A/N: A prequel of sorts to "After the End," though can be read as a one-shot. Warnings for character death.
Lestrade stood on Baker Street, glaring stonily at the bronze number of 221B.
It seemed all he ever did was deliver bad news to this building.
He'd been on duty the morning that the Hudson case broke, ten years ago now. Three murders in Florida, all tied to a Londoner idiotic enough to commit them in a country that still allowed the death penalty. Lestrade had been the one assigned to deliver the news to the wife and take her statement. She had promptly sought the help of a drug-addicted university graduate with little more than the clothes on his back and a chip on his shoulder to get him through the day.
She wanted him to ensure her husband's execution.
What a pair they made.
Five years later he was pounding on the door of that building, hoping against hope that Mrs. Hudson was in and he wouldn't have to pick the lock. He'd lost his key - given to him by Sherlock because it saved him the hassle of having to break down the door whenever he wanted to see the detective and saved Sherlock (well, John, really) the cost of having to get a new door - in the chaos of the evening's events and was supporting a rattled, half-deaf detective; it was hardly conducive to breaking and entering.
Mrs. Hudson had said nothing upon opening the door and to find the DI holding up her half-conscious and bloodied tenant; she hadn't needed to. The look in her eyes in the fraction of the second that they rested on Lestrade conveyed more than enough.
What news are you bringing me this time?
She held it together while they had wrestled the muddled detective upstairs and into a chair; her only outward sign of emotion was a tremulous, "Oh, Sherlock, look at you," uttered while stroking Sherlock's blood-matted curls. His glazed eyes roamed wildly around the flat; Lestrade could practically hear his teeth gnashing in frustration. He had been treated at the scene, pumped full of medicine to the point where he could hardly remember his own name and then released into Lestrade's care. The DI had not been able to stop them in time. Sherlock would rather bear the pain than lose control over his precious mind, and here was one thing that they both agreed on. Lestrade placed a hand on the back of Sherlock's neck, squeezing lightly, hoping at least the drugs would kick in soon and give him a semblance of peace.
"He's fine," Lestrade said finally, because the landlady was too terrified to even bring it up. John was absent and Lestrade was in her building; in her mind, that only meant one thing. "They both are. John's going to be kept at the hospital for a few days, that's all." That's all. He made it sound like a routine precaution, when everything about this situation was about as far from routine as one could get.
He quietly recounted what little he knew of the night's events, having arrived at the scene just in time to see the bomb go off, taking half the building with it. Sherlock, it appeared, had been knocked out of the way by the smaller man, who took the brunt of the blast. Lestrade had dug Sherlock out himself - something he had planned on not mentioning to Mrs. Hudson until she pointed out, almost too-calmly, that he looked a mess. Indeed, a glance down showed him that his once-immaculate shirt was now black with dried blood.
Lestrade's eyes flicked to Sherlock.
"He's going to be fine," he repeated, for lack of anything better to say.
Mrs. Hudson went deathly pale as realization dawned. "You pulled him out."
Damn right I did.
"Yeah," Lestrade replied, leaving out the fact that he'd nearly become the fourth casualty, rushing in before the fires had been put out. He touched Sherlock's head lightly. The detective was dozing now, relaxing finally as the painkillers won out. "About all he can hear right now is ringing and he'll be bruised head-to-toe in the morning. He landed pretty hard; he's going to be insufferable for days."
Lestrade nodded and placed a hand on her shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting manner. They watched Sherlock sleep for some moments.
"Don't forget," she told him later, patting him on the arm as he prepared to go. "You brought him home. Thank you for that."
There were echoes of that night - that awful, brutal night - in this one. Ten years after he'd first laid eyes on Baker Street, Lestrade stood outside 221B, hands buried in his pockets, shoulders hunched but not against the chill. He'd brought Sherlock Holmes home five years ago; tonight, he was here because he'd failed to do the same for John Watson.
He dropped the remnants of a cigarette - his first in over a year - to the ground, grinding it out with the heel of his shoe, and pulled a brass key out of his pocket. He turned it over several times in his clammy hands, feeling its weight and considering the words he was about to say. Christ, he couldn't do this.
He had to; it could be no one else.
Lestrade let himself into the building and climbed the stairs at a painstakingly slow pace. He avoided the steps he knew would squeal, at times having to mount three at once in order to accomplish this. Sherlock would probably still be awake anyway; it was only half-five in the morning. He told himself that his efforts, then, were for Mrs. Hudson and not because he was too bloody terrified to deliver this news. How could he, when it had yet to sink in?
John was not coming home. Not tonight; not ever.
The door to the flat was shut tight against the world; locked, too. Sherlock never bothered with such formalities, so John must have done it on his way out hours earlier. Lestrade could see under the door that the lights were out, though that in itself did not indicate much. Sherlock had little use for lights and often navigated his rooms perfectly in the dark. It was somewhat of a challenge.
Light was boring, he'd say; just like breathing and a million other necessities.
The DI unlocked the door and stepped inside. A quick glance told him there was no one in the living room or kitchen, and a rush of relief curled about his insides. Perhaps Sherlock had gone out; perhaps he could avoid the whole horrid conversation tonight.
But the door to Sherlock's room was open, and a quick glance inside showed a most unusual sight - Sherlock, asleep, sprawled fully clothed on the bed with one arm flung above his head and the other stretched out across the sheets, fingers dangling off the edge. He had never seen Sherlock willingly sleep. Usually he rambled and ranted and ran around until his body shut down of its own accord and he collapsed on the nearest surface for an hour before springing up again, alert as ever. It had made for a few awkward crimes scenes but then, that was Sherlock.
Lestrade passed a hand over his eyes and wandered back into the living area. He slumped in a chair and leaned forward, covering his face with his hands. Years ago, as his team pulled bodies from the bombed-out pool, he'd said aloud that he did not want to know what atrocities would befall the world should Sherlock Holmes and John Watson ever be separated.
This was that world. He wanted none of it.
He couldn't protect them; either of them. Over the course of their too-short association they had been blown up, shot at, stabbed, and kidnapped. Sherlock had lost a mother and John, a sister. Lestrade tended their wounds but couldn't prevent them. He'd been the bearer of bad new more times than he cared to admit; so often that while Sherlock positively leaped with glee upon seeing the police car parked outside of the flat, John began regarding him warily. He would answer the door with a smile, but his look became more and more guarded.
"It's a wonder you two even let me into the flat," Lestrade had told John one Tuesday morning in late May; not quite a year ago, now. "I'd bolt the door if saw me coming. Bolt the door and run."
John had smiled gently, like he always did, but there was worry behind his eyes.
"For me or for Sherlock?" he'd asked, closing the door behind the DI and making for the kitchen. Tea; his solution to all that was wrong with the world.
"Sherlock," Lestrade said, hands in his pockets. "Is he in?"
"No, actually, believe it or not." John pressed a steaming mug into Lestrade's hands and yanked out a chair from the table, all but shoving the older man into it. "Would you rather I told him? Looks like you're dreading this one, whatever it is."
Lestrade had given a dry laugh. "Yes, actually, but you can't. This one -" He shook his head. "This one needs to come from me."
Sherlock had returned home in a whirlwind a quarter of an hour later, throwing open the door of the flat so hard that it bounced off the wall and brought Mrs. Hudson running. John had given Lestrade's forearm the slightest of squeezes before getting up to head off the whirling dervish, buying Lestrade a precious few seconds to brace himself.
He could not protect Sherlock then, no more than he could now spare him tonight's pain.
But what he could give him was a few more hours of sleep. A few more hours in a world where John Watson was still alive.
Sherlock deserved that much.