Lestrade would remember, years later, seeing the flash of the bomb through the high windows of the pool and watching the structure cave in on itself.
He would remember reversing direction mid-stride and hurling himself behind a car, dragging Sergeant Donovan with him as debris rained down on their heads.
He would remember being back on his feet in an instant and charging into the inferno because Sherlock was in there.
He would not remember, for the life of him, digging the detective's body out of the rubble. He would not remember muttering, "Sherlock, Sherlock," under his breath like a mantra. He only would remember coming back to himself while sitting amid the rubble, Sherlock wheezing and bloody and inexplicably conscious, clinging to him as though the DI were his only means of support.
He knew that he had been the one to do it, to pull Sherlock's battered form from the demolished building. He had scraped nearly all the skin from his fingertips in his haste and his once-clean shirt was now clung uncomfortably to his torso, hot with blood, Sherlock's and John's both. And for several long moments, before Donovan and the rest of his team dared approach the still-blazing building, he clutched at the stunned detective who was as much a lifeline for Lestrade as he was an anchor for Sherlock.
Don't do this, don't do this, not again. You stupid, stupid man.
He did not realize he had spoken the words aloud until Donovan's fingers wrapped around his arm and her steady gaze met his wild one. Her look was an odd mixture of hurt tinged with concern, and words she had spoken to him years ago after he had abandoned yet another crime scene to chase after the out-of-control madman floated across his mind.
I pity the man who dares harm a hair on Sherlock Holmes' head.
"We have to move," she said briskly. The chastisement - you nearly died for that piece of trash - would come later. "Now. It's not safe."
The two of them got Sherlock to his feet and hauled him several painful yards before depositing him behind the nearest police car. He slid to his knees and Lestrade rounded on Donovan.
"Get everyone you can back over to where I found Sherlock. We need to get Watson out and there's no time to wait for anyone else to show up."
"We don't even know that anyone else is in there," she protested indignantly.
"He is in there!' Lestrade bellowed at her. She took half a step back in surprise. "When have you known John to let Sherlock go off on a half-cocked mission by himself? Find him!"
Donovan darted away, and Lestrade turned back to the wet and shivering form of the detective. Sherlock had collapsed in a heap at his feet, leaning heavily against the wheel of the car. Lestrade quickly peeled off his jacket, placing it over the bony shoulders and then wrapping it securely around the lean frame.
"Are you all right?" he called to Sherlock above the din of sirens and shouts. Sherlock stared at him blankly. His hair was plastered in clumps on his forehead by water and sweat and when Lestrade brushed a few strands out of his eyes, his hand came away red.
"Damn," he whispered to himself and gave the detective a quick once-over, poking and prodding and brushing aside the weak hands that tried to stop him. Somehow Sherlock had managed to escape serious physical injury, unless there was internal damage and Lestrade didn't particularly want to consider that possibility. "Sherlock! Can you hear -"
He broke off suddenly and resisted the urge to slap his forehead. Of course - Sherlock had been feet from the bomb when it went off. He likely couldn't hear much of anything right now.
Lestrade dug around his pockets frantically, finally locating his not-too-soggy notepad and, miraculously, a pen. He scrawled his query on the page and held it up for Sherlock to see. The detective squinted at the words, blinking several times to bring them into focus. He frowned, fixed Lestrade with as withering a glare as he could manage in his present state, and nodded his head at the destroyed pool. He looked incredulous, and Lestrade bit back a slight smile.
"Fair point; bad phrasing," Lestrade said by way of apology. He wrote instead, Are you hurt?
Sherlock shook his head.
Lestrade then wrote, Ambulance on way. Stay put. He paused and added, You're going to be fine before tucking the pad away and moving to get to his feet. A pressure on his elbow stopped him mid-crouch. Sherlock had grabbed his sleeve; he looked now almost frantic.
"John," he croaked, words slurred and nearly too-quiet. Lestrade's chest constricted; the man couldn't even hear himself speaking.
"We'll find him," he said, squeezing Sherlock's shoulder. His look then turned stern and he pointed a finger at the detective. "Stay here, or I swear to all that is holy that I will kill you."
He vanished back into the smoldering ruins of the pool.
They found John's crumpled form where Lestrade expected they would: not three feet away from where his flatmate had been discovered. His team had removed enough of the rubble to reveal that the man's legs had been pinned, if not completely crushed, by several chunks of the ceiling and more threatened to come down on his head. He so far had been protected by luck; the placement of the stones had created an air pocket around his upper body. Any movement, any vibration, could bring down the precarious arrangement of stones in seconds. Lestrade, throwing proper procedure to the wind, scrambled down into the tiny hole and wedged himself between John and the threatening blocks of concrete.
"What are you doing?" Donovan bellowed in horror, her voice carrying over the rest of the team's protests.
"What does it look like?" Lestrade snapped as he curled around the smaller man. "We need to find someone - or at least something - to prop up these stones before we can even think about getting him out. Go!"
Donovan, resourceful to the last, gathered broken beams from the ruined structure and arranged to have them shoved into the rubble at key points to keep the remnants of the building at bay. Lestrade lost all sense of time as emergency personnel finally arrived and swarmed over the stones, pulling away the loose ones and propping up the others. His legs and arms quickly went numb; there was ash in his mouth and dust in his eyes and John's breathing was only detectable if he held very still, feeling the movement through the fabric of his shirt.
"Don't you dare, don't you dare," he found himself hissing at the doctor. "You don't get to do this to Sherlock. Not now." To the rest of his team he shouted, "Hurry up! He hasn't got long."
Several more breathless - minutes, hours? - passed before there were hands suddenly under his arms, pulling him from the hole and dumping him unceremoniously on the rubble. His head swam as blood suddenly rushed away from it and Donovan appeared in his field of vision, fuzzy and unfocused.
"Water, sir," she said, pressing a bottle into his hands. He nodded gratefully, drank deeply, and was on his feet again the moment his legs stopped trembling.
"How is he?"
"Alive, as far as we can tell," Donovan replied. A stretcher was being borne away from the scene, toward a waiting ambulance. Lestrade caught a brief glimpse of the face and could discern no features; there was only blood.
He found Sherlock sitting in the back of an ambulance, a thin blanket wrapped around equally thin shoulders and looking utterly lost. His arms rested on his legs and his hands dangled between his knees. His gaze was fixed on his shoes and not on the bustling scene around him, and this unnerved Lestrade to no end. Sherlock loved finding order in the chaos, picking out the details that no one else would deem significant and constructing entire life histories. He was most at home in the crowd, where his under-stimulated mind could run rampant. A disinterested Sherlock did not bode well for any of them.
There were no emergency personnel in sight - they had all converged on the ambulance containing John Watson's battered form, trying to stabilize him for the trip to the hospital. Lestrade touched Sherlock's shoulder - gently, so as not to startle him. But Sherlock reacted sluggishly to the touch and dragged his eyes to Lestrade's face. The DI muttered, "Oh, hell, what have they done to you?"
"Drugs," Sherlock slurred with as much venom as he could muster. "I said - not to."
He emphasized each syllable, forcing them past a leaden tongue and numb lips. Lestrade cursed again. Sherlock despised hospitals for the sole reason that the painkillers they gave made him sluggish and tired; in his mind, useless. He had talked Lestrade out of a trip to the god-forsaken place more times than he should have been able to over the years, preferring instead to ignore his injuries or nurse them on his own. Or, occasionally, have Lestrade tend to them.
The detective grabbed hold of the open door to the ambulance and tried to pull himself up; a moment later, Lestrade found himself with an armful of Sherlock. He had not so much fallen as pitched forward, and the abruptness of it nearly sent them both sprawling to the ground.
"Easy, now," Lestrade cautioned once his heart stopped hammering wildly. "Don't try to get up just yet."
Sherlock grabbed two fistfuls of Lestrade's shirt. He sucked in a deep breath and, with a guttural noise, hauled himself into somewhat of a standing position. Lestrade grabbed him around the waist, steadying him. His eyes were glossy and slightly panicked, dulled with medicine so that Lestrade could make out none of their usual piercing fire. He was fighting the drugs. He did not want sleep; he needed to think and, quite frankly, this was the one time Lestrade desperately needed the acerbic observations. He made a mental note to get the names of the paramedics who did this to him for the sole purpose of releasing Mycroft Holmes onto them.
"No - hospital," Sherlock gasped, each word a struggle. He must have the thought in the DI's eyes.
"I don't think you have much of a choice this time," Lestrade said gently, and then repeated himself because Sherlock was still having difficulty hearing. The detective dug his hands into Lestrade's shirt, dragging him down, eyes wide and wild.
"Home," he whispered. He squeezed his eyes shut and dragged a ragged breath, trying to gather the proper words as they flitted from his addled mind. "Please."
Lestrade nearly dropped him in shock. "Sherlock -"
"Greg." Another shaky breath. "Please."
Lestrade could count on one hand the number of times Sherlock had called him by his given name in the five years they had known one another. His lips thinned into a grim, determined line. To hell with protocol.
"Right. Let's get you home."
Lestrade bundled Sherlock into the back of a car for the achingly-slow drive back to Baker Street. The detective slumped onto the back floor of the vehicle, curling his long limbs close to his body and letting out a pathetic groan. Lestrade did not try to speak to him above the din of the engine and traffic around them; it would have been useless. He did, however, periodically reach around to give the detective's shoulder a harsh shove.
"Don't fall asleep on me, Sherlock," he said with as much warning as he could muster, though the detective was unable to discern his words. "I can't carry you all the way up those stairs. I'm an old man, remember, as you're so fond of telling me."
There was no snide comment from the back, and this spurred Lestrade to drive with a recklessness he did not realize that he still possessed.
Mrs. Hudson was home and not at all rattled about being woken at half past one in the morning to frantic pounding at the door. She said nothing about the blood and the dust that covered the two men, nor anything about the fact that Sherlock had all the motor control of a rag doll. The only reason he remained standing at all was due to Lestrade, who was holding the detective's left arm across his shoulders and was gripping him around the waist with his free hand. Even then it was a struggle to keep the tightly-muscled man upright. Lestrade was certain he was holding on hard enough to leave bruises on his hip. It was a battle getting him then up the stairs; Lestrade had to haul Sherlock up one painful step at a time, muttering encouragement under his breath while Mrs. Hudson went ahead of them with her spare key.
"C'mon, Sherlock, you can do this. Lift - yeah, there you go." Lestrade glanced up - one flight left, yet. "We're almost there." "You said that - already," Sherlock huffed, slowly and deliberately.
"Yeah, well, I mean it this time."
The nearest bit of furniture in the flat was an overstuffed chair, which Sherlock immediately stumbled into and could not be persuaded to move from. Lestrade relayed what little he knew of the situation to Mrs. Hudson while Sherlock fought through the cloud of medication and lost. He dropped off within minutes, head sagging to one side and hands loosely gripping the arms of the chair.
It should have bothered Lestrade how quickly the lies flowed from his lips; he assured Mrs. Hudson that John was perfectly fine and was simply being kept at the hospital overnight. He also told her that this was simply an accident. John and Sherlock had been in the wrong place at the wrong time; victims of yet another gas leak. She knew how those old buildings were, right? Lestrade then persuaded the kindly landlady to go back to her rooms and claim what sleep she could; he would keep her updated on John's condition as soon as information was available and take care of Sherlock in the meantime.
Mycroft Holmes must have bugged the flat, for he rang Lestrade within moments of Mrs. Hudson retreating back downstairs. His call revealed little, only that John was in surgery and likely would not be out before dawn. Massive internal trauma. There was no point in going over to the hospital to wait; Mycroft had people there, and would keep them all informed.
"Your brother's all right, by the way," Lestrade said quickly, before the man could ring off. There was a pause; silence crackled across the line.
"Yes, I am aware," was the only reply. It sounded faintly amused. "I am also certain that he is in perfectly capable hands. Good day."
Bastard, Lestrade thought as he hung up the phone and tossed it at the sofa in frustration. He'd never liked the elder Holmes, though to be fair it was more due to reputation than actual experience. He had never had the privilege of being kidnapped, as John had; most likely Mycroft had not considered him important enough to Sherlock to warrant a warning or threat or whatever it was Mycroft did to people who associated with his brother. The fact of the matter was, Sherlock was not fond of him and that was reason enough for Lestrade.
He would never, in any lifetime, admit that to the man's face. But there it was.
Lestrade spent the better part of two hours pacing restlessly around the flat, fielding calls from his team and trying to piece together what little information was available to them into some sort of sensible story while Sherlock slept fitfully. No bodies had been pulled from the wreckage of the pool, but they had been in contact with John's - girlfriend? love interest? - and she had told them that John missed their dinner without so much as a word to her. That wasn't like John; something had prevented him from making his date. Sherlock? No, John adored the man, but he was hardly a pushover. Sherlock could be persuasive, even downright manipulative, but John would not have let the detective keep him from Sarah. So what had?
The questions plagued Lestrade, who finally stretched out on the sofa and resigned himself to staring at the ceiling while his mind drew connections and invented explanations ceaselessly. It was a relief when Sherlock woke a few minutes past five with a sneeze and a groan, cracking open his eyes with a distinct amount of effort. Lestrade hurried over to the injured man and knelt before the chair.
"Sherlock? Are you with me?" he said gently. The man moved as though he were boneless, head flopping forward to rest on his chest and hands curled limply in his lap.
"'strade," he mumbled.
"Yeah, that's me. You're all right; we're back at Baker Street." Lestrade tapped his fingers against the man's temple as Sherlock's eyes threatened to close again. "Stay awake this time. I need to get you out of this chair."
Sherlock took a whistling breath and forced his eyes open. They were horribly bloodshot and watered madly, but he fixed them unnervingly on Lestrade's face. He slumped forward suddenly, grabbing for Lestrade's shoulders and mumbled something that could have either been "bomb" or "John." He gave Lestrade a weak shake when the DI did not answer right away.
"He's fine," Lestrade said quickly. "He's at the hospital. The bomb went off, do you remember?"
"No," Sherlock wheezed, and Lestrade sighed inwardly. Retrograde amnesia. He had hoped to get some answers out of the man.
"All right," Lestrade said slowly. "I don't know what happened or why, but you and John were caught in an explosion. John's in surgery. He'll be out by morning, and then you can see him. In the meantime - you're going to sleep."
There was a pause while Sherlock's eyes raked his face.
"Dull," he decided finally, and Lestrade's face split into the night's first genuine smile.
"Never thought I would be so happy to hear that word come out of your mouth. Come on." He straightened slightly, pulling one of Sherlock's arms across his shoulders and gripping him around the waist. "And - up we go."
He heaved Sherlock out of the chair and stood there for a moment, allowing the man to find his equilibrium.
"Good. Let's see how walking goes, shall we?"
The trip to the bedroom went smoother than the one up the stairs; though Sherlock still leaned heavily on the DI, his steps were sure. The medication had zapped his balance and energy, the world around him was hazy, and he would likely remember nothing of this come morning. Lestrade considered that the one small blessing of the so-far horrid night.
"Where - we going?" Sherlock said in near-indignation as Lestrade passed by the bed.
"We're getting you cleaned up. You're covered in blood, and I'm not sure all of it is yours. And, since you refused a trip to the hospital, I need to look at your injuries." He eased them into the bathroom and deposited the confused detective on the closed lid of the toilet. "Not sure I trust the job those paramedics did on you."
Sherlock sighed petulantly. "Now?"
"Yes, now." Lestrade unbuttoned the ruined suit jacket and peeled it off the man, tossing it aside. Sherlock stared up at him dumbly. "The shirt is coming off, too. Either I can do it or you can."
Sherlock lowered his gaze to the floor. "Can't."
"This is hardly the time for you to turn modest on me, Holmes. You've never had a problem with this sort of thing before," Lestrade said, crossing his arms.
"No." Sherlock held up his hands and tried to curl his fingers. He was still lacking control of his muscles, and the frustration of this bled into his tense voice. "Can't."
"Oh." Lestrade winced. "Sorry."
His knees gave twin pops of protest as he knelt before the detective and swiftly undid the buttons on the bloodied shirt, discarding that as well.
"All right, let's see what we have here," he muttered aloud, frowning as he was finally able to take in Sherlock's condition. John had knocked Sherlock out of the way of the blast; that much they had been able to discern from where the two men had been found. The smaller man had shielded the detective from the heat and fire, but had miscalculated somewhere along the way and not gotten the two of them into the pool. They had landed just short of it, skidding hard on the tiles. Sherlock's head had smacked the concrete, knocking him briefly unconscious before the building came down around them. Bruises already were forming on Sherlock's torso, a whole map of purple and blue and black blotches that stretched from his collarbone to his hips and snaked beneath the waistband of his trousers.
"Where does it hurt?" Lestrade asked, prodding gently at the bruise-covered ribs. He had gone over them once at the scene, but it could not hurt to check again. Sherlock let out a harsh breath through his nose.
"That is - not the most intelligent question you have asked tonight," he rasped.
"Hmm. I suppose that's true enough. In my defense, it's five in the morning and I spent nearly an hour tonight digging your sorry ass out of that damned pool." He rarely swore in front of others, and the sentence surprised him almost as much as it did Sherlock. The detective blinked at him, for once looking utterly speechless.
"I -" He stopped and cleared his throat. "I - did not intend -"
"No, of course not," Lestrade said, quickly backtracking. "Your blog post caught some people's attention. Mycroft's especially; he was the one who phoned me. Said I might want to get down to the pool; that you were up to something." His fingers stilled. "Are you sure you don't remember anything?"
"Quite sure," Sherlock said tensely.
"You will let me know the moment anything - anything - starts to resurface?"
Sherlock's glare was withering; Lestrade took it as the only affirmation he would get out of the man. He stood and started rummaging in the cabinet. "Anything in here I should steer clear of?"
"My experiments are all out in the kitchen."
"I don't believe that for a moment." Lestrade emerged triumphant a moment later with what appeared - to him - to be a clean washcloth and with it began the slow process of cleaning out all the open cuts and lacerations that littered Sherlock's chest. The detective did not protest the invasion of privacy, nor the insinuation that he could not care for himself. He stared instead at a fixed point on the wall just beyond the DI, eyes quickly glazing over. Lestrade dug bandages and ointment out from underneath the sink - for all his eccentricities and aversions to hospital care, Sherlock had a decent supply of first-aid items. No doubt they came in handy with all his experimenting. The DI patched the myriad of wounds on the front of Sherlock's body as best he could and helped him to stand, positioning him in front of the sink.
"I'm going to take care of your back now," he said when he was reasonably sure that Sherlock's legs could hold his full weight. "Wash your face and try to get the blood out of your hair."
Sherlock obeyed without argument; his movements conscious and methodical, as though he were planning each one out in his mind from idea to execution. Several times he paused in scrubbing his hair and merely stood there, hands clutching at the sides of the sink until his knuckles turned white, sucking in deep breaths of cool air. The water that swirled down the drain quickly became tinged with red and after several long moments of silence he said, "This is John's."
"Perhaps," Lestrade conceded, only half-listening as he swiped the cloth across Sherlock's back, wondering if he should be concerned with the look of the lacerations. Some began to leak blood anew as the cloth disturbed them, and he hurried to cover them in bandages.
"Stop," Sherlock ordered gruffly. He pushed away from the sink forcefully and staggered, collapsing in a heap on the floor. His cheek rested against the side of the tub and he closed his eyes, drawing breaths through his nose. His face had gone an odd shade of gray and one hand clawed at the side of the tub, seeking purchase. Lestrade abandoned the washcloth and grabbed Sherlock under the armpits, hauling him into a semblance of a sitting position and pressing his head down over the tub. The man had not eaten in hours, and for half an hour sputtered through a series of dry heaves, each more wrenching than the last as his stomach writhed and turned against itself. Lestrade sat with his back against the wall and a hand on Sherlock's back, rubbing it in small circles while the man gagged. There was little room for them both on the floor in the small confines of the bathroom and when the sickness released him from its grip Sherlock leaned heavily against Lestrade, trying desperately to regain his breath.
"Sherlock, what have you gotten yourself into this time?" Lestrade whispered, devastated, as the younger man wheezed.
"John - wasn't supposed to be there," Sherlock gasped. "It went wrong. I don't know how. I -"
He broke off, shaking his head violently. Lestrade pressed a hand to his temple, stilling him, and after a tense moment Sherlock relaxed and allowed himself to be pulled into an awkward embrace.
"We'll make it right." Lestrade tried to blink away the images that flared up in his mind: the rubble, the blaze, the broken men.
"No." Sherlock shook his head. "It can only be me."
"Why?" It came out harsher than he'd intended. But Sherlock had quieted, his limited energy spent, and could not be roused to speak again. Lestrade lifted him to his feet with lead in his stomach and his mind spinning more fitfully than even before. It was a sinister thing that Sherlock was prevented from remembering, of that Lestrade was sure. A whisper in the back of his mind, low and terrified, said Moriarty. It was a name he had been avoiding all night. He had heard it just the once but saw firsthand the destruction it had wrought. Was this the final pip? The bombs, the games; had they all been leading up to this? To Sherlock?
His gut said yes even as his mind forcibly said no, trying to rationalize and explain and come up with a scenario - any scenario - in which that was not the answer.
But he knew as well as any that the air always smells different before the storm, sweet and dangerous. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled and stood on end.
There were shadows gathering on the horizon.
It took nearly half an hour more to get Sherlock back to a state that one would describe as "halfway decent," and by that time dawn was breaking and the residual medicine was weighing heavily on the detective. The temporary lucidity left him almost all at once, and Lestrade had to all but drag him over to the bed. He was asleep before he slumped against the pillows, and it took several minutes of maneuvering for Lestrade to get the long legs on the bed and the detective's prone form tucked under the blankets. He then gathered up the blood-soaked washcloth and clothes and bundled them into a bag, making a mental note to make sure they were burned sometime in the future.
His phone showed that he had missed seven calls in the time he had spent with Sherlock, all from Mycroft. The government agent had finally resorted to texting.
Watson will live.
Lestrade breathed a sigh of relief and pushed a hand through Sherlock's damp curls.
"That's a relief, isn't it? Your blogger will be back with you soon enough. Good thing, too." He let his hand fall to his side. "I can't imagine what atrocities would befall the world should the two of you be separated. God help us all, I should think."
A worn wicker chair stood by the bed. Had he pulled it over? He couldn't remember, but he sank into it gratefully, watching as Sherlock's breathing evened out. He would leave as soon as he was satisfied that the detective would sleep soundly for at least a few hours. He needed to drive to the hospital and check on John; see if he could get some contact info and inform the family. He would then have to speak to Mycroft about surveillance and protection.
After that, he was going to hunt down Moriarty and kill him with his bare hands.
Mrs. Hudson found them later that morning when she crept upstairs to check on her injured tenant. Lestrade was fast asleep where he had fallen, forehead pressed to the mattress and one brawny hand outstretched, curling around Sherlock's pale one.