Disclaimer : Sherlock belongs to MM. Conan Doyle, Gatiss, Moffat and probably a few others – I'd advise collective baby-sitting in his case.
A/N: Rated T for emotional abuse, mention of physical abuse. The journalist-and-worm case comes from the ACD!canon, Watson alludes to it in « The Problem of Thor Bridge ».
Sins of the Father
All the clocks in Marylebone are striking five when Lestrade waves the police car off on its way, conscious of the unfashionable hour for paying Baker Street a visit. Lestrade usually spends tea-time at his desk communing with a styrofoam cup of Nescafé, but this, as he texted Sherlock an hour ago, is an emergency tea-break. The Daily Mail's pet reporter has just been found stark raving mad and staring into a matchbox that contained a type of worm unknown even to Ken Russell, and Scotland Yard, in view of the late Persano's press affiliation, is more than anxious for Lestrade to box up the case fast and clean.
Lestrade steps up to 221B and raises his hand to the bell – then stills it. The street door is the slightest bit ajar. Not enough for passers-by to spot a gap, but a visitor acquainted with the premises will hardly miss it. Lestrade inspects the keyhole for signs of violation and finds none. Cautiously, he places his hand against the door and pushes it open, letting himself in before he moves the door back, ensuring that it merely clicks.
He pads up the steps, glancing at the coat hung on the landing. It's light beige, cashmere by the look of it, and cannot possibly belong to John Watson unless he's taken to stilts and grown another set of shoulders since Lestrade last saw him. No Mrs Hudson in sight, but the door to the boys' common room is partially open, too. Lestrade can hear two voices, both male, both deep, two runnels of sound merging now and then in that clear-cut drawl they called the « Rupert voice » in his younger days. Could this be —
He dares a side glimpse. No. Sherlock's visitor has his back turned to him, but Lestrade can see the full grey hair, the perceptible slouch. This is a man of his generation, even a bit older. Larger too – the hefty back is blocking his view to Sherlock.
« — never said you were coming to town. » Sherlock's voice is its even self, but to Lestrade's ear it sounds bizarrely toneless.
« What if I had ? I have long stopped expecting you to comply with elementary social decencies. Though I should have downed the ante where you're concerned. I should have anticipated having to track down my own son to a City hospital morgue. »
Oh, Jesus. Lestrade's job has sped him to many mudholes in his life course, but if there's one murky field he tries to avoid it's this. His team's family issues are and must remain off-track muddles – he's made it a cast-iron rule at work and they know it. Bad enough that he had to walk on Anderson and Donovan last Monday, probing the ins-and-outs of cooperation in the Property Room. That sight was anything but proper.
And neither is this. The elusive worm simply will have to wait : if Sherlock catches him eavesdropping on what Lestrade suspects is a well-rehearsed number on the Holmes domestic scene, there will be hell to pay in this life and the next. Lestrade takes one hushed step stairward.
Then he remembers the street door and retraces the step.
« I've told you, Father. My work — »
« Your what, boy ? Do not even think of soiling the word before me. Oh yes, I've read about your, your – 'deductions', is that what you call it now ? I call it a sterling excuse to lounge here, living off your brother's spare money so you can slake your latest pet craving. It's no longer drugs now, Sherlock, is it ? Pity. Drugs kept you apart from the public eye at least. »
The voice is softly, horrifyingly compelling – musk oil dripping from a knife edge. Lestrade waits for Sherlock to counter it with a sample of his own cutting words but nothing comes from the blind angle, nothing but silence. He tries to lick his lips and finds that his tongue is dry.
« Dear god, look at you. Just look at this pigsty round you. Is this what you've come to ? You were a Sunday's child when we made you, Sherlock. We gave you everything – named you, schooled you, shaped you – everything before you cut a run and failed us. Perhaps I should have schooled you harder, boy. Yes, look at it now, that's it, look well. Did you really think I'd missed it ? »
The bulk suddenly shifts to Lestrade's right, allowing him an oblique peep into the room. Sherlock is sitting, but not in his usual place, the central chair that Lestrade makes a point of appropriating during his routine drugs busts. He is huddled in John's armchair near the window, and Lestrade, with an unwelcome pang of deja vu, notes that he is wearing his coat indoors with his legs folded against his chest. The chair is half facing the door so that Sherlock would be looking directly at him if he had not turned his head, but it appears that he is staring intently at the marble chimney. Or rather, at something long and thin tucked along the far edge of the chimney sill.
« I dare say you lack the guts to use it on anything alive. Is that the best you're capable of, boy ? » The voice drops to a slow hiss. « Keep to a society of corpses ? No wonder your mother felt she had to join up before her time. »
In the days when he was mostly known as Greg, Lestrade's first teacher had assigned his class a Colour Project : make a list of feelings, children, and chose a colour for each. Greg's answers had been stolidly consensual – joy waved to yellow; hope was sea-blue (well, they lived inland); grief dull black. Anger, as every one knew, was redcurrant red.
Everyone had been wrong. Rage feels furnace white, and it has taken him three strides into the room before he knows it.
« Enough." He doesn't bother to keep his voice steady. "You, get out. Move the fuck out of here."
For one sharp instant, there's only the pleasure of seeing the other man flinch at his words. Then the man tilts his head slowly in his direction, sizing him up. Lestrade returns the favour. He can find no trace of blood sympathy there, nothing that would designate this sensuous, saturnine face as an inspiration for Sherlock's. Granted, the man has clear cunning eyes and must have been strikingly handsome once in a patrician fashion. But he is also heavy-set, grounded to Mrs Hudson's carpet as if his flesh was a law of gravity in its own right. A hedonist gone to waste.
« Ah. You have more – animated friends, then. Though their language hardly does you credit. Or their professional conduct. » The stone-clear eyes have brushed across his M&S trench, catching his hand's repressed gesture to his breast pocket. « I'm less closely acquainted with police stations than you are, Sherlock, but I do know about trespass to land and verbal assault. Perhaps Inspector Lestrade might be wise to take his own advice. »
Not a fool, then. But not a genius either. Geniuses may well be sadists, as he readily concedes to Sally Donovan, but they are fast thinking sadists. Holmes looks the blow-by-blow type. This could be an advantage.
« While I, Mr Holmes, know all about emotional abuse and the laws that punish it. You say I'm going, you're going with me. Let's see which of us walks out of the station with a restraining order. »
It's the truth, nothing but the truth. And it's bluff. And Holmes knows it. Sherlock's status is still too controversial at the Met for Lestrade's colleagues to take direct measures on the mere strength of his testimony. And Sherlock himself – still motionless, still staring at his own chimney as if researching a way to morph into its marble shell – will never file a complaint of this sort, not where it might be accessible to Sally and her peers.
« You ridiculous little man. » Holmes's voice is back to musk. « I can't, for the life of me, figure what brought my son to seek your – your tutelage. Apart from your common penchant for cadavers, that is. »
It strikes him, then – the answer, the blow ahead. It's a shot in the dark, since he knows nothing of the man apart from his vicious connection to Sherlock, but it's all the ammunition he has.
« Oh, we have another thing in common, sir. »
He can see the other man stir at his change of tone – but the contempt resurfaces at once, in the pursed plump lips, the voice. Fool.
« A dirty flat ? »
« No, Mr Holmes. Your elder son's personal phone number. »
And there it is. Now he can tell (except he won't, he'll never tell) John Watson that he knows what John felt a year ago, watching another elderly sadist topple to the ground at Sherlock's feet. It has been years since he himself pulled the trigger on a gun, but at this instant, looking at Holmes's face, he knows precisely how if feels when your shot goes home.
It feels bloody great.
He follows the other man to the landing, never taking his eyes off him. Two dim steps down the stairs, Holmes turns and opens his mouth. It makes a soft wet sound and Lestrade is reminded of his childhood's winter Sundays, the West Country silt sucking at your boots all the way to church, so you had to wipe them twice before getting your tea.
« Don't. » he whispers. « You know your way out, Mr Holmes – keep to that knowledge. If I happen on you in this flat, anywhere near this flat, I'll » – and he can't keep the wry grin from his voice – « with all due respect, sir, I'll bust you. »
He waits until the door has shut Holmes out before stepping back into the living-room. Sherlock is seated exactly as they left him, knees to chest, but his head is slightly raised and Lestrade knows that in a few seconds he will be struggling through his chilled torpor. He knows, too, what sensations will kick in first, painful as the blood when it floods a numbed body: the shame, the resentment, the – oh, sodding hell – childish, desolate self-contempt because of that first signal of distress since a past that was well on its way to oblivion.
Only a matter of seconds.
Lestrades crosses the space to the chair and squeezes himself firmly on the arm, his eyes on the window as he places a hand on Sherlock's cheek and guides the rigid young face to the curve of his shoulder, letting his other arm encircle Sherlock's back. Then he rests his chin on the dark curls and begins to speak.
He starts with figures. Percentages, quotas, statistics: an abstract parade, delivered in a voice as effortlessly bland as he can make it. Numbers fresh from his yearly report to whatever deity once decreed that detective inspectors live on paper and freeze-dried coffee, yet the one report that makes all the others worth it. He takes Sherlock through clearance rates and conviction rates and all the rates that would have remained wishful thinking without Sherlock.
It is a dry language, but it must work somehow because Lestrade can hear Sherlock breathe again, abandoning his weight to the hug. He tightens his hold and moves on to people.
He tells Sherlock about the woman he saw two weeks earlier, the mother found in her kitchen, unstitching her dead child's striped school scarf with a kitchen peeler, and how her hands stilled when she learnt about the arrest. He speaks of the woman from Cardiff who sent his team an empty e-mail on the anniversary of her capture by Moriarty, and how they all knew the mail address bearing her name was the message.
Protected witnesses walking out into bright air after the trial, blinking up at the air. Mrs Hudson telling him about the nightmares, the four knocks at her bedroom door, three and a halt followed by the dull thud of the chopper, and how they ceased.
His own nightmares, and how they ceased.
Next thing he kows, he is sending his team a mental plea for forgiveness and telling Sherlock about the Bust Bingo.
« They have cards, you see, with all the things they expect to find here. Last time we came, Sally was leading with only three squares uncrossed – Buttered Fingers, Dario Argento and Gerbils. Anderson and Hopkins are way behind. Can't deny them their bit of fun, but I've noticed there's one item that never ever comes up on these cards – and it's the first you'd expect. »
« A brain for loan ? » a muffled voice asks his shirt collar.
Lestrade grins and shifts his head. Across the window, across the street, John Watson is legging it to 221B, a Tesco bag swinging jauntily at his side. So he describes John to Sherlock, today's happy man, such a far cry from the discrete cripple he first saw slumped on this chair.
« You make him alive, Sherlock. You make them all alive. Do you see ? Alive. » Then he drops his arms gently and stands up.
Sherlock leans back, looking at him with what Lestrade can only identify as a lost scowl. « Are you ? » he says curtly.
Lestrade replays his monologue in his head, searching for the – oh. Obviously.
« Christ, yes. Haven't been so proud of anyone since my Cathy got eight A-levels. »
He will always, in retrospect, thank John for that last-minute fumble after his keys. It lets him catch the incautious smile and hoard it in a corner of his mind, not to be gloated over or made use of, but as a memento that Sherlock might in fact need him in one more capacity than he needs Sherlock.
By the time John enters the flat with a hearty 'I'm home !', Sherlock is dissecting the British educative system with scathing gusto, and Lestrade is putting the kettle on in preparation for a cozy chat on dead journalists, anonymous worms and other such invigorating topics.