Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Village Roadshow Pictures, Wigram Productions, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. All others belong to me, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Dedicated to Cincoflex, who cheered me on with great enthusiasm!
Lestrade locked his office door behind him and pocketed the key, patting the pocket once out of sheer habit. As he turned toward the exit, one of the beat boys strolled past and gave him a respectful nod. "Heading out, sir?"
Lestrade nodded back. "God willing I won't see this place again until Monday." The words were only half-serious, and the quick grin the bobby returned understood that.
"Have a good Sunday, sir." He kept going, and Lestrade snorted quietly and headed out.
"A quiet one, for a change," he muttered under his breath as he left the building.
It was dark, though the Yard was always well-lit no matter the season. For once there wasn't much fog, and Lestrade headed down the street at a brisk pace; the late spring air was warm, and he didn't feel like shutting himself up in a musty cab after spending the last four hours on paperwork. Walk'll do you good, m'lad.
He tugged his gloves up more securely as he went, automatically watching those he passed even if he wasn't technically on duty. It was part of an inspector's job, to know what went on about him, and despite Mr. Holmes deprecations, Lestrade did pay attention. Perhaps he hadn't Holmes' insights, but he hadn't achieved his rank without earning it--not him, a cobbler's son with no better an education than--
He shook off the old reflections. They didn't matter any more. As he walked Lestrade felt himself relaxing a little; he really was looking forward to a couple of days off, with no more pressing problem than the weather and the choice of neckties for church.
The trip home was without incident. Lestrade tipped his hat to ladies as he passed, exchanged nods with men he knew, and stopped to purchase a last bunch of early violets from a bedraggled girl, handing her a coin and leaving with a grunt when she tried to make change.
Home was in a decent neighbourhood, not too rich but not quite working-class either. He trotted up the steps and unlocked the door, sighing a little as warmth and light and the smell of cake poured out. Tea's on.
The maid appeared to take his coat and gloves, and he handed them over with an absent air, keeping back the violets and passing her his hat. The little woman bobbed and disappeared with them, and Lestrade stepped deeper into the house, listening for familiar footsteps.
And there they came, light and fast, and he smiled for what felt like the first time all day, turning to catch the small whirlwind as she leapt from two steps up the staircase into his arms. "Da!"
"Hallo love," he said, and swung his daughter around to make her squeal with laughter. She clung to him, smelling of starched cotton and barley sugar, and he hugged her close for a moment. Here was his antidote to the evil he saw each day; here was innocence and love, without limit.
"Da, we saw flowers today! The flowers are growing in the park." She patted his beard, wriggling with excitement.
"Did you now. Well, imagine that. Guess you won't want these then." He pulled one blossom from the violet posy and handed her the rest, savouring the way her eyes lit.
"Vil-ets!" Ellie wiggled again, and Lestrade set her down, watching fondly as she buried her nose in the blooms and sniffed dramatically before dashing out of the little front hall. Shaking his head, he laughed, and headed upstairs to change.
When he came back downstairs in pursuit of that tea, he found Ellie in the sitting room waiting, short legs sticking out of her petticoats where she perched on the settee. She was still smelling her flowers, and he had to smile again. The pot was sitting on its tray on the table nearby, and he sat down next to Ellie. "Want to fix my tea, love?"
The pot was too heavy for her, but with lip-biting concentration and both hands she put in his two lumps and dash of cream, and he poured out the brew and added a splash to the delicate little cup standing ready for her, with its warm water and milk. She snuggled into his lap without hesitation, sipping her cambric tea. "Tell me the magic story again, Da."
He hesitated. It wasn't his favourite, there were too many harrowing memories attached, but one look at her serious little face and he couldn't say no. "Right then," he said, taking a swallow from his own cup and organising his thoughts. "Once upon a time...there was a princess, travelling to her kingdom on a dark and icy day."
The streets slick with sleet; just two years in the force, and one of the worst shifts he'd spent yet, fingers and toes and nose all numb and no amount of wool helping. The glaze on the cobbles didn't keep people off 'em, though, and he and Smith had already had to help with a cart stuck on a frozen patch and pick up any number of people slipped and fallen.
"She shouldn't have been out, but she was, and it just so happened that her carriage slid on the ice. Her coachman fell, and the horses panicked and ran away."
Shouts, screams, the clatter of hooves and wheels going far too fast. The landau came tearing around the corner, two lathered horses running hell-for-leather and no driver, and just as he and Smith turned the whole thing swung too far and slammed into a lamppost. Wood splintered everywhere, and the horses dragged the ruin another few yards before the tangled traces halted them, white-eyed and plunging. He let Smith take 'em--boy had been raised on a farm, which was more than Lestrade could say--and sprang for the wreckage.
"The carriage fell over, and the princess was trapped inside, frightened and cold."
The odds weren't good, but as he heaved planks out of his way he caught sight of movement in the smashed carriage. Blue velvet, wetted already with the sleet, a tangle of hair so blonde it was almost white, a frightened eye in a blood-streaked face. A gasping cry for help.
"She couldn't move, but she could hear people outside, coming to help her."
"And the horses?"
"Aye, love, and the horses. They were stopped by then."
He dug through the wood like a terrier after a rat, aware on some level that Smith had joined him and was prying away from the other side. A gloved hand reached up, and Lestrade caught it, wrapped it in his grip, felt the slender fingers tighten with panic. "You'll be fine, miss," he said, knowing it was nonsense but unable to do otherwise as her gaze held his. Grey eyes, half-faint--so young!--but as other arms and backs joined in to win her free it seemed to be his face and hands that kept her from panic.
"And the prince came to rescue her," Ellie said with satisfaction.
"Not a prince," he objected mildly. That hadn't been his invention. Just a working-class bloke. "Just a policeman. But he and his friends did get her out."
It took so long to free her. She was almost unconscious from cold and shock by the time she was lifted out, gravely hurt, but he still had to work her fingers loose from his before they could carry her to hospital.
Lestrade grimaced, rubbing his eyes with one hand. It wasn't a memory he liked to revisit; it could so easily have gone another way. She had survived, though, and he'd even visited her once in hospital, standing stiff and dumb as she smiled feebly at him. He'd won a commendation for the rescue, at the behest of Miss Celia Fitzhugh's father.
"He saved her," Ellie went on, secure in the familiar tale. "He saved her from being all squished up, and she nevvver forgot."
"That she didn't," Lestrade agreed softly.
He was flabbergasted when she turned up at his lodgings, months later, tall and aethereally beautiful in her silks and feathered hat. Too thin--she'd almost perished of her injuries and the fever that came with them--but her eyes brilliant.
He let her and her chaperone into the shabby little boardinghouse parlour, stuttered a few stupid words he couldn't remember--and she ordered the chaperone to turn around, cupped his bristly face in her smooth kid gloves, and kissed him speechless.
"And she gave him a kiss," Ellie babbled, playing with her posy. "And broke the spell..."
"That's another story," he said fondly, running a gentle hand over her curls. "Frogs don't turn to princes really, you know." Nor did working-class blokes with no education or family or clever tongue.
"Ah, but he wasn't a frog," another voice broke in, and Ellie sat up.
"Mama!" She jumped down and ran to the tall figure in the doorway, holding up her flowers. "Look what Da brought me!"
Her mother swung Ellie up for a hug of her own, admiring the violets as she crossed the room. Lestrade rose, watching them both with deep, helpless love. It was always like this; she hadn't broken his enchantment, she'd laid one on him.
Celia stepped into his outstretched arm and their lips met for a brief, satisfying moment. "He was a prince all along," she murmured, smiling, and when she said it, what could he do but believe?
"Brought you somethin'," he said, and tucked the last violet into the intricate coronet of her pale hair. Her grey eyes shone, and he still couldn't figure out how the hell he was so lucky.
Celia set Ellie on her feet. "Go find Missy and tell her we'll be ready for supper soon," she instructed, and Ellie ran obediently out. Lestrade reached out and pulled her closer for a longer kiss, loving the way she clung to him, all heliotrope and powder and sweet woman.
"Dunno why," he muttered eventually against the soft skin of her cheek. "Gratitude's one thing, but--"
She laughed, slender fingers cupping the back of his neck. "Do you really think I would have made you wait two years for gratitude, darling?" she whispered. "You were my hero then, and you still are."
He shook his head and kissed her again, abandoning the puzzle for the thousandth time. She'd told him she loved him, defied her parents, and married him the day she gained her majority and control of her fortune. Him, the little weasely cobbler's boy, the copper with the lower-class accent, hardly fit to clean her shoes. Married him, and gave him a daughter, and gave up society without looking back.
He held her tightly, and revelled in it. Sometimes his happiness was so great it frightened him, but he wouldn't give up a second of it.
Not for anything.