I Wonder As I Wander
Part 2 of 2
"—just what it looked like, a suicide," the young man was saying in a cultured voice, deeper than Bodie would've expected from that slender body. "Dull, dull, dull."
Gravelly words came from off-screen, thick with weariness and no little sarcasm. "Yeah, it's a shame that people aren't killing each other fast enough this holiday season to keep you entertained."
"You never understood," the young man – Sherlock, Bodie reminded himself – sneered as he rounded on the unseen speaker. "You and your microscopic mind, content to bleat out Christmas carols with the rest of the assembled sheep. That's all you're—"
"Never claimed that I know how you feel, did I?" Greg Lestrade interrupted. He moved into view with measured steps, wearing a nondescript suit, rumpled coat, and healthy five-o-clock shadow. His tone deepened into a placating rumble. "But I do recognise that your brain needs something to work on, or it chews itself to bits. I'm here to help, if I can."
"Oh, Saint Lestrade of the Perpetually Overactive Sense of Duty," Sherlock intoned, pacing around the other man like an erratic satellite. His designer shirt and trousers looked slept in, even though he appeared not to have slept for quite some time. "I'm surprised you're not volunteering for more hours now, to let your comrades with families spend extra time during this 'special season' with their wretched spawn."
"Already have." The answer was matter-of-fact. "Been at the office, then on call for as many hours as I'm allowed. I was headed home… but I got to thinking how long it's been since you had a case, how many parties would be going on tonight, how easy it would be…"
"Don't make this about me!" Sherlock was winding himself to a manic pitch, a wounded animal that in turn sought to wound. "You're just looking for an excuse not to crawl into a bottle and stay there 'til the holiday's over, to try to forget your life's not some sickeningly-sweet greeting-card advert." Then the young man blinked and nearly stumbled backward, as though he realised he had crossed some unmarked boundary between them.
They stared at each other.
At last Greg spread his arms, offering himself up to the vitriol of Sherlock's attack. His answer came without heat. "Yeah, all right. I should have a family of my own to celebrate with. That's hard to forget, this time of year." He shrugged. "Is that what you want to hear?"
The man's lack of artifice, of any kind of self-defence, appeared to drain the hostility from Sherlock. The young man crumpled and then curled in on himself. "I don't want to hear anything from you tonight. I'm not your responsibility… and you're not mine."
"No, I'm not yours. I'm just another supplier, aren't I? Another way for you to get a fix. Of interest only as long as I've got the goods." The composure with which Greg spoke the words only increased their impact. He rubbed his hand across his face and gave a humourless laugh. "Jesus, I'm too bloody tired for this."
Bodie frowned at the screen, at sea in the storm of emotions the scene provoked. He thought, quite distinctly, Doyle would be better at this than I am.
For several moments neither of the men in the flat spoke a word. Then Greg took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "Listen. You have four options, Sherlock. First: go home with me now. I'll get takeaway, feed you up, and you can have the guest room. When you've slept off whatever this is" – he waved his arm in the young man's general direction – "we can find something for you to do. Cold case files. Pending reports. Maybe I can pull strings, get you access to the morgue for some experiments, yeah?"
Sherlock remained unmoving, his long limbs tightened into a miserable knot.
"Second: let me take you somewhere else: a hotel, another flat, whatever, as long as it's clean in every sense of the word. Then tomorrow you can come by mine, or see your brother, or anything you fancy, as long as you stay away from the drugs.
"Third: I have you arrested right now." Sherlock's head jerked up at this, eyes wide, mouth open. "Don't play the outraged innocent; I know a search of this room will turn up more than enough cause. You spend the next hours in a cell – isolated, if you like, I can arrange it – well away from temptation. And I can get some sleep without imagining you overdosed in a gutter somewhere on Christmas morning."
Sherlock's mouth closed, and his lips compressed into a pale, thin line.
"Fourth: I walk away, leave you here, and we're done. No more consulting. I told you before, and I meant it: I won't have you at my crime scenes when you're using. Up 'til now, that's worked for both of us. Well, in fact."
"I'm not high, Lestrade. I'm bored." Small and tremulous.
"If I'd arrived later tonight, would the story be different?" No answer. "That's what I thought."
Long fingers tangled in dark curls. "You can't walk away from this. You need me." A threat, or a plea, or possibly both.
"I've lost more than one thing in my life that I needed, and I'm still here, Sherlock." Greg sounded tired, and older than Bodie felt, which was saying something, but remarkably steady for all of that. "I've solved cases without you. I made DI without you. Your work's important, but not more so than you are." He shook his head. "We could go 'round and 'round 'til the sun comes up, but I don't have the stomach for it. Make your decision. I'll be at the front door."
He moved to a dark drape of fabric on the threadbare sofa – a long coat, Bodie realised – and liberated a single cigarette from one of its pockets.
"Thought you were quitting," Sherlock mumbled.
"Yeah, thought you were, too," Greg replied.
As the detective inspector disappeared from view, A reached forward and tapped a key, pausing the feed.
"I trust that's" – she seemed at a loss for the proper term – "satisfactory?"
Bodie nodded and cleared his throat. Unsure what to do with himself, he reached for the flask in his breast pocket. He took a swallow and then offered it to the young woman.
"I'm on duty," she said, once more studying her BlackBerry.
"Did I say otherwise?" he asked.
Her lips quirked. She extended a delicately-gloved hand, accepted the flask, and brought it to her lips with easy grace. It was very fine brandy. She took one sip, then another.
"Thank you." When she handed it back to him, she looked him squarely in the eye once more for a fleeting second.
The car deposited him back on the very same patch of pavement where Bodie had been standing earlier. A was consumed with her personal data assistant. Preoccupied by what he'd witnessed, Bodie took his leave with a silent nod and half-bow – not that his hostess noticed.
Panda cars and an ambulance passed and turned toward the rear of the building ahead, presumably on their way to claim the unfortunate suicide victim.
Before Mycroft Holmes's sedan pulled away, the back door opened again. The young woman emerged and crossed the distance to Bodie in several swift steps, still clutching her BlackBerry.
"Happy Christmas, B," she murmured, and her free hand pressed something into his grip. Then she disappeared into the automobile, and it sped off, leaving Bodie to contemplate her unexpected gift.
He uncurled his fingers. She'd given him a lighter.
Bodie was following the pavement that led to the main entrance door as Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade emerged from the building.
It was a colossally stupid thing to do, Bodie knew, but he could no more deny himself this than his next lungful of air.
An automatic part of Bodie's mind catalogued the most apparent surface details: they were the same height, and roughly the same wide-shouldered, athletic build. Their eyes and chins were somewhat different. Their lips were quite similar, as was their hair.
Greg patted his pockets and swore softly under his breath, the cigarette dangling loosely between two fingers.
Bodie, the man of action who had fought – and, when necessary, killed – for decades across multiple continents, was seized by the overpowering urge to run. Instead he came to a halt and stood his ground, shamed by the trembling in his knees.
He watched as Greg took in his surroundings with a trained eye. When that dark gaze fell on him, it struck Bodie like a blow to the chest. It was all he could do not to gasp aloud.
Words failed him. Mutely, he held out the lighter. To his relief, his hand was steady, even if nothing else about him was.
"Ta, mate," Greg said, his throaty voice almost hoarse in the cold. He lit the cigarette and returned the lighter to Bodie's gloved palm. "Sounds like we may have a wet Christmas instead of a white one." He didn't act like a man who'd just had his life trampled upon by an ungrateful brat of a genius. Despite his visible exhaustion, he seemed admirably even-keeled.
"More rain, is it?" Bodie's question made white clouds in the air.
"So they say." Calm and congenial. "You from around here?"
Bodie opted for something in the general neighbourhood of the truth. "No, haven't been in the area in years. Just needed to clear my head a bit. Park and walk a while, somewhere different. This time of year makes a man think."
"Truer words," Greg agreed. Then, with apparent concern, "Not the safest place for a late-night stroll these days."
"So I've gathered. I've had smarter ideas." Bodie shrugged. "About to call it a night, I think."
At that moment Sherlock Holmes exited the building, complete with coat and gloves and scarf. His long-legged strides brought him to Greg's far side where he stopped, shifting his weight and looking everywhere but at the detective inspector.
He hugged a rigid case to his breast.
"The first." It was hardly more than a whisper.
"Sorry?" That from Greg.
"The first option." Only slightly louder, still hesitant. "You meant what you said? About the morgue?"
Greg inspected the concrete between his feet. "'Course I did, you daft sod."
"Right. Well." Then, presented like an awkward apology, "I brought my violin."
Greg's response was quiet. "Thanks. Been ages since I heard you play." He rolled his neck and shoulders, stretching as if he'd just released a heavy burden, and took a long drag on the cigarette.
Sherlock gave a short, curt nod.
Just like that, the two seemed to regain some kind of balanced footing. Bodie didn't have to understand every nuance of the dynamic between them; it was clear enough that Greg, without any personal model to follow, had somehow divined the finer points of being a father. And for this night, at least, crisis had been averted.
"Well, I'm off," Bodie said, before his presence could become any more suspicious. "G'night."
"Think you'll be all right, then?" Greg asked. "We could walk you to your car, if..."
Dear God, Greg was trying to protect him, a stranger. At best the detective inspector carried a truncheon; Bodie was a walking arsenal.
The kindness in Greg's face was something Bodie fought to memorise on the spot.
"I'm fine," Bodie said. "Just around the corner. But thanks." Acting purely on instinct, he held out his hand.
Greg took it without hesitation. His grip was strong, forthright. "Right. Happy Christmas."
Bodie bound up all of the words of apology and praise and affection that he would never be able to speak, and he fed their meaning into far humbler phrases: "You, too. And happy new year."
Without a backward glance, Bodie retraced his steps. Only when he was well away did he wipe his eyes.
The ache that had been gnawing at his insides for so long grew quieter on the trek back to his car. Before Bodie climbed inside, he stood with his head thrown back, inviting the last of the errant snowflakes to land on his brow and cheeks and chin.
His son was safe. Wounded in some ways, to be sure, and tired and resigned, but far stronger than the injustices that fate had dealt him. Greg was a good man, truly, and with his patient influence, perhaps that mad younger Holmes might someday become one, as well.
Bodie had never been the sort who believed in fairytale happy endings; this imperfect and all-too-human one would do for tonight.
It was Christmas Eve. He'd received a gift he never expected. And he was going home to the man who could make him feel warm and young once more.
Note: This story takes its title from the Christmas carol "I Wonder As I Wander" by John Jacob Niles.
Vital Stats: Originally written in December 2011.
Originally written for the "Discovered in the Christmas Tree" celebration at the DiscoveredinaLJ Livejournal community.