"You're staying home." Elisabeth declared, reaching a hand forward to feel her husband's forehead.
"I have to go." Lestrade told her stubbornly, but held still.
"You're feverish." His wife said. "Your forehead's warm, and you're sweating."
"I'll be at my desk all day." Lestrade reminded her wearily. She removed her hand from his head, and he sat up. "I'll take some of those tea leaves." He added as his wife's brow furrowed and her lips pressed together.
"Mr. Gregson is handling the case. They'll be fine without you for one day." Elisabeth sat down on his side of the bed before he could get his legs out from under the blanket. "You've already spent more than enough time humoring the journalists and reporters and all the rest of that-"
"Lizzie," Lestrade reproved, and his wife flushed and smiled sheepishly.
"It's not right, Giles. They're wrong for saying such things about you, and it makes me angry. Any decent human being would be ashamed." He raised an eyebrow at that last statement, and his wife had to laugh. "Fair enough," she conceded. "I can't say I've ever heard anyone accuse that lot of being decent. Still." She folded her hands in her lap and looked at her husband.
"I love you." She said softly "I can't help but worry." She did not say anything else. He understood anyway.
"Hopkins has already suggested that I hide in my office and try to get caught up on some paperwork." He offered, and waited while his wife considered this.
"Take Olivia with you." She said after several minutes.
Lestrade did not argue. The tone in his wife's voice said her decision was final.
Bradstreet did not bat an eye at the young lady helping her father into his coat, hers already on. He offered her a smile, one that she returned with a smile of her own that was perhaps a bit too forward to be considered entirely proper. "Good morning, Inspector." She greeted him cheerfully.
"Good morning, Miss Lestrade." He replied. "Will you be accompanying us to the Yard this morning?" He asked, sparing Lestrade a glance as he spoke.
Lestrade's eyes were too bright, as if he had had a bit too much to drink, but Bradstreet knew well enough that that was not the only possible cause-or the most likely. That odd glitter in his eyes could mean a few things, one of which that he was getting ill.
Fever from infection was not unlikely, not with his injury, but it was a wonder that his wife was not fighting to get him to stay home.
He looked at the man's daughter again and wondered how Lestrade's wife had managed to convince him to take his daughter to work with him to keep an eye on him-especially since she had apparently been unsuccessful in trying to get him to just stay home.
"Yes, sir." Miss Lestrade replied. "Mum's hoping I'll be able to keep him out of trouble." She added impishly, and Bradstreet had to laugh.
It did not seem that long ago that Lestrade had brought all three of them to Scotland Yard after his wife had been abducted, but the young lady standing before him now had been no more than a baby at the time. Now she was practically grown up.
"That's a full time job." He informed her as they headed out into the street. He could not deny that having the young lady with them made getting Lestrade into the cab that much easier on all of them.
He did not miss the appraising look from Lestrade as he settled back into the seat, or the way his gaze lingered on his injured arm for just a second before his eyes darted back up to meet Bradstreet's. "How are you?" He asked mildly.
Beside him, Miss Lestrade took the opportunity to bury herself behind a book.
"I was thinking it might be nice to have a drink sometime." Bradstreet said instead of answering. "You, me, and Gregson. It's been a while, you know."
Lestrade did not quite frown. "I'm not up to going out." He said carefully.
Bradstreet considered this. "Home's a bit crowded, what with my brother visiting, and you've got three women at yours. What about Gregson?"
Lestrade refrained from offering his opinion of Bradstreet's choice. "Let him know." He said.
Behind her book, Olivia Lestrade frowned.
Heather Gregson faltered at the sight of the two Inspectors and young lady who had accompanied her husband home from work. Her smile returned a second later, and she stepped forward to help the company remove their coats and hats.
"Inspector Lestrade, good to see you again." She greeted him warmly. She pretended not to notice that he needed help to stand, and instead turned to the man supporting him. "Inspector Bradstreet, is it?" She asked; Bradstreet nodded and smiled.
Heather looked the young lady standing a bit apart from the men over. She was neither frightened nor injured, but stood comfortably to the side, content to keep a watchful eye on Inspector Lestrade.
She was a pretty young thing, with blonde hair and large, dark eyes that seemed to take in everything that went on around her. She was small, but moved with a grace and ease that suggested that she was completely at peace with her slight build.
Heather's gaze slipped back to Inspector Lestrade for less than a second before going back to the girl. There was no mistaking whose child the young lady had to be.
"Olivia Lestrade," the Inspector had recovered enough to introduce the girl, "my daughter."
"Heather Gregson." The woman said, and received a warm smile in return. "We'll just let the men settle in the sitting room, and we can have the kitchen to ourselves and have a nice cup of tea and talk."
"Thank you, Mrs. Gregson." The young girl replied, darting forward to take her father's coat before Heather realized he had gotten it off.
"Please, call me Heather." The older woman urged. To her husband she said, "Will the Inspectors be staying for dinner?"
"They've stopped by for a drink," he told her, "that's all."
Heather nodded. They were here for a drink, yes, but they had come for more than that. Heather Gregson knew her husband, and the Inspector Lestrade, well enough to recognize a war council when she saw one. Heather retreated to the kitchen, Lestrade's daughter in tow.
"If I may be so bold," she began as she set a pot of water on the stove, "how in the world did you manage to follow the Inspector to work?"
The girl laughed. "Da had a bit of a fever this morning." She said, her eyes twinkling. "Between that and his injury he wasn't up to the usual argument about him staying home when he's sick." Heather felt an immediate kinship with this girl-she knew well enough the trials of a life with a policeman in the home. "Mum convinced him to take me along." She shrugged. "He's easy enough to manage if you know when to stay out of the way."
Heather laughed. She liked this young girl and her frank way of speaking.
"I hope your father stays around for a bit." Heather said a bit later as she poured tea for the two of them. "My son should be home within the hour, and I think you'd like him."
Olivia Lestrade smiled, but did not comment.
Lestrade breathed a sigh of relief as the women left the room. Bradstreet pretended not to notice, but Gregson chuckled.
He had been expecting the man to be chafing at having his daughter sent to the Yard to look after him-in fact, he had half expected some sort of explosion from the man on the subject.
Lestrade raised an eyebrow. "You've never tried arguing with Lizzie-especially not when the girls are on her side." The words were spoken mildly enough, but there was a glint in the man's eyes that said Gregson would be best off leaving the matter alone.
Gregson busied himself pouring drinks for himself and his fellow Inspectors.
Bradstreet accepted his drink with a murmur of thanks, his expression neutral as he studied the alcohol in the glass Gregson handed to him.
Gregson almost smiled; Bradstreet was unbelievably picky about his drinks-as long as he was paying for it. If someone else offered him a drink he seemed to consider it his duty to accept whatever he was given without comment.
Lestrade also studied his drink as he received it, but the man had had too many unpleasant experiences over the years with alcohol that had been either poisoned or drugged for Gregson to hold it against him.
Gregson settled back into his seat with his own drink in hand, suddenly not in any hurry to start any sort of discussion about serial-killer women who used severed body parts to send messages and attacked policemen.
Lestrade, for once, did not seem to be in any hurry to get to business either, though he may simply have been worn out from being up and about when he should have been home in bed.
Bradstreet remained silent; he could wait for an eternity for one of the older Inspectors to start talking if he had to.
Seconds stretched out into minutes as the men sat in silence.
Finally Lestrade stirred. "What happened to your arm, Bradstreet?" He asked.
Instead of answering, Bradstreet looked over at Gregson. "You wanted to test your theory on him." He said. "Now's your chance."
Lestrade's eyebrow lifted, and he too turned to look at Gregson. "What theory?" He demanded.
Gregson told him, going over all the information he had gathered-including what he had gotten from Lestrade him self-and being careful to leave nothing out. One missed detail, however small or insignificant seeming could easily be enough to throw the other Inspector-Lestrade rarely forgot anything, and he was capable of keeping the details of multiple cases straight in his mind at the same time, even if it sometimes took him a second to recall them, but the man was not known for his skill at keeping up with Gregson (or Holmes, for that matter) in mentally walking through a case.
He carefully outlined his theory about a woman being involved, and also included Bradstreet's visit to Baker Street and his interaction with the woman with the knife.
Gregson finished talking and waited, albeit with some impatience, for Lestrade to digest what he had just been told. The smaller man remained quiet for several minutes, working through everything Gregson just said while Gregson himself resisted the impulse to fidget and Bradstreet sat looking as relaxed as if this were merely a social call and they were only discussing the weather.
When Lestrade did speak, it was to Bradstreet. "That was stupid." He said bluntly. "Even if you were expecting trouble. You should know better." He looked over at Gregson. "You do know better."
"Like you know better than to take off after someone down a dark alley by yourself?" Gregson retorted, irritated by the accusation.
"I made a mistake, and I paid for it." Lestrade replied, his voice flat. "I was lucky. I was stabbed in the foot instead of the chest-or belly." He glared at Bradstreet. "She-if that's what you think it was-could just as easily have stabbed you as sliced your arm open."
"Do you think it could have been a woman that attacked you?" Gregson asked, refusing to admit, at least not out loud, that Lestrade was right.
Lestrade shrugged. "It could've been. It would explain why I'm still here after being hit in the face by a piece of metal."
Bradstreet did not quite wince at that. "If Lestrade is admitting that it's possible…" he said to Gregson, and the blonde Inspector almost choked at the rude gesture Lestrade gave Bradstreet in reply.
"We need to find her." Bradstreet continued, unperturbed. "But how? Holmes?"
There was no doubt that Holmes would be able to find her. The man himself was a bloodhound, and his Irregulars were their own force to be reckoned with. Holmes would have been more than capable of finding their mystery woman.
Gregson shook his head. "We've been warned not to." He pointed out. "We know this woman-and whoever else might be involved-will retaliate. I'll not risk putting Holmes or Watson in danger." He was looking as Lestrade as he spoke; the other Inspector frowned but offered no argument.
"Do we organize a search among the force, then?" Bradstreet pressed. "If we're looking for her, anyone involved in such a search will be at some risk."
"That's our job." Lestrade said bluntly. "We're already in danger every day we come in to work."
Bradstreet did not need to be told as much. Every policeman knew how dangerous the job was and accepted that danger as a fact of life.
"We can send the men out in pairs," Gregson decided, "that will decrease some of the risk."
Gregson was not being overprotective. Lestrade's small size only made him look like an easy target, and Bradstreet-especially when expecting trouble-was more than capable of handling himself.
"Separate Smith and Adams." Lestrade suggested. "Evans, Cratchett, Morton…" he trailed off, mentally going through the list of Constables at the Yard, "Taylor, Michaels…"
"I'll go out." Bradstreet offered. "Do you think Jones would?"
"I doubt you could stop him." Lestrade said.
"Wasn't happy when they involved his Mum, then?" Gregson was curious; there were very few forces in this world that would persuade Jones to drag even a fellow Inspector into his personal life-especially when that meant dragging said Inspector away from his own personal life. Jones kept his work and personal life separate as much as possible, and would have preferred that everyone else do the same.
Lestrade shrugged, but did not comment on the matter. Gregson waited, but without result.
"Can we get a description of the woman to give the men?" Gregson asked after a couple minutes of silence failed to coax any details out of Lestrade.
"You and I can sit down with Evans in the morning." Lestrade said to Bradstreet.
Bradstreet grinned. "Between the three of us, we're bound to come up with something good." He said.
Lestrade rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to speak, but stopped. Somewhere a door opened.
"Toby's home." Gregson murmured. Raising his voice, he called to his son. "Your mother's in the kitchen!"
"Yes, Father!" Came the reply. A minute later a young man with a twinkle in his eyes appeared in the doorway. "Company?" He asked, looking around the room. "Inspectors," he noted, "I'll be in the kitchen with Mum, then.
He was as tall as his father, but lean. He also had his father's fair hair and complexion. His eyes were his mother's.
He nodded to both of his father's companions and withdrew to the kitchen with the women.
"How old is he now?" Bradstreet asked, when he had gone.
"Seventeen." Gregson replied, considering the empty space where his son had been standing only a moment ago.
"Practically a man." Bradstreet noted, the words drawing an actual smile from the boy's father.
It was getting close to dinner time when the men finally finished their business and Bradstreet stood.
"If we want to make our escape, now's the time." He joked, dispelling some of the mood that had settled over the room with the subject being discussed.
Gregson let himself relax. "What's wrong with my wife's cooking, exactly?" He wanted to know.
Lestrade did not smile, but he did not sigh at the light banter either.
Mrs. Gregson appeared in the doorway as if she had been summoned. "I'd invite you gentlemen to stay for dinner," she said pleasantly, "but I know both your wives."
Bradstreet smiled. "Can't be caught eating another woman's cooking," he said impertinently, but the woman's husband did not notice.
"Where's Toby?" He asked, eyeing his wife suspiciously. Lestrade raised an eyebrow at the question.
"Here," It was Lestrade's daughter who answered the question as she entered the room and crossed over to stand by her father.
Toby stood behind his mother quietly. Olivia's eyes wandered over to his, and they met for only a second before she turned her attention back to her father.
Gregson cleared his throat, and Bradstreet fought to hide a smile as he helped Lestrade up.
Toby joined his father in seeing the two men and young lady to the door. He was quick to offer Olivia her coat; she accepted in with a small smile.
Lestrade stumbled slightly as Bradstreet donned his own coat, and Olivia moved quickly to steady him. Toby moved almost immediately to do the same. His hand brushed against the young lady's sleeve as Lestrade regained his balance, and he blushed.
Out on the street, it was Bradstreet who broke the silence. "Fine young man," he commented.
Lestrade blinked, and for a second Bradstreet wondered if he had really not noticed, but then Olivia ducked her head in an attempt to hide a smile.
"Nothing so far." Lestrade answered wearily as Watson settled down carefully beside him.
"But the attacks have stopped." Watson reminded him gently. Then a thought struck him. "Haven't they?" He asked.
"There have been no new developments." Lestrade agreed, but he did not look pleased as he said it.
He was worried, Watson realized, but about what? Not that the attacks had stopped, surely. "They've only been searching for a day." Watson noted. "It's still a bit early for results, isn't it?"
"Unless she's a fool." Lestrade did not sound as if he believed the woman responsible for all this were such. "London is a big city. Unless we are very lucky, it will take time to find her."
He frowned and fell silent, staring thoughtfully into the fire in the fireplace. Watson let the quiet stretch out for a few minutes before broaching a new subject. "How are you?" He asked.
Lestrade leveled a glare at the doctor; the belligerence in the other man's eyes took Watson by surprise. It was a moment before he made sense of the Inspector's reaction.
That was why he was worried. Lestrade was being forced to sit this one out while the other men at the Yard were out searching London for the very person responsible for his current state.
It took Lestrade only a second to catch himself, and his expression smoothed out. "Bradstreet makes a sturdy enough support." He grumbled half-heartedly. "I should be grateful, I suppose.
"Have you tried putting weight on it?" Watson hoped he had not.
"I'm not supposed to try at least until next week." Lestrade reminded him thinly.
"Glad you haven't forgotten." Watson tried to soften the words with a smile.
Lestrade sighed. "Be careful on your way out," he said, "I know you're not here on Holmes' behalf, but that doesn't mean everyone else will."
Watson did not reply. Holmes hardly cared that the Yard had occasionally taken credit for cases he had solved. Holmes did not always inform his clients when the Yard had been instrumental in solving his cases. The public may not have understood the tradeoff, but Watson had learned to accept it years ago.
Holmes was still willing to help. All it would take was a word from Lestrade, and Holmes would start looking for this woman, and discretely. Holmes knew how to avoid notice.
Was it pride, Watson wondered, that kept the Yard from asking? Did they feel, with everything that had come out to the public, that they had to prove themselves?
"How bad was Bradstreet's arm?" Lestrade wanted to know.
Watson shook his head to clear his thoughts. "He didn't say?" He asked instead of answering immediately.
"Bradstreet's idea of a minor injury tends to run contrary to reality." Lestrade admitted.
Watson raised an eyebrow in imitation of the other man. "He's not the only one." He pointed out. Smiling, he added, "That seems to be a requirement for joining Scotland Yard." Lestrade did not quite laugh at that.
"It was a bad enough cut," Watson said, "but Bradstreet is tough." He waited for perhaps a second before continuing. "He's also good about taking care of himself when he's injured."
Lestrade ignored what could have been taken as yet another jab at his own health practices. "You met Robert, then." He commented instead.
Both Watson's eyebrows lifted. "Bob Bradstreet is a large man." He replied decisively. "He also makes you appear talkative by comparison." He teased.
Lestrade grunted, and Watson almost laughed outright.
The silence again stretched out between them, growing until at last it became a thing that it seemed should not be broken.
"Holmes could help." Watson finally said, though it came out in almost a whisper, so great had the silence become.
Lestrade shifted uncomfortably. "I know it." He said, and for a long time did not say anything else.
Watson was still, content to wait for Lestrade to make whatever decision he was struggling with.
Lestrade made his decision at last, and his hand went to his jacket pocket. When he withdrew it again he held an envelope, which he offered to Watson.
"It's a description of the woman we think is responsible." He said.
"The woman," Watson echoed, surprised.
"There was a woman in Gregson's office the day someone left a corpse on the front step of Scotland Yard." Lestrade explained. "She left before he saw her-later he found a note on his desk. We think she left it."
"A note?" Watson asked, and found himself wondering what else he had missed.
"It said Prove yourself." Lestrade replied. "Bradstreet described his attacker as being small and thin-my attacker, while tall for a woman, would still have been small for a man."
"You said your assailant slapped you." Watson remembered. "That's not a common behavior for a man."
Lestrade considered this. "Bradstreet was attacked because he went to Holmes for help-or somebody thought he did. Gregson thinks that consulting him will put the two of you in danger."
"He doesn't want us involved." That was why the Yard had stopped asking for help. "How's he going to react when he realizes you gave me this anyway?" Watson asked, waving the envelope at Lestrade.
Lestrade shrugged. "We need help." He said without embarrassment. "We're looking, but we haven't found her." Lestrade sighed. "Truthfully, we have almost nothing to go on. We've small enough chance of finding her on our own."
Watson considered the envelope for a moment before tucking it away into his jacket pocket. "What happens when Gregson finds out you involved us anyway?" He pressed.
Again, Lestrade shrugged. "He won't be happy about it." He admitted. "He doesn't have to be."
"He's in charge of the case now, though, isn't he?" Watson insisted.
Lestrade actually smiled. "Technically, yes." He agreed.
Watson wondered whether he should pursue the issue. "What does that mean, exactly? Technically?"
"It means Lestrade still considers it his case." Holmes answered the question the Inspector had not as he took the envelope from Watson. "And he will do what he feels necessary, whether Gregson approves or not."
Watson considered this. "And what happens when Gregson realizes Lestrade has involved you against his wishes?" He wanted to know.
"Gregson will not be surprised." Holmes said. "He will most likely be angry, but he will not be surprised. He knows Lestrade well enough by now to know that if Lestrade thinks that I can find this woman where Scotland Yard cannot he will ask us to look for her with or without Gregson's approval."
"But if Gregson is in charge of the case now-" Watson pressed.
Holmes waved a hand dismissively. "Your concern for Lestrade is unwarranted. Gregson will be angry, and he will certainly let Lestrade know how he feels about the man going against his decision-as he has done on numerous occasions in the past-that will be as far as it goes." Watson was still not entirely convinced, however, and so Holmes added, "Even if Gregson were so inclined, what more could he do? Bring the matter before the Superintendent?"
Briefly, Watson wondered what poor Hopkins would do if he were ever forced into such an unenviable situation.
Holmes opened the envelope and removed its contents. The paper-and the envelope-was the same as that Bradstreet had used to contact them previously, causing Watson to wonder if Bradstreet did, in fact, sometimes steal Lestrade's stationary.
Not that it really mattered, Watson thought as Holmes quickly read the description penned in Lestrade's tiny, neat handwriting. Holmes offered it to Watson when he had finished, and Watson upon reading it himself he had to agree with Lestrade-it was little enough to go on.
The post-script at the bottom surprised Watson, a little, but also served to emphasize just how dangerous the woman they were looking for truly was.
If you find her, send for us immediately. Do not, under any circumstances go after her yourself, Holmes.
Watson frowned and offered the letter back to Holmes, trying to figure out what was suddenly bothering him.
It was not the fact that Lestrade was going against Gregson's decision-although that also worried him. There was something else, something about the letter he had just read.
He considered the message at the end. Did Lestrade often tell Holmes to be careful? He rarely bothered telling Holmes not to approach someone they were looking for; Holmes would either go after them himself or send for the police, but Lestrade advising him one way or the other was unlikely to influence Holmes' actions.
It had to be the description itself, Watson decided, but he had absolutely no idea why the description of the woman would leave him feeling so uneasy.
Watson bolted upright in the darkness, his heart racing, staring wide-eyed into the darkness. A second later he was out of bed and scrambling for something to wear. "Holmes!" He shouted as he stumbled across the bedroom and threw open the door.
He knew what had been bothering him.
He recognized the woman in the description Lestrade had given them.
He had seen her before.