A/N: Been a long time since I posted. Anyone miss me? XD Anyway. Enjoy.
"Watson. Put down your book, and fetch your bag," Holmes said tersely, his left hand gripping the edge of the door he'd just flung open. His right hand clutched a cup of coffee he must have purchased from a coffee stall, but I had no time to wonder at that, as I scrambled to obey.
"I thought you'd gone to Whitehall?"
"Yes, and I sniffed out something more than a case…you have your thermometer? You're sure?…all right, all right, grab your coat and we're off."
"Where are we going?" I asked, once we were rattling down the street in a cab.
"What! Is he all right? What's wrong?" I tugged at his coat sleeve. "What's going on?"
Holmes pressed his fingertips together for a few blocks. "Did you notice anything odd about him, last we saw him?"
"Well—I did think he was a little crankier than usual, and maybe a bit subdued…I thought it was due to the seriousness of the situation. If those plans had been lost, Holmes, if we hadn't got all ten papers safe and—"
Holmes waved my words away impatiently. "Cranky is normal for Lestrade, but subdued? Never. I was too distracted to take it in; apparently he was fighting off a nasty cold."
"Has to be nasty, if it's keeping him off the beat…"
"Precisely. And knowing Lestrade, he's just stupid enough to let it turn into something worse. According to Whitehall, he was obviously ill on Tuesday but showed anyway; by Wednesday they sent him home to recover."
"And you think he didn't?"
Holmes made an impatient sound. "I have only speculations, but none of them are good. Blast, have you a shilling or two? I didn't check my money before I left the flat…pay the cabby then, Watson, I'll take your bag."
The front door was locked and no one answered our knock; Holmes had it jimmied in a few minutes, having remembered a few burglering tools. "And yet you forgot the cab fare," I laughed hollowly as he pushed open the door and we looked up a dark and rather dingy flight of stairs.
In a chair lit by the feeblest touches of a dying fire, wrapped in a comforter, the inspector slept fitfully. A steamless cup of tea sat on the small, cloth-draped table at his side. The blanket was drawn tightly about him and held fast in the twisted grip of his fingers of his right hand; the thin fingers of the second peeped out, and just in the tips was held a very much used handkerchief.
Holmes motioned me anxiously forward, he hung back himself, straightening papers on a table and gently setting picture-frames straight. Perhaps Lestrade had lost a little weight; a touch pale, and his breathing was very congested, but other than that he seemed little the worse for wear.
"No fever, Holmes," I said, resting the back of my hand on Lestrade's forehead. "The congestion doesn't sound too bad, either."
Presently he coughed himself awake. He blinked at us, clearly surprised, but his first attempts at speaking were raspy to the point of incomprehension.
"Drink this," Holmes ordered, handing the coffee we had brought over. Lestrade cupped his hands around the cup and let fall his eyelids as he drank; his sallow face seemed a little easier for a moment, but of a sudden he jerked the cup away, bringing a hand to his face. I thought he had burnt himself on the drink, and was alarmed, but Holmes reached immediately into his pocket and brought forth a handkerchief, which he handed to the embarrassed man.
"What are you doing here?" He asked, as soon as he had made himself presentable.
"We heard you were ill; we were worried," I offered, kneeling by the hearth and trying to coax a little more life to the flames. "Haven't you a housekeeper?"
He knocked my words aside with the back of his hand. "She has a child, he's ill as well; I told her to take a few days at home to nurse him back. And anyway she's rather annoying, whistles all the time," he added quickly. "It really worked out for the best."
"Charity may warm the heart, but this room is icy and so is your tea. How long have you been ill?"
"It was one of those creeping colds, only later you look and see it was coming on for a long time, little by little…I couldn't say exactly." He warmed his hands, rolling the coffee mug between his palms. "Who told you I was ill?"
"Fellows at Whitehall. They—the way they were—I expected to find you in a much worse state."
He laughed mirthlessly. "Sorry to disappoint. They must have been exaggerating, Mr. Holmes; I've nothing but a cold, just a common cold. Everything about me is common."
Holmes rubbed the back of his neck, his hand pushing up through his dark hair and bringing down his hat, which he began fidgeting with. He'd been in such a hurry that it was an older top hat he'd grabbed, rather shabby and utterly incongruous with the rest of his wardrobe. "Well…as you're obviously not on the verge of heaven's doormat, I shall be taking my leave."
Lestrade chuckled hoarsely. "Is that why you came here? Because they said that about me? I mean, you know, it's easy to misunderstand," he added hastily, as Holmes glowered and jammed his hat back on. "They're terrible teases, you know, Mr. Holmes, you can never tell when they're saying right or when they're saying wrong, they're just that way—I don't think they've read your monograph on the proper use of humor."
Holmes hesitated. "Well-it wasn't really a monograph, you know, Lestrade."
"Yes, no, I mean yes, you're right, it was an essay, wasn't it.." he touched the tips of his fingers to his head briefly in exasperation. "Sorry about that, got the words mixed up."
"You…read my essay, then?"
"I like to keep up with your thoughts, Mr. Holmes-to the best of my abilities, that is." A feeble smile soon gave way to a sigh and a sniffle into the handkerchief.
"Those abilities are perhaps not as common as might be thought," Holmes said after a slight pause, and he slowly took his hat off again.
I had coaxed the fire up to an acceptable blaze by this time—neither of the men seemed to notice my small victory, but I let that pass. I drew up two more chairs, and the three of us sat around the fire, and I think in a way, we were happy.