back entirely; it appears for a moment as though he’s torn between leaning in again and springing away, and in his hesitation he shifts his weight from foot to foot.
                               
Finally, he compromises and takes a step to the side, bottle of vinegar still in hand, and clears his throat.
                               
“I’ll…have the final results to you in an hour,” he says calmly, but Lestrade can hear the slightest of tremors in his voice.
                               
“Are you all right?” he asks in concern, though clearly Sherlock is not, and tries to put a hand on his elbow. Sherlock moves so that he is standing just out of reach and keeps his eyes focused on the remains of his experiment, as though trying to pretend that he didn’t see the gesture.
               
“Fine, yes, Lestrade.”

Lestrade, confused, turns back to dinner – which escaped the explosion unscathed – and tells him to take his time.
                               
Sherlock doesn’t stay that night.

---

Sherlock enjoys the thrill of the reveal - gets off on it, as Donovan is so fond of saying, and disturbing though that thought may be, Lestrade can’t fault her for thinking it. He doesn’t do what he does for accolades or recognition, beyond what he receives from Lestrade’s stunned team as he prances and paces and whirls and deduces. He enjoys stunning them; he enjoys their awe, drinking it in and living off it for days at a time. It wouldn’t be the same in front of the higher-ups, when the thrill and the spectacle has been stripped away to be replaced by facts and numbers.

So it’s strange when one day Sherlock comes to a crime scene and says nothing as he examines the body. He doesn’t waste his time throwing a few idle insults at Anderson as he sweeps through the door and he doesn’t call Lestrade ‘incompetent’ as he’s snapping on his gloves. He doesn’t even bother to roll up his sleeves, even though the heat has been left on and room is sweltering. Lestrade just adds it to the list of inconsistencies. Sherlock loves the coat for the dramatic effect it gives him as he’s whirling around and throwing off deductions. When he has to forgo that, he prefers rolling his sleeves up, getting them out of the way and giving himself a carefree look that Lestrade knows is well-rehearsed.

Lestrade then allows himself to briefly consider the possibility that Sherlock is still unnerved by the events of the other week, which accounts for his unusual behavior in recent days. He still makes the odd appearance in Lestrade’s office after hours, but the texts have ceased and he hasn’t spent the night. Had the kiss not happened, Lestrade wouldn’t even be considering the possibility that Sherlock is acting out of the ordinary - but it did, and he can’t help but view everything that’s come after through the lens of that failed gesture.

He watches Sherlock kneel by the body for some minutes and doesn’t press him right away for his conclusions (though he should - he did say five minutes and it’s certainly been ten by now. Anderson’s going to be furious). Instead, he’s stealing these few extra moments to observe the detective, to try to deduce something about his behavior.

“I’m not interested,” Sherlock says suddenly after several minutes of persistent silence.
       
“Sorry?” Lestrade glances from the victim to the detective, breaking out of his thoughts.
             
“I’m not interested,” Sherlock repeats, rising and snapping off his gloves. “Sex.”
             
“Ah.” Lestrade nods, because the statement, while confirming something that had been lingering, unnamed, in the back of his mind, seems grossly out of place. He glances at the floor, trying to see the connection that Sherlock obviously has made. “Sorry, but what does that have to do with -”
           
“It doesn’t,” Sherlock says in a weary voice he reserves for when Lestrade isn’t quite getting it.
                               
“Right. Well - good. Okay. So what -”
                               
Sherlock sighs and points to the victim’s feet. “It was the husband. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to track down a mouse.”
                               
He sweeps from the room without further explanation, and Lestrade gives himself a calming period of three seconds before he runs after  him with an exasperated, “Sherlock!”
                               
He never ends up tracking down the detective, who vanishes into a cab just as Lestrade’s darting from the house, but he receives a cryptic text later that evening with more details about the suspect. Lestrade is able to put the rest of the pieces together and puts the case to bed later that evening, but the anomalous behavior still nags at the back of his mind. He tries to believe that he’s reading too much into it.                            
                               
He’s not able to convince himself for very long, and they have a spectacular fight at the detective’s flat less than a week later.

Sherlock has been spoiling for one for days, and by the time everything unravels Lestrade is only too happy to give it to him. His unnatural silence at crime scenes had been rapidly replaced by vicious digs that leaped from annoying to cruel, and he baited Lestrade’s team more than usual, all but begging one of them to take a swing at him. Two evenings at Lestrade’s (one planned; one not) had ended in disaster, and on the third night Lestrade decides it’s safer to head Sherlock off at his own place before the detective has a chance to pick up steam. He beats the detective home for once and relishes the look of brief surprise on Sherlock’s face when he opens the door to see Lestrade settled in his chair, fingers laced together and calmly set in his lap.

“What do you want?” he growls, shuffling into the room and shutting the door sharply behind him.

“A chat.”

“What about?” he says darkly, moving into the kitchen. Lestrade is quick on his heels.

“You know damn well what. I don’t know what’s going on with you, Sherlock, but whatever it is needs to stay out of my crime scenes. I can’t have -”

“Can’t have what?” Sherlock interrupts, rounding on him in fury. “Can’t have me riling up your precious team? Last time I looked, Inspector, you needed me.”

“Believe it or not, I am capable of a few things without you, Sherlock. I appreciate your help, but if it comes down to it, we’ll manage on our own.” Lestrade gives a mirthless smile. “I did make Detective Inspector; I think I know what I’m doing.”

“And you wouldn’t have that if not for me,” Sherlock snarls. “You, make Detective Inspector all on your own? You’re far too incompetent for that.”

Lestrade folds his arms. “Look, Sherlock, either shape up or I’m barring you from future crime scenes.”

“Threaten all you like,” Sherlock returns acidly. “The truth is, you like your cases-closed rate far too much to even consider going through with that. And the only way you’re going to keep those neat little numbers is if your crutch is still around to help out.”

“This isn’t about the numbers, Sherlock! It’s about doing what’s right.” Lestrade strides up to Sherlock and seizes him by the front of his shirt, shoving him against the wall. The detective’s eyes widen slightly, and Lestrade takes brief pleasure in that before it’s overridden by anger. “I don’t give a damn about my numbers because I think it might aid my career - I give a damn about them because they might make a difference.  This work is my life, Sherlock, surely you’ve reasoned that one out by now. And if I have to go around the red tape, bend a few rules here and there, just to get someone off the streets who needs to be - you know damn well that I’m going to do it. And if that means using a man who consistently acts like a child - you’re damn right that I’m going to do that, too. So if that’s what you want to call it - a crutch - fine. I don’t really give a shit, as long as the result’s the same.”

“I call it as I see it,” Sherlock snaps. “A crutch.”

“So do I - a child,” Lestrade says, releasing him and stepping back. Sherlock flattens a hand along the front of his shirt, eyes blazing, and then points a slightly unsteady finger at Lestrade’s face.

“Don’t you ever touch me again,” he growls, and Lestrade can’t help the waspish words that leap from his mouth, even though he knows they’re a terrible idea.

“You don’t seem to mind, most nights,” he snaps.

A muscle twitches in Sherlock’s jaw, and he goes pale.

“Get out,” he whispers, jabbing a finger hard at Lestrade’s chest before striding away into the living room.

“You need me just as much, Sherlock,” Lestrade calls to him. “Where would you be without the work? The work is everything, isn’t that what you always say?”

Sherlock says nothing, and standing by the window he is illuminated the harsh city lights. It brings out the severity of his figure; highlights his cheekbones until he appears gaunt. He looks sickly, in that light - like the Sherlock of three years ago.

In fact, Lestrade realizes, exactly like the Sherlock of three years ago.

“Look at me,” he orders, striding up to Sherlock and grabbing his chin, forcing his gaze away from the window. The eyes that meet his are dark, the normally sharp blue reduced to a thin ring around the blown-open pupils.

Lestrade’s heart sinks.

“Where are they, Sherlock?” he asks in a low voice, resigned.

“Where are what?”

“Don’t play ignorant with me; I’m not in the mood. Where are the drugs?”

“I haven’t any, Lestrade. Don’t be a fool.”

But Sherlock doesn’t resist as Lestrade grabs his arm and he stands there mutely while Lestrade shoves up the sleeve to reveal the angry red marks he had mistakenly thought to be a thing of the past.

Sherlock’s right. He is a fool.

“Christ, Sherlock,” he hisses, yanking the sleeve back down and pulling away as though scalded. “You’re using again.”

“Brilliant deduction,” Sherlock snarls back.

Lestrade is too tired and too furious to deal with this, and he knows if he stays a moment longer he’ll say - or do - something he’ll regret for a long while.

“We’re going to take you off cases for a while,” he says tightly, struggling to keep his voice steady. “Don’t bother trying to sneak into the Yard – they’ve caught on to most of your methods by now and I’ll be alerting them to your latest ones.”

He turns on his heel and leaves without another word.