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It's not often John sees Sherlock laugh like this. Sherlock finds plenty of things amusing, for sure, and a smirk is hardly off his mouth some days - but it's rare to witness him actually dabbing his eyes on his sleeve, shaking as he tries to get a hold of himself. Rosie is still held snugly in his lap, oblivious to Sherlock's small breakdown as she focuses on fixing her brick tower.

John's so taken with Sherlock's laughter he almost forgets they're not alone.

He then glances across the desk, and finds Greg's dark brown eyes upon him.

He tries a guilty grin. You know what they're like.

Greg's face stays quietly blank. He glances away, picking up his coffee.

For a second, John wonders if he heard - but he must have done. He must have heard Sherlock's explanation, too. Greg's expression is clean, careful and calm, waiting for Sherlock to finish so they can carry on, as if Rosie hadn't said anything at all. When it becomes clear Sherlock's fit of the giggles will be carrying on for some time, Greg reaches off his desk for a nearby file and opens it.

John has the weirdest feeling the file isn’t anything to do with their paperwork.

He watches Greg turn pages for a few moments, wondering why something seems off. Probably should try to be grown-ups here, he thinks. It's Scotland Yard after all. Greg's a busy man. They should have been here to do this paperwork weeks ago.

And Sherlock's taking maybe a little too much delight in it now.

John puts some proper effort into trying to settle him - and when he fails, only triggering a fresh round of silent red-faced convulsions, he sighs.

"You know what, Greg? Just show me and I'll do it. Otherwise we'll be here all week."

"Sure," Greg says, calmly. He passes John a pen from his pocket and slides the form across the desk. "Both names here, here and here."

 

*

 

The memory of Greg's face stays with John all the way home in the taxi, Rosie squirming in his arms.

There was something unsettling about it he can't quite put his finger on - something closed off and quiet. He's never seen Greg look like that. The man can be serious enough at times, but for a detective inspector in the homicide division that's probably nothing unusual.

Today was different, though.

It's easier for John to isolate what Greg was not. He wasn't impatient or annoyed, hurrying to get back to his day. He wasn't tired or weary. He hadn't given John the impression he was in no mood for jokes - if anything, he'd seemed pleased to see them when they first arrived. He'd greeted Rosie with a grin and a scruffle of her hair, offered them both coffee, asked how they were.

On the way out, he'd simply nodded to them with a small smile.

"Yep," he'd said. "See you."

John's not really sure what to think.

Sherlock, on the other hand, knows exactly what to think. John worries there's a reason behind his uncharacteristic clumsiness that evening. He seems to be dropping things or knock them over with startling frequency, especially when Rosie is nearby. Though her earlier outburst doesn't see a repeat, it's not through lack of effort.

After dinner, Sherlock goes out specially to the shop to buy some of the strawberry yoghurts she likes.

"She's developing marvellously, John," he says, twirling on his coat with a twinkle in his eye. "The proper education of the young should be encouraged."

 

*

 

For the next few months, John watches a pattern build. He doesn't want to be paranoid about these things - it's easy to see problems where there aren't any, especially if you squint hard enough.

But it doesn't take a lot of squinting to see something's changed with Greg.

Uneasy, and unsure why, it had taken John several weeks to feel comfortable enough suggesting a trip to the pub. Smooth things over, he'd thought, not really knowing what there was to smooth.

Greg's reply, when it came hours later, was perfectly polite.

'Sorry mate, looks like I'll be busy all weekend. Hope S and R are well.'

When John invited him to Rosie's birthday party, a fortnight later, Greg replied saying he had plans - but promised he'd drop her present round before then.

The weather changes, winter settling in. The days grow short. Greg's sorry not to be there for Christmas drinks - work's busy, he says - and it's weird, because whenever John contacts him asking if he needs help with any cases, hoping to ease Sherlock's usual winter restlessness, Greg says there's nothing really on right now. When some missed paperwork comes to light in January, Greg mentions it by e-mail - but he doesn't nag them to come in and do it. It arrives by courier later that week, with a prepaid special delivery envelope just to drop back into the postbox.

John can't think of anything except that day in Greg's office - Rosie's disdainful little sigh, Sherlock shaking with laughter - Greg's calm, quiet, empty expression.

February arrives.

John finally realises in the supermarket with Rosie one day, reminded of the incident by his daughter's favourite strawberry yoghurts. As he bags up their groceries, he's running the memory through his mind - and it all falls into place with a thud.

Greg wasn't angry.

He was disappointed.

 

*

 

Sorting through Rosie's dress-up clothes on Thursday night, John finds a shiny metal ID badge attached to her police uniform. It looks oddly high-quality for an Early Learning Centre set. As he turns it over for closer inspection, he's absolutely right. Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade. Metropolitan Police.

He knows he could post it.

It feels like an opportunity, though.

Next morning, while Rosie is at daycare, he makes the trip in a taxi. He tells reception he's here to see DI Lestrade in Major Crime, and his face is familiar enough from the TV that the young woman lets him through with a smile. John slips through the glass doors to the division feeling distinctly nervous - and finds Greg's office occupied, the door locked.

"You alright?" says a voice.

John turns to find Greg's sergeant there, her arms around a cardboard box full of folders.

"Oh - yeah - sorry, I was looking for Greg." He tries a smile, holding up the purloined badge. "Got something of his."

She sighs, figuring out in a blink what's happened. "Right... well, you can leave it with me. He's not back until March, but I'll make sure he gets it."

Not here? John keeps trying with his smile. "Has he gone somewhere nice?"

DS Donovan raises an eyebrow. "Hospital," she says, "for his knee operation. Then from the sound of things a lot of watching Countdown on the sofa."

Knee operation?

"Jesus, I - I didn't know he'd been - "

"Shall I take that?" Sally interrupts, glancing at the badge. Her arms are starting to sag with the weight of the box. "You're probably busy."

"Oh - no, I... I'll take it round to him. Give him some company. Thanks."

 

*

 

Greg's flat is on the third floor. John's guilt rises with him as he climbs each set of stairs. Can't believe we didn't even know he'd been in hospital. All these years, and we're - well, we're... sort of friends.

He knocks, tentatively, hoping this is the right thing to do.

There's movement from inside. He hears Greg's voice call, "No, it's alright... I'm due to stretch it, anyway," and John's heart lifts, glad he's got someone with him at least. He's trying not to think Greg could have used a doctor-friend right after a knee operation. He doesn't know which seems worse: the thought Sherlock didn't know about this either, or the thought he maybe did know and just didn’t bother to mention.

The door opens. Greg appears with a crutch tucked beneath his right arm, wearing old black jeans and a loose grey-blue sweater.

At the sight of John, his face flattens.

It's turned at once into a strained smile. He glances over his shoulder.

"Wow," he says. "John - hi. You okay? Didn't expect you."

John knows at once that he was right. They did upset Greg. He can hardly look at John, the door still held in his hand - universal code for, you can stay out there.

"Hi," John says, awkwardly. "I, erm... dropped by Scotland Yard to... I didn't know you'd been in hospital. How're things? Knee, was it?"

"Ah, yeah... five-a-side one weekend. Went for a tackle and just..." Greg gives him a close-lipped smile and a shrug. "It'd been dodgy for a while though. These things happen."

There's an uncomfortable pause.

John reaches into his pocket, retrieving the badge. "I found this," he says, holding it out. "I'm sorry if you've been searching for it. Looks like it ended up in Rosie's dressing-up box somehow."

Somehow.

Greg takes the badge, confused, and flips it over.

He huffs with rather cold humour.

"Yeah," he admits. "Yeah, I did wonder. You know what, though, I got a new one done... this one's invalid now. Rosie might as well keep it to play with."

He hands it back.

"How's she doing?" he asks - and John has the weirdest impression he’s raised his voice a little. "She alright? I bet she's storming ahead with her reading."

"Oh - god, yeah. Leaps and bounds."

Greg's smile finally has some warmth in it. "Good," he says. "Did she have a nice Christmas? Hope she liked the Lego I sent... I couldn't remember if she had any of the Harry Potter sets. Thought she could start collecting them, anyway."

God. We've not talked since Christmas.

"She loved it," John says. He doesn't know why his heart's beating so hard. "She's still playing with it most days, to be honest. Mycroft got her the Hogwarts Express, so... they went pretty well together."

Greg's eyes brighten and darken at once.

"Good," he says. His smile doesn't change. "M'glad she's alright, anyway."

There comes another painful pause.

John tightens his hands inside his pockets, telling himself Greg Lestrade stayed with them through every misery they ever faced. When Sherlock was gone, Greg was there. When Sherlock came back, Greg was there. He's now distanced himself, and John knows by his own experience that's not an easy thing to achieve.

He needs to know how they did it.

"Listen," he says, nervously. "I... I know this might seem paranoid, but... something seemed to go wrong a few months ago. I think we offended you without meaning to. Is that right?"

Greg takes this in. He bites the corner of his mouth and looks down, taking a moment to gather the right words together.

"I, ah... want to stay out of it. That's all."

"Stay - out of...?"

Greg huffs. "C'mon, John. We're both pretty bright, by non-Holmes standards."

"Do you mean the - the day in your office?"

Greg waits, saying nothing. John balls up his courage.

"I don't think Sherlock meant it as a... I mean, it was just a joke. I'm sure Sherlock didn't teach her it specially."

Greg's eyebrow lifts. "Came up with it on her own, did she? She's a little girl, John. Kids aren't that - ..." His jaw works. "Creatively mean. They have to be taught it."

Oh. God.

"Greg, it's - it's only because they have a rivalry." John tries to smile; it's not returned. "You know what Sherlock and Mycroft are like, always getting at each other. And Mycroft's not the easiest person to - "

Greg intervenes.

"Hey," he says. John's attempt to explain dies in the air. "Hey, forget about it. Kids pick up what they pick up. Rosie's a lovely kid and - well, frankly? It's a shame, that’s all. If I heard one of my DCs using someone else's name as a hilarious code word for screwing up, I'd call it bullying. I'd shut it down. But I'm not her dad."

John's mouth opens.

"Greg - Jesus, 'bullying' - "

"What would you call it?" Greg says. Annoyance hardens his voice. "Turning someone's name into an in-joke? If she'd picked that up from some kid at school, you'd call it what it is. But because it's Sherlock, it's hilarious... right?"

John tries to protest. He tries to explain, even though he doesn't know where to start.

Greg's expression closes off.

"Not your fault, mate," he mutters. He draws a sigh, his shoulders stiffening. "Sorry. I'm - painkillers."

John hesitates.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I'm sorry I didn't - ... I-I'll talk to Sherlock."

Greg looks at him. He shrugs, quietly.

"Shame for Rosie," he says. "That's all." He holds something back for a second. "Mycroft - hoped. Y'know?"

John's heart tightens. "H-Hoped?"

"If Sherlock's her dad, John..." Greg shrugs again, letting it go. "Mycroft liked Rosie. Thought he and Sherlock were getting better, too. Things were good for a while, after all the mess with Eurus. Then it all slipped back. Same old Sherlock. Same old story."

An awkward quiet falls.

"I need to keep my weight off my knee," Greg says.

Flushing, John takes a hint.

"I hope you feel better soon. If you need anything, then - I-I mean, you can always send me a text. Happy to help. I know it's not easy after surgery, especially if you live up three flights of..."

Greg's smile couldn't be any flatter.

"M'all set," he says. "Thanks for the offer. Look after yourself."

When the door finally closes, John stands there for some time in the silence. He's not sure what he'll say when he gets home - he's not sure if he just made things worse.

The door is only thin.

It means that when Greg speaks on the other side, talking to someone in the flat, John hears every word.

"Yeah... yeah, he's gone."

John's stomach grips. He doesn't want to move, knowing his footsteps will give away his presence.

"Hey..." Greg's voice gentles. "Hey, c'mere... s’okay..."

There's quiet for some time.

John doesn't dare to breathe.

"Because he never tried, did he?" Greg’s voice murmurs. "If he had, he'd know differently. Shame everyone just lets him get away with being a mean little twat."

There comes the sound of another voice - low, uneasy - worried in what it says.

Greg gives a huff.

"Yeah, well... let's hope she takes after John, not your brother."