Because somebody on LJ thought it was unkind of me to leave our favorite DI hanging, I decided to do a follow-up for Great Justice.
If Lestrade were perfectly honest with himself, he'd say he wasn't sure how he felt about Sherlock's sudden reappearance after three years – three years – of unexplained absence. He had long since reconciled with his inevitable career dive and his steady drop in arrest records; he hadn't been all that resentful about it. Having spent years on the force, Lestrade had more or less gotten used to just rolling with the flow, because you honestly never knew what fate would throw at you. He still had a job, after all. It wasn't like Sherlock could have taken that with him. But it was what the man had taken that was largely the reason for the DI's uncomfortable sense of ambivalence towards Sherlock: he had taken John Watson's will to live. Lestrade couldn't count the nights where he had simply stared at his phone, fighting tooth and nail the temptation to call every hour on the hour, just to make sure the doctor was still with him, still somehow hanging on. If he were perfectly honest with himself, he'd say he wasn't surprised. John was an old campaigner – well, "old" wasn't the term, but it got his point across. John knew all about loyalty and bonds formed in peril and unquestioning obedience in the face of a superior; he was honestly the best possible companion for Sherlock, if you looked at it objectively, which Lestrade supposed he really ought to, though he didn't. But the real truth of the matter was that, deep down, Lestrade had been surprised. For all that he'd known, intellectually, that John Watson would follow this crazy, brilliant man off a cliff if he was asked to, he hadn't given much thought to what would happen if John wasn't allowed to follow.
The answer to that being: fracture into tiny pieces.
He'd known John was loyal, he just hadn't anticipated how devoted he was, and that seemed like an important distinction to make. He hadn't realized quite how much John had staked in Sherlock, and more than that, in his need to remain with Sherlock. And that barmy, selfish bastard hadn't given even a second thought to what his disappearance would do; what kind of impact it would have on those who had, God help them, come to depend on him for anything. On what would happen to John. And yes, Lestrade had been worried when he'd shown up at hospital that day, intending to demand a report from the detective, only to find not the detective at all, but a shell-shocked doctor wrapped up in bloodied bandages and looking like he'd just been handed a terminal diagnosis. Whatever worry he'd entertained for Sherlock and his whereabouts dulled far into the background when faced with that sort of quiet desolation. He hadn't said anything, because to be honest he had no idea what was going on, only that just the other day Sherlock had been muttering low and desperate to the unconscious doctor, and now John was awake and Sherlock was nowhere to be found. The hospital staff didn't look too intent on finding him, however, and he couldn't help but think that well-to-do brother of his had a hand in the mess.
After about an hour, John had spoken.
His voice had been hollow, no recrimination, no anger, no bitterness. Just resignation and misery. Lestrade might have been furious, he can't really recall.
"Yes," he'd said, trying to keep his own tone as neutral and he didn't think he'd succeeded.
"He had to, you know. He didn't have a choice."
It would have been so much easier if he hadn't sounded so painfully hopeful, as though he wanted with everything he had to believe that, but for all that want, he couldn't be certain. He couldn't really know. Could only guess, like the rest of them were left guessing, what that elusive genius was up to, what new grand tricks he would perform, only now the audience had been left behind. John had been left behind.
And Lestrade had picked up the pieces.
Which went a long way for explaining why a very large part of him now wanted to punch Sherlock in that brilliant, smug face.
He hadn't been there for any of it. He was such a maverick, such an unstoppable intellect, and he'd probably deduced every moment of agony in the new lines on John's face, and he could know all that and understand it, but he hadn't seen it. He hadn't been around to see what he'd done to that man. The man who still followed him, who still came at his beck and call, the man who had the gall to look happy and overjoyed and damn near blissful at Sherlock's sudden and unexplained return, just as mysterious as his departure, as if the past three years – three long, hellish years – had been nothing but a minor inconvenience, like the milk gone bad when you were late to work, or traffic, instead of the soul-sucking haze it had actually been for that wonderful, tragic man.
Lestrade was not vindictive by nature, but he figured he could get used it.
And there was a case. Of course there was. He'd swallowed his pride and asked for the bastard's help because he still needed it, damn it, and it would have been unconscionable of him to forsake the safety of the public just so his righteous anger could maintain some moral high ground. So they were all assembled, all the main players, like nothing had ever happened, like those three years hadn't existed at all, and Lestrade was so unseated by the disorienting sense of déjà vu in the leaky tenement room that he literally had to curl his fingers until the nails bit into the flesh of his palm to get any sort of grounding. Any sense of reality in this bizarre pantomime that Sherlock had all the strings for.
Lestrade realized that if he was resentful about anything, it was that.
Sherlock swept around the room like a popinjay on speed, coat fanning behind him like some flamboyant plumage and it was the same bloody coat, right down to the tarnished third button from the explosion at the pool complex, and Anderson was in the corner looking mutinous, and Sally was rolling her eyes off to the side and John was standing there all expectation and acceptance and Lestrade felt a deep sort of fury curl around his stomach. He didn't understand and he didn't know how any of it was worth it, and of course Sherlock won't deign to key him in. Just like always. Just like it had ever been. Just like nothing had happened.
Except it had. And Lestrade wasn't so willing to forget it.
"Problem?" that smooth, obnoxious voice speared through the DI's thoughts. Lestrade looked up, saw that Sherlock had clearly already done his lunatic dance and he'd somehow missed the performance; Anderson and Sally had stormed off in indignation by now and John had learned long before Sherlock's disappearance that if he wanted to keep up with the detective he should always move two steps ahead, and was probably on the street already getting a cab.
Lestrade's profound sense of disconnect only worsened.
"How do you mean?" he asked, not evasive by any means because he wanted this, wanted the opportunity to tear into the arrogant tosser, to make him bleed just a little, the way John had bled.
He just wanted to see how much Sherlock had figured out on his own.
Pale eyes narrow slightly, but instead of the ream of deductions he'd expected, Sherlock merely said, "You're angry with me. Why?"
"Why do you think?" Lestrade bit back.
"Will you stop answering my questions with more questions?"
"No, because I want to see how much of it you already know!" he yelled, and he hadn't expected it, clearly Sherlock hadn't either, but it worked, it was fair. "I want to know if you have any idea at all!"
Sherlock shifted into a sneer of sorts, surprise losing out to disdain as it usually did. "If you're upset about your percentages, Inspector, I assure they will soon -"
"It bloody well isn't about me!" Lestrade bellowed, realizing a bit belatedly that this wasn't how he conducted business and he really should perhaps get himself under control.
But the way Sherlock's face twitched and darkened made it impossible, the way he still didn't seem to get it.
"Ah yes. It's about John, isn't it?"
And the sneer had returned, words rolling off his tongue like they were slicked with pond scum and Lestrade might've very well been seeing red.
"You had no right," he muttered low when he decided shouting would only bring the doctor running and then this conversation would be a moot point, because like hell would he put the poor man through this all over again, not when he'd finally found some happiness.
However much Lestrade was convinced he deserved better.
Something almost dangerous flickered across Sherlock's face, but he truly was a madman if thought that would deter the DI any.
"What happens between me and John is none of your concern, Lestrade. I would advise you to put the matter out of your thoughts before I get annoyed."
"Yes, well we can't have that, can we? God forbid anything upsets the Great Sherlock Holmes, never mind how much anyone else gets hurt!"
"It's none of your concern," and suddenly Sherlock is towering over Lestrade, something like murder in his tone, and it had never been that apparent before how incredibly unhinged the detective was.
"You can't pretend like nothing happened."
Sherlock looked physically ill all of sudden and took one menacing step forward, probably with the intent to hit Lestrade, and all he could think was, Bring it, Genius, I'd love to see how easy your nose breaks.
"Sherlock are you almost done, the cabbie's got the ticker running and we're a half hour away as it is!" a shout preceded the arrival of a disgruntled doctor on the scene and when Lestrade had taken enough calming breaths he eventually, grudgingly, decided it was for the best. Sherlock took a huge step back, putting nearly a good five feet between them, but they couldn't quite get the looks of furious revulsion of their faces by the time John was leaning into the room. The doctor blinked, face melting from exasperation to concern because regardless of any rubbish Sherlock spouted about the man, John Watson was quick as a fox. He may not have Sherlock's preternatural ability to pull deductions out of thin air like rabbits from a hat, but he could grasp a situation faster than almost anyone else Lestrade had ever met.
"Am I . . . interrupting something?" he asked slowly, gaze moving from detective to DI, carefully, considering.
"The Inspector simply wished for me to clarify a few things for him," Sherlock said, deceptively offhanded, and Lestrade didn't think John bought it for the world, mostly because Lestrade was still glaring at the other man. But he accepted it, suspiciously.
"Yes well. As long as you aren't sticking me with the fare this time," he said before turning on his heel and limping back down the stairs.
Sherlock and Lestrade continued to face off for a second before they realized that despite what he'd said, John really wouldn't tolerate much longer of a delay. With another wish for homicide clear in his sharp look, Sherlock strolled right past Lestrade and down the steps after the doctor. Lestrade remained a moment longer, fists clenched so hard they shook before he breathed deep once more and released them.
John was happy, after all. That's what really mattered in the end.
He just didn't have to like it.
The next day saw Lestrade more or less handcuffed to his desk as he sifted through a mountain of paperwork which was the inevitable outcome of working with Sherlock Holmes on a case – an amount of paperwork that, if he were honest, he'd say he hadn't really missed during that three year hiatus. He'd barely scrapped through half of it, but had managed to polish off two coffees and an herbal tea when the door to his office swung open with no preamble. It was something he shouldn't be used to anymore, but he was.
It bothered him more than he could say.
With a staggeringly nonexistent amount of pomp and mystique, Sherlock crossed the small room and dropped himself into a chair before his desk. Lestrade watched him. Sherlock kept his eyes on the windows.
"I suppose we should have a chat," he said suddenly, in much the way one would say, "We should get recreational colonoscopies."
"I don't have anything to say to you," Lestrade muttered, glaring for all he was worth in some futile attempt to scare the wanker off.
Sherlock's eyes narrowed, but they seemed to be lacking in that sheer hate they'd had in abundance the day before.
"I realize that . . . things may have happened during my absence -" and he saw that Lestrade was about to bluster in indignantly so he cut him off before a word could get out, "and it hadn't occurred to me until later last night that I hadn't ever offered you an explanation for why I left in first place."
To be fair, Sherlock didn't actually have to explain anything to Lestrade. It certainly gave him pause. Sherlock glanced at him quickly before shifting his gaze to the windows again as though eye contact was simply painful.
"The bomber that was -" he paused, jaw flexing, and then continued, "the bomber I had been chasing was precisely whom I anticipated. The Czech museum curator that we interrogated for the fake Vermeer mentioned his name to the both of us."
"Moriarty," Lestrade murmured.
Sherlock paled a bit and smiled thinly. "Very good, Inspector, your capacity for recall is significantly greater than your reasoning capabilities. At least you have something going for you."
There was no bite to it, however, and Lestrade – God help him – was getting concerned now.
"What happened, Sherlock? You two just up and disappeared, and when the pool blew up we couldn't get a hold of either one of you, and then there you were in all that wreckage. Why were you there?"
"John never told you?"
That statement was utterly devoid of anything.
Lestrade frowned. "No, nothing."
Sherlock nodded. Lestrade had no idea what to make of that.
"Moriarty's game was that exactly. All those calls, all those people killed; just one elaborate smoke screen. Or so I thought. In truth it was even simpler than that." His smile was so grim and so tired and so full of regret and bitter recriminations, and Lestrade couldn't believe he hadn't seen any of it until now.
What the hell had happened to this man in three years?
"Moriarty just wanted my attention. Simple as that. He wanted to prove to me how vastly superior he was, how fruitless it would be to try and stop him. He was a consulting criminal, you see. Utterly ingenious, the way he could manipulate the very systems that people trust to keep them safe in order to obliterate them from the world, all for a pretty fee. And he was very good at what he did."
Sherlock sounded vaguely impressed, even now, but that particular downward curve of his mouth spoke of something closer to disgust.
"I know I did not respond with overt sympathy to the many innocent people who were ruined by our little game," he went on, eyes falling to the desk, "and that my emotional removal upset many people. But Moriarty knew better. He knew precisely what would get my attention, more so than puzzles, more so than the tragic deaths of faceless strangers – who could have been horrible people for I all I knew."
Sherlock looked up, gaze locking with Lestrade's for the first time since he'd walked through the door, and it wasn't because he was reaching out, Sherlock didn't seek comfort from anyone. He did it so Lestrade would understand.
"He took John."
Lestrade froze. Such emptiness. Like Sherlock couldn't afford to let himself feel it. Like it was too painful for him to even acknowledge.
"He took him, Lestrade. That's why he was there that night. I went to the pool to prove I was clever, to prove I'd caught on to Moriarty's little game, and he sent John to meet me instead. With Semtex. The fucker had him strapped -"
Sherlock eyes leapt to the windows again and he stopped, throat working, expression inscrutable.
Lestrade couldn't say a word.
"There were snipers. He was forced to be the bastard's mouthpiece. Moriarty eventually made his grand entrance, detailed – in very clichéd, villainous terms – what the whole point of it was. And he gave me an ultimatum: either I stopped pursuing him, or he would burn my heart out."
The DI swallowed at that, throat gone dry and he could barely even comprehend any of this.
"Well, it was fairly easy to deduce what he meant by that," Sherlock said, some facsimile of nonchalant, and Lestrade understood that, at least, perfectly. The detective offered a commiserating smirk.
"So I left hospital just after speaking with John one last time. It would have been easier to track Moriarty down without . . . well. It was more difficult. It's always more difficult without John. But the risk outweighed the benefit on this one. I deliberately hadn't taken him when I went to meet Moriarty at the pool, so I certainly wasn't about to now."
Lestrade blinked, his whole brain feeling like it was wading through treacle. "So all this time, you've been battling Moriarty?"
Another bleak smile. "That makes it sound so very swashbuckler, doesn't it? Honestly, it involved far more sitting and pacing and screaming into phones than anything quite so daring-do. Although there was a fair bit of scurrying from place to place, what with a legion of hitmen on one's heels."
It was bizarre, Lestrade decided, to see Sherlock down-playing his own brilliance. For God's sake, the man had ruined a veritable behemoth of crime! A deranged psychopath only slightly less genius than Sherlock himself, if the three year struggle was anything to go by. That was definitely not something one turned their nose up at. But there Sherlock sat, skin pallid in the weak afternoon sun, lines in his face where there hadn't been any before, eyes weary, features haggard and fierce in the manner of the hunted. Clearly the hiatus hadn't been any kinder to Sherlock than it had been to John, and though it might make him a questionable person, Lestrade felt a lot better about everything for knowing that.
"But you came back?" he asked, realizing the moment he did how ridiculous it was because there he was.
Sherlock didn't comment, although he did shoot Lestrade a brief, mocking glance.
"Yes. The moment I'd rounded up all the loose ends, I came back. Apparently Mrs. Hudson had the locks on Baker St. changed in my absence and I was forced to break into my own flat."
He laughed at that against his better judgment.
The detective's expression fell then. "I missed the funeral, however."
It took Lestrade a minute to follow.
"Harry Watson's? I didn't go either. John was . . . well, he's very touchy about grief. Good at hiding it, to an extent, and he hates talking about it or having anyone see it. I rung him the next day, though. Tried to help distract him a bit."
Sherlock's face went through several very interesting contortions until, with visual difficulty, it settled on a sucked-lemons look.
"Yes. I had heard about your outings," he said, voice tight. "That was very . . . good of you. You are right in that John is all too willing to suffer alone, and . . . he shouldn't have to."
It was a statement far too heavily loaded for the DI to even begin to decode it – though he caught traces of "sincerity" and "discomfort" and even a touch of "self-loathing" – and he couldn't help but feel as if they weren't quite on the same page anymore.
Lestrade frowned. "John told you about the dinners?"
The man flinched.
"He mentioned them, yes. He said that you'd been . . . a very good friend."
His eyebrows shot up. "He did? Well. That was nice of him. He's a good friend too. Honestly, I got the idea he'd been more focused on me the whole time."
Lestrade couldn't help but chuckle fondly, if a bit sadly; however miserable the doctor had been, he'd always asked after Lestrade and apologized when he couldn't eat, or for how much more difficult the DI's job had become, like any of it was even remotely John's fault.
The doctor was certainly deranged, there was no question of that. He and Sherlock suited each other rather well, really.
When Lestrade came back into the moment once more, it was to see a decidedly green tinge to Sherlock's pale face, and he looked as if he was going to be sick all over Lestrade's desk in a matter of minutes.
"Sherlock, are you -"
"Oh yes, I'm perfectly fine. Please, don't let me interrupt your fond remembrances of evenings out with my doctor."
That strange bitterness from last night was back, the one Lestrade had assumed to be utter disdain for John and all that he'd suffered from Sherlock's absence, but that . . . that didn't really make sense anymore, did it? Sherlock was more than capable of faking emotions; Lestrade had seen him do it as a questioning tactic, but not like this. What he'd just witnessed, as Sherlock had recounted the last three years for him; that sort of raw, still-festering pain couldn't be faked. So then what was –
Well. That made sense, didn't it? Except for the part where it didn't make any sense at all!
Sherlock gleaned – of course he bloody well did – that Lestrade must have pieced something together, because he shifted himself higher in his seat with something like defiance, like he was going to throw a gauntlet any second and fight for some maiden's hand.
Lestrade felt his sanity shift slightly to the left.
"What?" he snapped.
Lestrade took a deep, soothing breath. He needed a holiday.
"What do you think happened in all that time?"
The detective actually looked – dare he think it? – scandalized! It was something Lestrade was going to remember for the rest of his life, probably.
"I don't think that appropriate conversation for -"
He couldn't help it. He really couldn't.
He laughed in Sherlock's face.
For about five minutes.
"Yes, when you've quite finished!" Sherlock barked, ears tinged vaguely pink and his face screwed up in a look that on anyone else would have been a pout, except that Sherlock was much too dignified for that.
"Sherlock!" Lestrade cried when he nearly had his breath back. "Jesus Christ, we only had dinners out a handful of times a month! He was miserable, I was just trying to cheer him up a bit. He wasn't talking to anyone else. And yes, I think he's a perfectly pleasant man -"
"—He's a perfect man," Sherlock cut in, as though Lestrade's failure to realize this was a personal insult.
"So now you're mad because I don't fancy him?"
The detective's expression cleared instantly. "So you don't fancy him?"
"I think I just said that, yes."
"How cute," Sherlock jeered before switching tacks, "So you aren't attracted to him in any way?"
"Do you not think he's attractive?"
"Now, I didn't say that -"
"—So you do think he's attractive?"
"Well, in an objective sort of way, yeah, sure, he's -"
"—But you yourself have no interest in performing sexual intercourse with him?"
"Christ, Sherlock, I'm not gay!"
"Neither was John," Sherlock pointed out, as though that explained everything.
And, in a way, it did.
"Yeah, but I actually mean it."
Sherlock folded his hands in front of his mouth then like he did when he was thinking deep thoughts.
"Yes, that certainly is a distinction."
A beat of fairly awkward silence followed that. Lestrade found it strange that no one had bothered them even once since Sherlock had barreled through his door, but then again people tended to avoid whatever space contained the detective, mostly out of self-preservation. He wondered what that said about John.
He wondered what that said about himself.
"Sooo . . . are you two . . .?"
"Is that a problem?"
"No, I just -"
" - Because this is hardly the 1800's, Inspector, and it wouldn't be at all politically correct of you to -"
"Sherlock!" Lestrade shouted, simply because he couldn't handle this conversation anymore. He couldn't quite conceptualize of Sherlock as any kind of sexual being, and he honestly, honestly wanted to stop trying. Before he needed therapy.
"Look, I really don't care what you get up to on your free time and I absolutely do not want to know the details. Just . . . treat him well. Or as well as you can, anyway. He's one of the best men I know, and he deserves it."
That sobered the dark-haired man right up, his mouth pinched shut and his eyes opened wide and guileless. He looked a bit like a little kid when he did that. A very intelligent, very annoying little kid. Lestrade thought Mrs. Holmes deserved some sort of medal if she didn't already have one. And Mrs. Hudson. And John. And himself, come to think of it.
All of a sudden Sherlock was deathly serious.
"I will always do my best to treat him exactly the way he deserves to be treated," he said, "and I fear constantly that I am rather unequal to the task. It's unfair, to be sure, because the idiot loves me a bit ridiculously and I don't think he'd ever leave, despite the fact that he could undoubtedly do better. But I will try to make him happy, or as happy as he can reasonably be when he is in love with one such as myself, because his unhappiness is anathema to me."
Lestrade blinked at that. Another thing he hadn't missed was Sherlock's ability to make him feel so pitifully slow.
"My God," he murmured at length. "What happened to you those three years?"
Sherlock just gave him a flat stare.
"I lost my heart."
A silence, more tense than awkward this time, enfolded them, where Sherlock looked utterly fragile and Lestrade was afraid to even breathe too heavily for fear the slighter man might shatter.
But this one, too, ended quickly when the detective offered a small, breakable smile.
"I found it again, though."
And Lestrade found he could smile back genuinely.
"Well, I'm glad for you, mate. For both of you."
Sherlock's eyes narrowed.
Lestrade rolled his.
"And I hereby solemnly swear nothing ever did, and nothing ever will happen between myself and the doctor, barring perfectly reasonable, perfectly platonic conversation. And the occasional pint."
Sherlock nodded his approval, and Lestrade thought he really hadn't been swatted enough as a child.
"Yes, well . . . I think that will do for now."
They stared at each other uncomfortably for a second or two before Sherlock muttered, "Right," and rose abruptly to his feet, swirling for the door with all his grandeur back in place and Lestrade might have let him go at that if a thought hadn't seized his brain just before the detective could escape.
"Hang on, now what made you decide to come down here to tell me all this? If you were actually worried about . . . whatever it was you were worried about," Lestrade blundered with all the aplomb of a prepubescent teenager, "why didn't you just quietly plan my demise, or something? What made you decide to have a chat instead?"
Sherlock rounded on him, looking wounded and regal. "Perhaps because I feel I owe you a sort of debt for taking care of John in my absence? Perhaps because in the years of our association you have been moderately understanding of my many eccentricities in ways that no one until John ever was? Perhaps because you have, in some very bizarre and indefinable way, become what I consider to be a friend?"
Lestrade watched him for a moment, blinking and silent.
"Right, pull the other one."
"Right," Sherlock said, entire façade deflating, "In actual fact, John noticed our little spat at the crime scene last night and demanded I come and make amends with you, since he regards you rather highly. I believe his exact phrasing was, 'I don't care bollocks what it was about, Sherlock, you're going down there and getting sorted tomorrow or I will hurt you.'"
"And you believed him, then?"
"With certitude. Have you ever seen the doctor angry, Inspector?"
Lestrade laughed. "I'll have to admit, I haven't."
"It's a daunting thing, surely. The man doesn't make idle threats, whether it be violence or throwing out my experiments or withholding sex for the foreseeable future -"
"OUT!" Lestrade barked and Sherlock threw him a manic grin before sliding through the door like an alley cat.
It had been three years since he'd felt so frustrated and run-round and confused, and if he were entirely honest with himself, he'd say he'd missed it.
But Lestrade wasn't always honest with himself, and so went about cursing the impossible man to himself as he dragged his paperwork back in front of him, because Sherlock had been right once again: it wasn't his concern.
After all, if he could get Sherlock Holmes to bow his masterful head enough to actually apologize to someone, then John Watson was a tougher man than Lestrade had given him credit for. He'd best get around to training Anderson and Donovan to treat Sherlock better, or there may eventually be a double homicide one of these days.
If he was perfectly honest with himself, he'd say he wouldn't investigate it too closely should the occasion ever arise. Some things were still his concern, whether Sherlock was willing to admit it or not.
He decided he really, really needed a holiday.
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