This takes place after events depicted in the second-series Sherlock episode "The Reichenbach Fall."
I Would Understand
He paced back and forth under the cloudy evening sky, empty hands in empty pockets, staring at the mute stone under his feet.
This is where it had ended.
His consulting detective's – his friend's – life. Not down below on the pavement, but here, where Sherlock made the choice to jump.
Here, too, had ended Moriarty's great game.
And his own credibility and career, apparently.
Numb under repeated blows, Greg Lestrade faced the fact that questions were all that was left to him.
And what chance did he have of fitting together pieces of the answers now, without access to his notes and files or the Met's databases and resources?
He had all the time in the world to find out, didn't he?
He was no sprinter, Lestrade; he'd turned to Sherlock for short, brilliant bursts of intellectual speed. No, Lestrade was a long-distance runner. Slow sometimes, plodding in pace, but indefatigable. He usually got there in the end.
This time there was no promise of justice at the conclusion of the race, but that made little difference. His grief and bewilderment and stubborn need to make sense of something, anything, that had occurred here: they were quite enough to be going on with.
One foot followed the other. There and back and there and back. Reciting the few facts he knew for certain required a pitifully short span of time.
He willed the stone, that silent witness, to give up its secrets. To speak to him.
He blinked at the tentative sound and turned. John Watson's sudden presence on the roof was one mystery too many on a day far too long. It did not compute.
"John." He scrubbed a hand over his face, but the mental fog refused to lift. "Didn't expect to see you here."
There was nothing casual about the studied neutrality of John's voice or features. Feet set apart, arms open at his sides, he was as pale as the building beneath them and just as unmoving.
"It's the very last place in the world I want to be, actually." John's soft words nearly failed to carry. His fingers twitched.
"Right," Lestrade said, attempting to muddle through. "Then why're you…?"
"Good question, that, considering my track record with this sort of thing."
Scanning their surroundings as if it were a hostile alien landscape, John appeared to be fighting both the urge to take cover and the desire to hit something very, very hard.
"But the others said I had the best chance, and I couldn't just..." John swallowed. Replanted his feet. Returned the full weight of his earnest gaze to Lestrade. "So here I am, praying that it's the thought that counts."
Lestrade shook his head, feeling as though he'd been dropped in the middle of someone else's conversation.
"Greg, let's get off this roof." John gave a jerky nod in the direction of the stairwell. "Let me buy you a pint. We can talk. We haven't done since the funeral."
"I understand. I do, more than you know. But listen. Please." Christ, the man was all squared shoulders and clenched fists now, starting to breathe hard. "You don't have to do this. Not today. Not ever."
John's eyes darted from Lestrade to the ledge and back, judging the distance.
His first instinctive reaction, as rapid as a reflex, was fury. What genius thought it was a good idea to send John up here to the scene of Sherlock's farewell? As if the man hadn't gone through enough. God, it was cruel.
It was for him.
Full understanding followed a second behind, staggering Lestrade. Literally. He retreated a step, shifting his weight to find balance, and John started forward with a strangled "No!"
Then they both froze, gazes locked.
"I wasn't going to..." Lestrade left the whisper hanging in the air between them. "Jesus, John. Why would you think—?"
"They took your warrant card today," John said. "You didn't go home. Or to the pub. Or anywhere expected. Do you realise how long you've been up here? What were we supposed to think?"
Never mind that Lestrade's suspension from duty was mere hours old and he'd told no one yet. Then again, who was there to tell? He was alone.
"We?" His voice sounded small in his own ears.
"Molly stays updated on the comings and goings on the roof these days. She's been desperate with worry since you arrived. It didn't take her long to learn the news from the Yard."
A strained grimace twisted John's expression. "Mycroft's concerned, as well. He hasn't returned my texts for the last six days, but now his messages are one constant distress signal. I'm afraid you're currently the star of his own personal CCTV film festival. He thought... We thought..."
The words left John panting. He bent and braced himself, palms on thighs.
"Sit down, yeah?" Lestrade said, as John struggled for composure.
"I will if you will."
They ended up side by side, backs to the ledge. John's hand shot out and crumpled a handful of Lestrade's shirt into a tight fist, anchoring the older man to the roof, confirming he was safe.
Lestrade held still.
It shocked him, the thought that anyone had followed his own personal drama (or was it farce?) at the Yard. That anyone had cared what followed.
That this fierce but kind doctor-soldier, this good man, had proved willing to wade through a private hell to make sure Lestrade survived another day.
"Some rescuer I am," John said at last, releasing his grip, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes. "My mind thinks I'm down there on the street, looking up. My body thinks I'm in Kandahar. And all of me thinks I'm going to be sick, so mind your shoes."
"How can I help?"
"Don't move. Sit there." John forced a deep breath and released it through pursed lips, and then repeated the action. After a beat, he added, "Bastard."
Lestrade couldn't be sure at whom the epithet was aimed. He felt a right bastard, to be sure, for being the catalyst if not the actual cause for John's distress.
"Reckon punching me would make you feel better?" he asked.
"Much," John said. "So don't tempt me."
Lestrade nodded. "Don't worry. I have a healthy respect for your left hook."
John chuckled, a painful, wheezing sound.
"I never was planning to do that, you know," Lestrade murmured, like an apology.
"What? Follow Sherlock's footsteps into thin air? Or off yourself in general?"
"Well... follow Sherlock's footsteps," Lestrade admitted, knowing and hating how that sounded.
Hadn't thought it through yet, had he? What would come after. When it – all of this – finally hit him, it would knock him off his feet; he knew that much.
He needed answers first. One thing at a time. One foot after the other, for the distance.
"Just trying to wrap my head around it," Lestrade said. "We know Moriarty ate his gun. We know Sherlock told you a mouthful of lies. And we know he jumped." He shrugged. "Got to fill in the rest of the blanks before I bloody well understand what it all means, and what comes next."
"Yeah, I know," John said simply. He lifted his chin, wiped his sweaty brow with an unsteady hand, and glared at something only he could see. "I know, mate."
And he did, Lestrade realised.
John's words were a bandage. A lifeline, even. Perhaps, Lestrade thought, he'd needed rescuing after all.
"You're the detective," John said after a time. "Where do we start?"
Lestrade's throat grew tight. He raked his fingers through his hair.
After several heartbeats, he found his voice. "With that pint, I think. But I'm buying."
Vital Stats:Originally written in May 2012.
Originally written for a prompt at the sherlockbbc_fic LiveJournal community.
The title is drawn from lyrics to the song "Jumper" by Third Eye Blind, which begins, "I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend."