Actions

Work Header

Fin de Siecle

Work Text:

 

John picks up an irate Sherlock from his cell forty eight hours later. Bursting with all the energy of a coiled spring, it is evident he had spent most of his time pacing restlessly judging by the rumpled hair and clothes. “Why didn’t you get me out earlier,” he snaps, storming straight out and without waiting for an answer, continues, “We need to find Lestrade.”

“I wasn’t allowed and I don’t think that’s a good idea,” John warns pointlessly but follows him nonetheless through the maze of corridors to the CID.

There is a definite sense of foreboding when they enter, John a few steps behind Sherlock as if trying to distance himself from the situation. Heads rise and a couple of detectives exchange glances as they meander their way through the desks. If Sherlock notices the atmosphere – and undoubtedly he does - he does not acknowledge it or respond to it. John, however, begins to feel distinctly more uncomfortable as the judgemental whispers drift through the air behind them.

“Who let you out?” Sally Donovan demands, a harder than usual degree of malice in her tone when she notices them approach.

“Where is Lestrade? I need to speak to him,” Sherlock announces loudly.

Sally’s face is bland as she looks up from her paperwork to her boss’ empty office and then to Sherlock, not even glancing at John’s look of apologetic helplessness behind Sherlock’s shoulder. “He’s not here.”

“I had noticed. His door is closed and it is never closed. Hence the reason I ask: where is Lestrade?”

Sally stands up so she is closer to Sherlock’s height, regarding Sherlock as if he were a parasite. In a warning whisper she responds, “Don’t you think you’ve caused enough trouble? How about you just stay low and rest for a while before you make this worse than it already is. For everyone.”

John winces. Sherlock narrows his eyes. “Rest? Why would I rest when there is perfectly good murder that you still need me to solve?”

“We can manage by ourselves.”

Sherlock eyes roll up to the ceiling searching for inner patience. “Evidently. The ballistics report from the other night, I need to see it.”

“You can’t have it,” another voice intervenes and the two turn around to find Inspector Dimmock’s short frame behind them, hands on his hips in an attempt to heighten his superiority.

“It’s not your case, you have no say,” Sherlock points out dismissively, as if verbally swotting away a fly.

Dimmock looks gleefully smug. “Actually, it’s the DCI Yeardley’s case now. He’s starting to take a little more control around here again. That means you are not involved. With anything.”

Sherlock looks from Sally to Dimmock. “Where is Lestrade?” he asks again, icy and demanding. The atmosphere is thick with heavy silence; barely a flicker of paper is heard. The other detectives now risk glances back to Lestrade’s corner of the office at the growing confrontation.

“He’s taken holiday,” Sally finally replies. “And we’re not going to give you any information. So you’d better leave.”

Sherlock seems to ignore Dimmock and stares hard at Sally, but the sergeant is deliberately looking away, down at her papers, distancing herself. He takes note of her puffy eyes and the flecks of red still under her nails and cuticles.

“I could have helped you been great detectives,” Sherlock says. “You both have the capacity.”

“Yeah, well, we’ve all seen how that ends,” Dimmock replies regretfully. He moves to the side, holding out an arm to direct Sherlock to the door. And even Sherlock knows when a pursuit is fruitless so he petulantly pushes past the Detective Inspector. The judgemental looks follow them all the way out, the door not having even shut behind them before the furious whispers ignite.

“We should go check on him,” John suggests quietly, zipping up his jacket as Sherlock types furiously on his Blackberry. “Sherlock!”

“What?” the detective snaps, looking wild with his unkempt hair and wrinkled clothing.

“Lestrade. Shouldn’t we check on him?”

Sherlock waves a dismissive hand. “Lestrade is perfectly capable of handling his own affairs. If he is so personally affected by this case then he should not be on it at all.”

“Sherlock how –”John begins but turns around, prepared to walk away, feeling that sense of outrage that normally accompanies one of Sherlock’s heartless comments. He hasn’t been able to forget the look of horror and overwhelming grief on Lestrade’s face. He couldn’t forget the momentarily panic at seeing the man’s blood. “Do you not care at all?”

“If I stop to care then I lose concentration on solving the case, which is far more beneficial. Caring will achieve nothing.”

“You think that answers the question?”

“Which one precisely?” Sherlock snaps. “There have been many pointless queries in the last thirty seconds.”

“Did you know everything...before we went in?” John asks fearfully and notices the way Sherlock hands stop typing and clutch tighter at his Blackberry.

 

*

 

“Lestrade, why are you wasting time?” Sherlock demands, walking up to him. “Harvest will not have gone far, it will be even harder for him to hid-”

His voice cuts off as suddenly, Lestrade whirls round, grabbing Sherlock by the lapels of his long extravagant coat and slams him into the nearby wall of the warehouse. The force knocks the wind out of Sherlock, and he hisses with a mixture of pain and surprise as his head springs back to hit the bricks. But he does not struggle in Lestrade’s grip.

“Don’t even dare,” Lestrade shouts sharply, snapping his head around to others who have noticed the display and have started to approach them warily. Despite their contempt for Sherlock, there is concern for their inspector’s sudden and uncharacteristic release of fury. His voice holds the hint of instability. John, instilled with all the military training of the British Army, does not disobey the severity of Lestrade’s order and also stops.

As Lestrade turns back round to face Sherlock, his eyes flicker over from John and his bloody hands to Officer Matthews behind him and he feels a twisting in his stomach again. But it is soon overpowered by the rage he feels towards the man in front of him, looking back at him with incredulity.

“What are you going to do, Inspector?” Sherlock asks, icily, when he feels Lestrade’s hands clutch his lapels in a tighter grip. “Hit me? Rather late to earn back your dignity.”

It is tempting. It would have been a long time coming. And maybe once, when Lestrade was less restrained and just an impulsive officer, he would have done so. However, the years have worn him down and he has played the long game with Sherlock. They always find ways to hurt each other; it is the only way they operate with success.

But he had always needed Sherlock too much to take the final plunge.

“Officer,” he says calmly through gritted teeth, with restraint he should be commended for, “Arrest this man.”

Instantly Sherlock’s eyes widen in alarm and Lestrade allows himself a brief flicker of satisfaction before the thought of Officer Matthews dims it again. Even Sally is too distraught to express her usual glee. He lets go of Sherlock’s coat as if he’s been burnt and turns away quickly to hide the effort it is taking to hold himself together.

“On what charge?” Sherlock demands haughtily, shrugging off the officer trying to take hold of his arm.

Lestrade pauses. “Perverting the course of justice,” he replies.

With this solidified confirmation, the officer takes hold of Sherlock’s arm and applies the cuffs to his wrist. “You can’t do that! I told you where he was.” Sherlock cries, struggling, protesting all the way to the police car. “You would never have found him otherwise.”

“Yes. But you lied to me.”

Sherlock looks to John for help but the doctor remains still, wanting to intervene but knowing his appeals will not be appreciated. Instead John gives Sherlock a supportive look, the understanding registering between them that John will return for him. Then he catches up with Lestrade who has walked out of the building quickly, swaying drastically as the adrenaline from the last half an hour rushes out of him.

For the first time, it is Lestrade who is walking away from Sherlock, leaving him in the lurch.

*

Lestrade remembers being a young constable in the early 1990s, on a gloomy, rainy night standing outside a football pub in the aftermath of an arrest. A Detective Inspector – Hicks was his name, an older established man in Scotland Yard – was clapping him with a large paw-like hand on the back in congratulations, almost making Lestrade stumble as he fought for breath after a long chase.

“That was some brilliant bit of running,” Hicks had commended. “How did you know he’d go here?”

He took a few deep breaths before straightening. “He had a football shirt on. This pub I know is one that draws their regular crowds. It was a risk, but I thought it was likely he would come here for safety. So I took a different route to get here and caught him as he came out of the other road.”

Hicks laughed, a gruff sound bought on by too many cigarettes and a lot of alcohol. “Brilliant. Intuition, observation, forward thinking…exactly what the Met is looking for these days.” He sighed with a heavy heart. “You’ll go far, lad.”

For the first time, Lestrade felt like he could achieve something and had applied for the CID examination. Those were the glory years, where the only road led upwards to never-ending promotion. Once, they used to raise him up onto an exemplary platform.

You'll go far, lad. But only so far, apparently.

Now it seemed like a whole lifetime ago that Hicks had addressed him. It felt like Hicks had been addressing an entirely different person to the one he had become. The person before Sherlock Holmes.

*

As soon as the fire fight stops, John drops his gun and falls to his knees beside Officer Matthews, pressing on her wound. Her gurgling sounds as she tried to pull in breath weakly past her filling lungs are desperate and pleading.

“You’ll be fine,” he lies, using his professional voice to reassure her.

Around him there is the chaos of orders being shouted, of stomping feet rushing back and forth, of sirens approaching. For the first time in over a year John feels he has returned to the battlefield. But instead of Afghanistan, he is in Newham and instead of dust and acrid sand, there is rain and damp. He has been cold all evening but now the feel of Officer Matthews’ blood pooling through his shaky, rusty fingers warms them up.

A shadow falls over him as Lestrade stumbles forward to his knees on the other side of her body. There is a slash of dark blood on his neck from his own wound which trickles down to darken the collar of his shirt. “Are you all right?” John asks quietly itching to check over Lestrade’s wound ever since he had entered the warehouse. He’s glad to see it’s only a flesh wound. Instead, he refocuses on Mathews, presses down harder, ignoring her surprised scream of pain, her hands scrambling weakly against the dusty ground.

“’m fine,” Lestrade murmurs blankly, unable to take his eyes off his fallen officer. In return, she stares back at him, her large frightened eyes pleading for him to explain what had happened and why. But he has no answers. Glancing at him quickly, John can see the shock on the Inspector’s face; he is mute, uncommanding, numb. A shell shocked soldier in a battle still raging around him.

“The others?” Lestrade finally asks. John doesn’t want to say that the only reason he went to Officer Matthews is because he could see only she had hope of survival. So he just shakes his head once.

Officer Matthews makes one final gasp. And like a machine shutting down, she relaxes and her body becomes deathly still. Lestrade’s face crumples in grief as John removes his sticky hands. The post-operation damage control still buzzes, but in this quiet corner, between the three of them, there is a cocooned bubble of mourning.

“He always kept surprising me,” Lestrade says quietly, talking more to himself than to John, and takes hold of her cold hand. “But I always thought this day would come. I was afraid it would come.”

John brushes his fingers over Officer Matthews’ eyes, severing the bleak never-ending stare between her and her shell-shocked superior. “What day?”

When Lestrade finally looks up from Officer Matthews’ lifeless body, John sees, for the first time, that fear he spoke of. “The day Sherlock fucked up.”

From a distance the consulting detective marches his way towards them, demanding instant action. In that instant, John actually sees Lestrade takes a deep breath and put on the mask he uses to tackle Sherlock.

*

The hallway outside Lestrade’s flat is dimly lit and quiet when John drags a recalcitrant Sherlock up to the fifth floor.

When the door opens slightly, John is taken aback by Lestrade’s appearance. He has never seen the Inspector outside of work hours, when his modest suit is replaced by a pair of loose jogging bottoms and an oversized T-shirt. However, it is the hollow face; the grey smudges under his eyes and the dark stubble that surprise him the most. It is a picture of unguarded apathy.

Lestrade sighs dispassionately. “What do you want?” he asks wearily, aiming his question more at Sherlock who hangs back against the opposite wall. His voice is rougher than usual from lack of use, like a rusty gate swinging back and forth. There is an unmistakable smell of must and smoke emanating from the dark room behind him.

“Harvest’s report…

John’s glare cuts Sherlock short immediately and the detective has the decency to look ashamed. When John turns back round his face is sickeningly gentle, as if he were addressing an ill patient. “We just came by to see how you were after...you know. Make sure you were all right.” John nods towards the square white bandage taped to Lestrade’s neck covering his wound. When Lestrade doesn’t say anything to confirm or deny his wellbeing – and Sherlock offers no pearls of observations of his own – John begins to feel uncomfortable. “Sargent Donovan said you had taken holiday.”

At this, Lestrade laughs harshly, a sardonic bark of a sound but he still doesn’t move to invite them in. “Well, yeah, I suppose you could call it that.”

Suddenly, Sherlock’s interest perks up and he takes a step forward. “You’re drinking.”

Lestrade opens the door a bit wider revealing a tumbler in his left hand, amber liquid crashing against rocks of ice as he shakes it in front of him. “Why shouldn’t I?” he asks with feigned cheer.

“You only drink when something is wrong.”

Lestrade’s face changes and he regards Sherlock with disbelief, the same disbelieving look that always follows one of Sherlock’s caustic remarks, but now it is tinged with sad disappointment; as if Sherlock’s short sightedness is a personal failure on his part. “There is something wrong, Sherlock,” he says blankly. “Three of my officers died. My crime scene was destroyed. And now my job is on the line.”

“Why? I was right about Harvest.”

“People should not have to die to prove you right!” Lestrade suddenly shouts, making the detective jump. He takes a deep breath and in a calmer voice adds, “I shouldn’t have to stick my neck out on the line every time to make sure you are right. Don’t you see that?”

“Oh, procedures, again.”

“Procedures, yes. You don’t have to live by any rules, Sherlock, but I do. My institution does. That’s how we stop things like that night from happening. Maybe if I had been able to give those officers a proper debrief instead of running off at your whim none of this would have happened. Maybe…maybe if I’d investigated Harvest more - ”

“Yes, then somebody else you didn't know would have died instead,” Sherlock mutters.

But Lestrade completely ignores him. “I’ve tried to tell you time and time again, for both our sakes, but you just never listen.”

“It slows you down,” Sherlock insists.

“Maybe. Eventually this stuff gets noticed. The lies, the falsified papers, now his gun –” he waves a hand at John, “– which keeps appearing. If they dig up every case I’ve done with you – which they plan to do now – they’re going to find an easy trail.”

“Then maybe you should have covered your tracks better.”

At this point John feels like he should interject, play the part of peacekeeping force in their never-ending civil war. But the two men seem to realise they’ve reached an impasse.

“Why would they get rid of you?” Sherlock demands naively after a few moments.

Lestrade puts the glass down on an unseen hidden chest of drawers next to the front door, still guarding the entrance. “Politics, Sherlock. I don’t expect you to understand. They’ve been waiting for the excuse.”

“But what about your outward track record of solving cases and making arrests. It would be of no benefit to them!”

Lestrade looks to the ceiling and chuckles dispiritedly. “My arrests. They are more yours than mine. Everyone knows it. I’m just your transport. I’ve been the DCI’s transport for the last few years.”

With his own words flung back in his face, this time Sherlock has no answer.

John wants to burst in and offer some wisdom, some comfort but it all sounds hollow and weak in his head. Unlike Sherlock, he understands. So instead, he just asks, “When?”

“Monday. They work fast when they need to,” Lestrade replies grimly.

Suddenly he looks worn down, older than his years and exhausted with the world around him. In him John sees the same man he used to be, a man losing purpose – before Sherlock came.

“You brought this on yourself, Sherlock. This – thing – between us - it’s been nice while it lasted but the Met is closed to you now. It’s over.”

*

“He’s just using you and making you look stupid in the process. How did you even meet this freak?”

Sally, bless her, had tried from the beginning to wean him off this dependency. He appreciated her outrage at every degrading comment Sherlock makes towards him; her petty insults as a show of support. Every time he opens the doors of his crime scene for Sherlock and dismisses his team, he shed his dignity and self-respect. If there is one thing Lestrade cannot be accused of, it is an over inflated ego.

But even Sally tires of her boss’ over reliance and she doesn’t deserve the same stigma he is imposing on himself. It is his cross to bear and he does his best to protect all of them from the effects – he will take the rolling eyes, the indignant huffs and shaking heads. ‘What happened to make the most successful detective inspector of NSY rely on some rude, arrogant and selfish boy? Mid life crisis? Has he lost his confidence?’

He will deal with his superiors, exaggerate when needed, downplay when needed. He refuses to doctor evidence and for that he still retains a modicum of respect. Like a simmering political scandal, it is an open secret to all that Sherlock is responsible for much of Lestrade’s clean-up rate, but it remains a standard whisper until the lid is blown off. It is the elephant in the room.

Slowly, over time, he has felt that sinking despair that comes from depersonalisation - this disconnection from the little world he lives in. He can’t interact with his team anymore, they feel like strangers; he has forgotten the last time he laughed; he fears he will lose his humanity which separates him from the cold detachment Sherlock Holmes uses to the horrors they see . Every morning he goes through the same robotic motions culminating with the panicked thoughts alone in the middle of the night wondering where it will end, if his sanity will be the very last thing he will have to give up for Sherlock Holmes.

They’re sick now. This relationship once healthy and mutually beneficial has degenerated into a game of manipulation, sometimes childish, sometimes twisted. They dance a macabre waltz that is speeding up, swinging with decaying rapture towards a destructive and despairing coda. He tries to wean himself off Sherlock especially when the man got himself an apartment and then a flatmate. It feels like the perfect time to put that overdue distance between them, to put his life and reputation back on track.

Yet he still finds himself climbing up the stairs to 221B. Ironic how this all started a long time with ago with Sherlock running to him in desperation. “You need me,” Sherlock remarks with a hint of wariness in his tone.

God help him, he does.

*

In Silvertown, Newham, Lestrade’s team of twelve enter the warehouse to search for any sign of Harvest’s people smuggling activity. Sherlock, convinced of the man’s guilt, drifts off to search the surrounding area determined that he will catch Harvest at the scene. Within a matter of minutes, the first shots are heard from the direction of the warehouse.

John immediately runs off but Sherlock pauses, hearing the distinctive low rumble of a car starting up and slinking away not too far away from them. He knows they’ve missed him.

“Moriarty!” Sherlock breathes quietly to himself before raising his head in alarm. “John, wait!” He chases after his flatmate, catching hold of John’s arm before the doctor rushes into the warehouse. He listens for a moment. “There are four of them all together. It was an ambush.”

John’s eyes widen and he crouches close to Sherlock as more bullets are fired. “You said Harvest was working alone. You stood in Lestrade’s office and said he was working alone.”

“He was. But he also had Moriarty’s protection, his snipers.”

John’s attention shifts from the warehouse back to Sherlock again. “Did you know?” he asks quietly, dangerously. “Sherlock, did you know Moriarty was behind this?”

The expression on Sherlock’s face is one John hasn’t seen before – his eyes are wide and his mouth has fallen open but he offers no words to reassure him. His lack of definitive answer says it all for John.

“I can’t sit here and wait, Sherlock!” John cries as the hailstorm of exchanged bullets and shouts continues.

He rises up, but Sherlock takes hold of his hand this time, squeezing it. “Be careful,” he whispers.

“Always.” John enters the dimly lit warehouse low and stealthily with his gun in his hand. Most of the officers have found cover by containers and are firing into the darkened ceiling. Their bullets ricochet off the metallic frames of walkway and stairs and off the containers. Those less fortunate were lying like discarded dolls on the floor. Out of the corner of his eye, John spots Lestrade, looking dazed behind a frame as Sally Donovan presses her hand against the bleeding wound on his neck. His eyes are barely open and his head lolls to the side.

John lifts his arm and fires, hitting one of the snipers immediately.

*

John takes Lestrade out to the pub. The cynical part of Lestrade’s mind (the part that has been fast outpacing every rational part) wonders whether John pities him or is trying to ascertain whether Lestrade plans to make their lives difficult. Deep down, he wants to trust John who, by virtue of his patient refereeing, supports them both.

“He’s convinced that nothing is going to change,” John says quietly, after Lestrade has taken him through the most likely motions of his disciplinary hearing with detached acceptance. “He believes that they will see your achievements at the Yard too valuable.”

You see, procedure, Sherlock had scoffed with severity that John attributed to uncharacteristic uncertainty. No wonder the Yard never catches its criminals. Too busy engaging in pointless bureaucracy.

Lestrade smiles sadly. “He’s a bit naïve like that. Sometimes it’s nice that he doesn’t know everything. Sometimes.”

John sees his opening and takes it. After all, Lestrade is far more attuned to Sherlock’s underlying motivations. “That night at the warehouse…do you really think he lied?”

“I’d rather believe he lied,” Lestrade replies, finishing his beer.

“Excuse me, what? Why?”

“Because the alternative that Sherlock was wrong, that Sherlock didn’t know, is far more terrifying to me. And it's scaring him too. It will be far easier to defend him – and myself – if I say he is never wrong.”

He sets his pint down and fiddles with the mat for a moment, tearing it up in his fingers. “I’m glad he has you,” he suddenly says, embarrassed. “I mean, you’re good for him. You help him understand. And he needs someone to … guide him. I was always worried he would wind up alone forever.”

John chuckles. “I don’t think Sherlock has ever felt alone.”

“Sure. But that doesn’t change the fact that he was. Even he can’t argue with that logic. At least someone will be able to look after him.” He restrains himself from saying someone who will let him.

There is a long pause and John cannot help but feel like Lestrade is passing on that baton to him after years of servitude. Then, as a man who has fully accepted where life is taking him, he will walk into a drab office tomorrow and fall unresistingly into the arms of fate. He will have a reason to leave.

“I think he does care,” John continues, thinking back on Sherlock’s unusually distant and snappish behaviour of the last week and it didn't take a superior observational skills to work out why. “You have history.”

Even though Lestrade had long ago concluded that Sherlock Holmes ruined his life it seems unfair to worry John, embarking on his own adventures with the maverick. But he can already see that John has situated himself into Sherlock’s life with better grace and agility than he ever had. Sherlock and John, theirs was a system of checks and balances. He and Sherlock – well, they were a partnership born out of necessity for each other yet constantly fighting to reach the same end. There is too much water under the bridge now, and it had become too murky to find any small nuggets of treasure.

“I think that’s the problem,” he tells John with a sad smile.

They spend the rest of the evening discussing mindless topics. They don’t talk about how Lestrade felt when the first sniper’s laser whizzed past him and sliced his neck. They don’t talk about the memory they share of Office Matthews’ last breaths. They talk about cars, music, football and medicine. For Lestrade, the evening ends with him feeling, for the first time in years, as though he is connected to this earth as someone tangible, taking part in the world and not just being caught up in the current.

*

“You’re telling me the illegal, unlicensed guns used in these murders are being shipped here? And by this businessman Donald Harvest?” Lestrade sits behind his desk, looking blankly at Sherlock. “And you want me to conduct a raid on his warehouse this evening?”

Sherlock twirls a pencil between his fingers as John leans against the wall of Lestrade’s office. Behind them, the majority of detectives have left for the day but as usual, Lestrade is here.

“If it's not too inconvenient for you. A ship container is coming in this evening presumably of more weaponry. The registrar at Silvertown docks confirms it. More importantly, is likely he is going to leave this evening after it has been completed. His apartment has been completely emptied.”

“You’ve been following him,” Lestrade remarks. “And why has he chosen to leave this evening?”

Sherlock and John look at each other, Sherlock with amusement, John with guilt. “I suspect Harvest knows I have been tracking him for some time. He has now decided now is the best time to leave so now you need to step in with your services.”

Lestrade shakes his head in disbelief. “So you go breaking into a man’s apartment and office, scare him off and now you tell me so I can authorise a raid on his premises? How do I even know you’re right?”

He is answered by a derisive snort. “Of course I am right.”

“And at short notice, that is going to need authorisation. And evidence! More than just the circumstantial evidence that you have provided, if it is going to get past a trial. I’m not going to have this case cocked up because of you.”

Sherlock seems unperturbed by Lestrade’s outburst. “Once, Lestrade, you never used to want or need all the information. You simply took my word for it and did what had to be done, regardless of the rules. What happened?”

“I need to cover my back. One of us had to start living in the real world.”

“Well, could you at least pretend you are a police officer who wants to catch this criminal?”

“That depends. Could you pretend this isn’t a game by not being a total wanker?”

“All right, all right!” John shouts before Sherlock retorts and the childish bickering takes hold. There is instant silence in the office. Lestrade can’t remember what used to happen before John was present to intervene. The argument probably escalated until he inevitably backed down.

Sherlock takes a deep breath. “If you don't do this, more people will die.”

Lestrade looks at him with utter incredulity as John worries his lip. “Like you care.”

“No, it makes no difference to me. But it does to you - and your morals. I don't want to have to deal with your guilty conscience because you wanted to go through procedures.”

Sherlock has always been a master at manipulating him, as if his morality is a weakness that can be used to force his hand. It works every time. He always shakes his head, throws up his hands and gives in.

“Fine. Tell me more.”

Sherlock rattles off everything he has uncovered about Harvest so far with effortless calm as Lestrade take notes hurriedly, putting together an urgent request for a dozen men for a raid on a premises the premises of a lone businessman with an enterprise on the side. They were going to collect evidence. Guaranteed, he is assured, to be simple and safe.

*

After several minutes of knocking – and realising nobody is in the house to open the front door – Sherlock drags himself off the sofa and climbs down the stairs.

“What did you do, threaten them?” Lestrade demands, pushing his way to the flat upstairs. “Oh, no, you must have deduced something about them. Don’t tell me, you deduced that Chief Inspector Yeardley has been having an affair with his son’s school teacher by the colour of his tie three Sundays ago and...Superintendent Merser must be dishing out drugs from the evidence locker to rent boys. How ‘m I doing?”

“What on earth are you talking about,” Sherlock asks, dumbfounded. “Are you lucid?”

“The hearing, Sherlock!” Lestrade cries. “I should have been punished, I should have been crucified. I deserved to be. Instead I come out with my job completely intact.”

He had sat there, listening to the two superiors dredge up every case involving Sherlock, each one worse than the one before. Each one more difficult to defend. Ultimately, he’s left stammering – like a schoolboy against the masters, there is no way to avoid the punishment. He wants to be mad at Yeardly and release his fury at the pencil pushing, work dodging bureaucrat in front of him. But it’s too much effort now.

Lestrade’s suspicions are confirmed by Sherlock’s wry smile. “How ideal.”

“What did you do?”

In response, Sherlock gives a carefree shrug. “I know people with certain abilities who are able to influence situations. As much as I hate calling upon them.”

If Lestrade had been paying more attention, he would have noticed the slight distaste with which Sherlock had spoken those words. “You’ve bought me,” he whispers in horror.

“You’ve spent years trying to teach me about politeness and gratitude. Now when I have saved your job I get none.” Sherlock looks at Lestrade’s shocked face and rolls his eyes. “Oh, don’t make it sound so corrupt. The upper echelons of your archaic establishment have merely been reminded of their over reliance on your work ethic given their penchant to shy away from hard graft these past few years.”

Huh, Lestrade thinks to himself. Maybe Sherlock does understand politics after all. “Christ, Sherlock, do you know how this looks?” He thinks about when he walks back into work on Monday, the heads that will turn in shock, the expressions a kaleidoscope of incredulity, awe and disgust. He can only keep his head so high.

“You haven’t cared how you look for a long time. I need someone who can help me find Harvest. He’s another line to Moriarty.”

“Moriarty,” Lestrade whispers. “Bloody Moriarty. Is that why you left us to deal with the warehouse? So you could find Moriarty?”

“Do you think so little of me now, Lestrade,” he asks carefully, the slightest trace of surprise the closest to an admission of fault that he will receive. But the damage is already done.

“I put nothing past you anymore. I’m done serving you because you don’t really need me. In some twisted way, I want them to fire me because I could at least stop being your lap dog.”

Sherlock laughs haughtily. “And what would you have done? I don’t admire much about you, Lestrade, but I admire your tenacity. You love your job too much to abandon it for nothing.”

“Once I did,” Lestrade agrees. “It’s all I have thanks to you. But now being in the job means I rely on you. Find some other Inspector whose life you can destroy, you’ve squeezed all you can out of me.”

“I don’t want any other inspector,” Sherlock suddenly snaps back, unable to contain his frustration anymore. It cuts short any retort Lestrade may have had. There is a fire in his eyes and if Lestrade is not mistaken, his childlike retort bears the weight of emotion, not just cold logical detachment. For a moment, Lestrade almost believes he isn’t just someone convenient.

Embarrassed by his outburst, Sherlock combs a hand in his hair in frustration, pacing. “You….you understand me, don't you see? And if you insist on flattery then I admit, you are better than the Met has credited you for in recent years. So If I have to show my hand to Moriarty early to keep you in the game then I will risk it.”

Lestrade pauses, hearing only Sherlock’s panting breaths. “As much as I have for you?” he asks morosely. This is unchartered territory for them: the past. Sherlock visibly pauses.

“Do not blame me for your decisions. I never forced you. It’s always been about the work. You are like me. Only…with nobler intentions, I suppose.”

Lestrade huffs but it is with less severity, like the energy has been sucked from him. The time for Sherlock to begin complimenting had long passed. “No, Sherlock, we are not the same. I couldn’t be as heartless as you.”

“Self-pity is not becoming of you, Lestrade.”

Lestrade shakes his head. “You don’t know anything about sacrifice, Sherlock, on a purely selfless level. The only thing you ever loved that you had to give up was a drug and even then that was for yourself.”

Sherlock whirls round, nostrils flaring and in a low angry voice says, “I dare you to make that judgement again, Inspector, with more observational capacity…”

He cuts off noticeably and abruptly as the front door opens and closes, followed by the sound of footsteps on the stairs, keys clanking with every jogging movement. When the door opens, John takes in the living room scene and his eyes shift from Lestrade still seated on the couch up to Sherlock. He smiles at Lestrade and the hopeful expression on his face seeks reassurance that the situation has been resolved, just as Sherlock had mysteriously promised him this morning. And his expression is so open, so earnest and honest despite everything he’s been through… Lestrade thinks Sherlock must rip him to shreds.

But it is Sherlock’s face which surprises him the most, transforming from the smouldering anger of a few seconds ago to something softer and lighter at the mere sight of his flatmate. He offers the briefest nod of assurance to John and seems to smile at John’s overt display of relief, as if he’d done something right. Observational ability at full, Lestrade takes it all in – the silent communication, the mutual understanding, the respect that he always sees in their looks and light touches…signs of a tangible hold the likes of which he has never had over Sherlock.

In six years, Lestrade has become accustomed to losing all the things important in his life. In an ironic twist of fate, Sherlock has instead gained just one important thing – not a new addiction or just an indelibly patient flatmate but a whole world. And if Sherlock is all Lestrade has left in his life now then that seems worth preserving.

“I’m going to make tea,” John says, berating Sherlock for not making it himself. Lestrade listens to them bicker good naturedly until a warm cup is pressed into his hands. He takes it, smiling weakly at John’s look at congratulations. Next the doctor walks over to Sherlock, already engrossed in paperwork and puts the cup down, his hand ghosting over Sherlock’s neck as he passes by. Instinctively, the detective tilts his head, completely and instinctively falling into the gravity of John's touch and presence. It is both remarkable and beautiful.

“Right, now that this tiresomeness is over, we must find Harvest,” Sherlock announces and Lestrade notices for the first time that Sherlock is holding the forbidden ballistics report and on the coffee table are other papers Sherlock had been refused access to. It’s been a while since he’s sat with Sherlock, pouring over paper files.

Business as usual. Nothing ever comes to a definitive close between him and Sherlock. Not their arguments, not their association.

“It’s not just me who needs Sherlock Holmes,” he had said earlier that day, “we all need him.”

*

The story that Lestrade has told Sally and Sherlock has told John is the same but with slight variations. Both listeners are smart enough to read between the lines.

The deal begins with Sherlock opening his eyes one morning. Soft morning light filters through the windows. He is back in this bed, in this same room. A master bedroom not used by its masters anymore.

“Good, you’re awake,” comes a croaky voice from the other end of the room and Sherlock turns his head to see a rumpled Lestrade curled up in a chair.

“Fighting over me again?” Sherlock answers, hating how weak and hoarse his own voice sounded. “She went out last night. Mascara smears on the sink. Receipt for new shoes. She was dressing up for someone. Not you.”

“She was seeing a client.”

“You don’t seem distraught by its inevitable end. Perhaps you are adjusting.” And Sherlock sounds…surprised. Maybe even impressed.

Lestrade stands over him, looking down sternly. “Do not run off again. I’m not running around London looking for you for a third night.”

Sherlock smiles as he looks up at the ceiling. “But you found me. Obviously the work comes first for you too. You are unimaginative but certainly cleverer than I first gave you credit for, Detective Inspector. Expecting your promotion soon?”

“And you are obviously more stupid than I thought seeing as you keep using this crap. You’re predictable.”

The caustic smile vanishes from Sherlock’s face and he glares through watered eyes. “It’s the boredom,” he says with anguish. “It’s piercing.”

Lestrade sits on bed beside the bedraggled young man, running a tired hand across his face. He has seen the potential in this boy; behind the veneer of a wayward drug addict there is a sharp, focused but uninhibited mind that just requires taming and direction. And even if he is being accused of picking up a stray, he thinks he can be that guide.

“I know,” Lestrade says understandingly, with less severity in his voice. He pulls out a folder from where it sits on the beside table and places it on his lap. “I will let you look over this…”

Sherlock’s eyes immediately alight like fireworks and he reaches for the folder, a hungry man scrambling for scraps of food. However, Lestrade pulls it away.

“Ah, ah. I will let you help me, I will give you access to the cases and I will use your observations because I think you can help me and it will obviously help you. However, you will stop using because if I see you high at my crime scene, I will turf you out onto the street again. Is that clear?”

Sherlock pauses before nodding, snatching the file and devouring the information like a new drug. Lestrade collapses onto the bed exhaustedly beside him and falls asleep almost instantly to the sounds of Sherlock rifling through the pages. When he wakes a few hours later, he makes breakfast which he forces down Sherlock’s throat as the self-named consulting detective reveals his conclusions about the case. All the while Lestrade listens in amazement to Sherlock tying together the strings of his case and presenting it as a beautiful gift into Lestrade’s lap.

And in the beginning it looks perfect. Maybe he can really direct Sherlock; maybe he can improve his reputation further, even fast track his promotion; maybe he can help more people. It would be a simple collaboration – Lestrade’s above average knowledge and resources working in conjunction with Sherlock’s extreme genius. Lestrade looks back on the moment in hindsight with disbelief at the optimism he had then that maybe…maybe this new era of his life could work.