EPILOGUE: You Choose Any Girl But Me
Weeks slipped into months, slipped into years. Before his eyes, Lestrade watched his city change. Shops closed, new ones opened. The battlefield was sometimes strewn with bodies, sometimes starkly bare. Sometimes, the bodies were friends.
That winter, Aster succumbed to pneumonia after a long battle with a respiratory infection. Lestrade wasn't even aware she was sick until he'd learned she was in the hospital thanks to Sherlock nearly getting himself blown up. Again. The guilt of losing touch with someone he had once loved so well was consuming.
As he stood by her gravesite as they laid her to rest, he did his best not to cry, to try and be strong for his daughter. Grace stood between him and Rick, her deep brown eyes rimmed with tears. She was nearly seven now. When had that happened?
He stroked the top of her head gently, remembering the feel of her mother's hair against his cheek. Why had he given this up? What had been the point?
"Aster was a good woman," said Rick, his voice shaking as he too fought back tears. In his arms, little Stephen Ambrose, Grace's half-brother, squirmed and cooed. He did not understand what was going on. He was too young.
"The best," agreed Lestrade, offering his arms to Rick, who passed him the toddler. He rocked the boy gently, humming to himself, focusing on this young life rather than the one no longer present. They would survive this. They would survive this, and he would make more time for his daughter.
As they left the graveyard, Lestrade noticed a dark figure lurking behind one of the mausoleums. He paused, looking about. Almost everyone else had already left. He pulled Grace into a bear hug.
"Go with Rick, love. I'll be along shortly."
"Sherlock, I. . ."
The tall, lanky man smirked gently at him, his eyes bright and analytical as always.
"What? Thought I didn't know? I do read the paper, you old dolt."
Lestrade sighed. "That's not the. . . Why are you here? I thought you and John had plans to -"
"Ah. Yes." Sherlock's eyes darkened. The hunt for Moriarty had continued to a frantic obsession. Both men were running themselves ragged over it. Lestrade would have been as well, had he not had other things on his plate. . . And if Sherlock bothered to share evidence.
"I do believe halting investigations for a few hours when someone I. . . it made sense to stop by. Aster was always kind to me."
"What?" Lestrade smirked. "No she wasn't! She hated you most of the time."
"Clearly, Greg, you don't understand women."
He laughed in astonishment. "And you do?"
"Women are people. They have motives and patterns just like men do. Of course I understand them." Sherlock glared at him like he was an idiot. "Anyway, that's not the point. I'm not really here for her. She's dead. She won't care."
Lestrade rolled his eyes. "Thank you, Sherlock. I'd forgotten that my ex wife was dead."
Sherlock waved his hand, sighing. "Sarcasm aside, Lestrade, are you alright?"
He stared at the younger man. That was one question he never thought he'd hear from him. And one he never thought he'd have an honest answer to.
Sherlock stared at him for what felt like an eternity, that enigmatic light in his eyes again. Lestrade had grown addicted to that glow over the years, and seeing it again, even at this terrible time, made his heart leap.
And then suddenly, Sherlock's arms were around him, wrapping him in a tight - albeit stiff and rather awkward - embrace.
"I'm sorry." He whispered in Lestrade's ear, his breath rustling the grey hair around his temples. "I'm so, so sorry."
Lestrade sighed, pulling the younger man close. "For what, Sherlock? There is nothing left to apologize for."
Sherlock pulled away, his eyes inquisitive. "But don't you wish we'd never met? Wouldn't your life have been simpler?"
He had a point. Lestrade thought about it. Before Sherlock, he'd had a good if not promising career. He and Aster were happy in their simple home. Everything was quiet and normal and safe.
But if he'd never met Sherlock, many people would have died, or their murders would have gone unavenged. If he'd never met Sherlock, he would have seen the battle as a battle already lost. If he'd never met Sherlock, he would have never learned how to channel his own darkness.
And if he'd never met Sherlock, he would have never been more than half a person.
He shook his head gently. "No. Sherlock, don't ever think that. My life might have been simpler. But it wouldn't have been nearly as good."
Sherlock smiled warmly at him, though his eyes still betrayed a deep and lasting sadness. He supposed that would always be there. There were some things no doctor or DI could cure. Perhaps someday he'd finally unravel that mystery. But he knew that day would probably never come.
"Well, I should probably go. John will be wondering where I got to."
Lestrade coughed, the spell broken. "Yes, I imagine he will."
Sherlock nodded slightly. "Tell your daughter hello for me."
"Why don't you tell her yourself?"
They both turned, startled, to see Rick standing there, holding Grace's hand.
"I thought you'd left," murmured Lestrade, suddenly feeling very exposed.
Rick smiled, his blue eyes flashing with amusement. "I did leave. Grace made me come back."
Lestrade sighed. The girl was pigheaded, just like her mother.
"Takes after her father," mused Sherlock.
He grinned. "Neither of you know when to call it quits. Come here."
He scooped Grace up into his arms, smiling broadly as she wrapped her arms around his neck and nuzzled in close.
"Now now, Sherlock," warned Lestrade playfully. "Don't make me get a gun."
As detective and little girl grinned at him, their smiles eerily similar, Lestrade saw a flash of light. He turned in alarm, realizing that Rick had a camera.
"I thought you might like a picture," he said. "Of your family."
He felt a warmth rise in his belly. Rick was right, after all. Whatever it meant, regardless of how the future played out, this was his family.
His innocent, brilliant, beautiful daughter. His detective, whatever that really meant.
As he looked over at him, Sherlock's eyes. . . His smile. . . That enigmatic glow. . .
Perhaps, the whole time, the one thing he could never read in his face. . . was love.
Regardless, Lestrade had finally found something worth fighting for.
Thank you all so much for your kind reviews and loyal readership. It's been fun. . . but the story's not entirely over.
When I'm done with "The Burned Man" (Sherlock/ Burn Notice crossover), I'll be writing a prequel to "Speechless," called "Monster."
Hope you all will read my other work if you loved this one!