An Empty Station
Sherlock Holmes jumps off the roof of St. Bartholomew's Hospital at 3:46 pm, on the 20th of May, 2012, which is a Sunday.
Across town at New Scotland Yard at 3:46 pm on May 20th, Sunday, Inspector Gregory Lestrade has just settled in for a cataclysmic dressing down from the Chief Superintendent. They've gotten as far as, "Bloody reckless, Lestrade. You'll be raked over the coals for this, you've made a laughing stock of-"
Lestrade's mobile buzzes in his pocket. Incoming text. He and the Super both pause at the noise, and the man's eyes narrow. Lestrade does the mental odds of it being anyone other than Sherlock or someone directly related to him.
He goes for the phone.
The Super nearly chokes, face turning red, spittle flying across the desk. "Don't even think about it, or I'll have your warrant card so fast-"
Lestrade's warrant card is, in point of fact, face-up on his desk downstairs. He left it there before he came to this meeting because he had a sickening, swooping sensation in his gut that he would no longer have it by the end of the afternoon regardless.
The suspension forms are sitting on the desk between them, where Lestrade's eyes drift. The paperwork's face-down, but Lestrade is not actually an idiot, whatever Sherlock tends to tell him.
Which is why he reaches for his phone, takes it out and flips it open and reads the text message. Does his best to ignore the man across the desk—the man who not only controls Lestrade's career, but also his reputation as a policeman and any hope he has of not landing in prison himself for the chronic undertaking of professional treason.
The text, received at 3:48 pm from a blocked number, reads as follows:
Go to St. Bart's immediately. S.E. John will need you. -MH
S.E. means Sherlock. Emergency. There was a span of roughly seven months, about six years ago, when he and Mycroft Holmes needed that kind of shorthand. He hasn't seen it in a long time, and it sends a cold dread down his spine. He looks up at the Super, who's nearly maroon at this point. His shouting is probably rattling cups down by the water cooler, but Lestrade doesn't hear a bit of it.
The thing is: Lestrade listened to Anderson, and to Donovan, because he does in fact trust their judgment (outside their opinions on each other), and he knows full well that he needs checking from time to time. You know what I'm saying, you just don't want to think about it. He took the issue to the higher-ups strictly because Donovan would have done it otherwise, and her going over his head would have shipwrecked the both of them. You're not seriously suggesting... He'd taken the lashing accordingly, especially after the stunt with John and the punch and the failed arrest and the escape, which had been frankly embarrassing for everyone involved who wasn't Sherlock.
The tirade has gone on without him. It's now gotten to, "You've consorted with a bloody madman, Lestrade! Who knows what kind of havoc he's been playing on us, what information he's gotten! Once he's brought in and convicted you'll be linked to a killer, we can't have that kind of thing associated with—"
The thing is: Lestrade hadn't believed a word of it, not really. Not for more than about a minute, anyway. He's a lot of things, but blind hasn't ever been one of them, thanks, and he knows Sherlock Holmes better than sight. Sherlock's no murderer. Never has been, never will be, and anyone that's seen him around John Watson for ten seconds knows that's true.
Lestrade can count on one hand the number of times that Sherlock has turned out to be wrong.
He can count on one finger the number of times that Mycroft Holmes has told him to go somewhere, S.E., and it has not been entirely warranted.
More important than that, even, he knows himself. And down deep in the core of him Gregory Lestrade is a life-long copper and a bloody good Detective Inspector because he wants the right thing done no matter how difficult it is. That's all, at the end of the day, and he's lost plenty of sleep (and a spouse) over it. Sherlock's been a godsend to the case solve ratio over the last five years, and the brass knew that. Thirty-four cases with Sherlock's name attached haven't just gone unnoticed up until now. Something's rotten in the higher-ups and Lestrade is getting the whipping for it.
The right thing. Well.
At 3:50 in the afternoon on the 20th of May, on Sunday, Lestrade stands up abruptly, cuts the ranting off mid-sentence. "Right," he says. It's a death knell, and it feels heavy in the air. He takes a breath and pushes through. "Sir, I'm off. Have to take care of this." He holds up the phone, gives it a wiggle.
The Super stares at him, completely flummoxed. Outside in the hallway, Donovan gives him a horrified kind of look through the glass. Lestrade is fighting the instinct to apologize and sit back down, save whatever's left of his career. He barely succeeds in staying upright, but he manages. He looks away from Sally.
The Superintendent's face has shaded to magenta. Spittle flies from his lips as he leans forward across the desk and bellows, "You bloody idiot, you are under investigation-"
"Best let you lot get to it, then," Lestrade says evenly, and he turns on his heel, and he walks out of the bloody office.
He stops by his desk to collect his things on the way out, entirely ignores Donovan trotting at his heels and shouting at him. "Sorry," he tells her around the keys in his mouth as he pulls his coat on, shrugs into the sleeves properly. "Emergency."
John will need you, the text message says, and the dead fear that puts down his spine—because John will need you means Sherlock will not be available—has him running for the door before Sally can get another word in edgewise.
Lestrade leaves his warrant card where it is, and he puts his cuffs there too, on top of the desk. It breaks his heart to go without them—he feels something crack to pieces right in the middle of his chest. But there's no time to dwell, not right now. He starts the car and drives like a bat out of hell toward Bart's.
Lestrade wakes up on May 26th, Saturday, and stares up at the gray-washed ceiling of his bedroom. His first thought, typically: I'm going to be late for work.
His second thought, as of this week: No. Suspension. Right.
He drifts again, lets himself doze off some of the heavy exhaustion still clinging to his joints. The world's a bit of a haze, still. It's been raining off and on since yesterday; the soft drumming of the weather on the windowpanes is soothing. It's a relief to have a good reason to stay indoors, away from things. The world needs to be as small as he can make it or he'll crack apart into bits.
That thought stirs something uneasy in him, but he doesn't quite care enough to concentrate. It takes a solid five minutes of middling consciousness for the rest of reality to creep in, and then he thinks: Sherlock's dead. He jumped off a building. He's dead.
Lestrade has a hard time sitting up after that. It takes a monumental effort to raise his torso, lift his shoulders. He stays in bed for a while with his head propped in his hands, elbows on knees. When he finally hauls himself up, it's to shuffle off to the loo, and then the kitchen. He makes a pot of coffee and pours himself a mug. The smell of it clears his head a little. Over in the sitting room, John is sacked out on the sofa bed, completely still. It feels like a sick-room. Like mourning.
He checks his mobile where it's charging on the counter. There's a slew of missed calls from Dimmock, one text from Anderson and one from Donovan. He ignores them. He takes his coffee and goes back to bed instead. The covers are soft and cool against his skin. The rain patters against the windows. He tries thinking it again, since it doesn't feel entirely real yet. Sherlock's dead.
He doesn't actually believe it, is the thing. Not yet. Bloody typical of Sherlock, to be so impossible and ridiculous that he's managed to convince Lestrade that there isn't a single scrape he won't worm his way out of eventually. Not even a swan dive off the roof of St. Bart's. Not even a suicide note to John Watson.
Not even a morgue.
They find James Moriarty's body on the roof of the hospital. They actually found it at 5:30 pm the day before, discovered by the team called in for Sherlock, but Lestrade doesn't hear about it until the day after, for obvious reasons. John's just been released on the condition that he's carefully looked after until the worst of the concussion symptoms fade. Lestrade's agreed to take him back to Mrs. Hudson, so he's stopped by to help ease John through the corridors and to the car. They've gotten as far as the wheelchair without speaking a word to each other.
The buzz of Lestrade's mobile in his pocket is something of a relief when it breaks the silence. "Hang on," he says as he flips it open. It's from Dimmock, who apparently feels like he owes Lestrade something, because it's an update:
Body found on the roof where Holmes jumped. Moriarty. Looks like suicide.
He stares down at the text, has to read it twice before it registers. He must make some kind of noise, because John looks up at him from where he's been gingerly tying his shoelaces, eyes keen.
"What?" John asks. He's fine-tuned, waiting for the news that'll turn this whole mess around. Lestrade can't blame him—he's doing the same, even if he's not quite willing to admit it.
"They found a body on the roof," he says.
"Moriarty," John breathes. Something strange passes over his face. "Anything else?"
Lestrade blinks at him. "What else-"
His phone buzzes again and he flips it open. Second text from Dimmock:
Prints just came through as some actor Richard Brooke. Moriarty was a hoax. Keep your head down, Lestrade.
Lestrade shakes his head, like that'll make the words rearrange on the screen. "What?"
John sighs. "Let me guess. They just discovered that the man on the roof was actually some actor named Richard Brooke?"
They stare at each other. Lestrade closes his phone and thinks very carefully about whether he wants an answer before he asks, "What do you know about this?"
John's expression is blank when he says, "I think...that I should make a statement."
It's pretty telling of the entire last week that Lestrade looks at him, very seriously, and asks, "Are you sure?"
"He asked me to," John says helplessly. And that's it, really, so Lestrade texts Dimmock back and tells him to get down to John's room and do his job.
John insists that Lestrade stay for his report of events, so he does, and Dimmock doesn't say a word about it. John repeats every word of Sherlock's, every blasted nuance of that "suicide note." He doesn't say a word about where he'd been before he got to Bart's, or what the two of them had been doing while they were evading the police. Dimmock lets him get away with it, maybe because it doesn't matter any more. Sherlock's confession has closed the books, and no one is going to look much harder at present.
Dimmock leaves them with a curt nod to John. "Thank you for your cooperation," he says somberly, which is as close to My condolences as he's going to get. He catches Lestrade's eye just briefly before he goes, clears his throat as he passes. Lestrade has no idea what that means.
John is staring off into the middle distance, eyes remote. He looks small and still, absent from his skin. Like he was outside the morgue. Lestrade shakes his head and sits on the end of the bed for a moment to gather himself. The blanket folded up at the foot is scratchy against his fingertips when he reaches to straighten it. "He really said all that. He told you to tell me and Mrs. Hudson and everyone else that he's a fake who created James bloody Moriarty on an ego trip."
"Yeah." John looks at him steadily. "Yeah. You and Mrs Hudson in particular, he said."
Lestrade considers that. "Bollocks," he says, at a loss for anything better.
John sighs. "Yeah." There's nothing else to say.
They end up down in the hospital cafeteria, putting off leaving just a few minutes more. They're both waiting for news from the roof. From anywhere.
They're both waiting for Sherlock Holmes to walk through the door, somehow, and tell them to hurry up behind him. Lestrade is, anyway. His brain is stuck on loop. He gives up pushing his soggy sandwich from side to side and throws his napkin down. "He said that. He admitted to being a fake."
John doesn't say a word. He takes a bite of his sandwich and swallows it down in an evident display of willpower.
"You don't believe him," Lestrade says rhetorically.
Well; he thought it was rhetorical, anyway. John raises an eyebrow at him, impassive, and doesn't respond. It's a move straight out of Sherlock's repertoire, and it makes Lestrade want to throw something at him.
"Fine," he says. He leaves the table and goes to get a drink. By the time he comes back, he's realized that he's been approaching this wrong. If John thinks Sherlock's innocent, he's been wise not to verbalize it where anyone can hear. Lestrade's off his own game.
It's shocking, the way his brain's turned over the course of the last day. He's strategizing against the Yard. But if the Yard—or parts of the higher-ups, at least—are under someone's thumb, they're all going to be worse off for it. Thank God this isn't his case; he couldn't do it with a clean conscience, not now. He's not convinced anyone can be trusted with it to begin with, which makes him sick. Lestrade trusts Dimmock well enough, but he's not sure just how far the man will go if he's ordered to.
And...well. It's Sherlock. Lestrade doesn't owe him, exactly, except that he does. And this is John, which means it's the best he can do. He's decided on his marching orders.
He eases carefully into the hard plastic chair and stirs his coffee. It's too hot to drink, and the steam doesn't smell like anything, not even after he's doused it with three sugars. He gives himself another minute to make up his mind. "John," he says, slowly.
"Greg," he returns. Lestrade raises his head and really looks John over. The harsh hospital lighting has washed out the color in his skin, leaves him looking stark and unfamiliar. He suspects that if he presses, John might just break into pieces too small to find again. It's not safe to leave him alone, any more than it's safe to keep him here in the building where so much has happened.
Instead of all that, Lestrade says, "Let's get you out of here."
"Greg, I can't-"
He doesn't finish the sentence. Lestrade has no idea.
"That's fine," he says at last. "Let's get you back to Baker Street."
John sighs. It's the most normal thing Lestrade's heard from him today. "Right. Mrs Hudson."
Bugger. Mrs Hudson. Lestrade's pretty sure he can't stand that. Wouldn't offer if he could. He's a friend, but John and Mrs Hudson are family, and he's got no business there.
"I'll drop you off," he says.
It actually bothers him a bit that Sherlock never learned his name. He'd thought it was obstinacy and some semblance of cynical professionalism that had kept him at Lestrade all those years. It had never mattered, really. Anyway, if Sherlock had tried to call him by his first name at a crime scene in that condescending you are an idiot voice of is, Lestrade would have actually punched him, instead of just thinking longingly about doing it.
But there had been that one second out at Baskerville.
"That's his name—" "Is it?"
And Sherlock had looked genuinely surprised, like it hadn't occurred to him that Lestrade might have a life, a thought, a bloody name outside their work together. He'd knownit at some point, of course he had, but he apparently hadn't kept it. Lestrade's read the "my brain is a hard drive" blog of John's; he knows that Sherlock ejected extraneous data to make room for other things.
And that's the point, isn't it. After six years of doing all they did together, all those cases and all that work. After the months when he watched Sherlock turn from a druggie with a superiority complex to a brilliant, terrifying, unbearable detective with an even worse superiority complex. After exchanging looks over Donovan and Anderson thinking they were being subtle, after quiet nights when a case wrapped up. After quitting smoking together. After throwing glances over John's head when they both knew Sherlock was leading him on, and John just hadn't been around long enough to parse it yet. After all of that.
After all of that, Lestrade apparently hadn't been worth the effort for Sherlock to remember his name. Not once.
Yeah. It's silly to still feel stung over it, but he does anyway.
Mrs Hudson calls Lestrade at 4:25 pm on Friday, May 25th, to tell him that John's having a panic attack upstairs.
"I'm sorry," she murmurs to him as she lets him into Baker Street twenty minutes later. She puts a hand over her mouth and shakes her head; her fingers are shaking. "I'm sorry, but I didn't know who else to ring. He just started shouting, and now I can't get him to say a word. He's just sitting there staring, oh—"
Lestrade winces when the tears start. He puts a hand on her elbow, gentle, and steers her toward her flat. "It's alright," he says in his soothing the witness voice. "Why don't you start up some tea, alright? And I'll see if I can talk him down a bit."
"Thank you," she whispers. "I knew we could count on you, you've always been a friend, even when you were trying to arrest them both." She presses a hand to his cheek. No one's done that to him since his mother passed; her skin is papery thin and warm against his. Mrs Hudson tries on a wobbly smile that barely wobbles the corners of her mouth. "You go up, dear, and I'll put the kettle on." She pats his cheek with her fingers and withdraws back into her flat.
Lestrade stares after her. It takes him a minute to shake off the unexpected hollow sensation in the middle of his chest. When he manages it, he takes off his coat and throws it over the banister of the steps. He takes them slowly, one at a time, doesn't try to hop the squeaky board on the left side of the one two from the top. He pauses at the door to the sitting room. It's half-open. Lestrade reaches his hand out and taps his knuckles on it once in the semblance of a knock before he gives it a gentle push.
"John?" No answer. He takes a deep breath and steps into the room.
Nothing's changed since Lestrade was last in the room less than a week ago, trying to bring Sherlock in with the least amount of chaos possible. There are still mugs on the table, papers on the floor. All the lights are out, leaving the whole place painted in grays and blues from the clouds outside.
It's deathly silent. Lestrade feels a shiver down his spine. Mrs Hudson could've warned him that he was walking into a bloody mausoleum.
He tiptoes in as best he can. "John?" he tries again. Still nothing. He does a lap around the kitchen, comes back out into the hallway.
And there he is. John's sitting on the floor of the hall, propped with his back against Sherlock's door. His knees are up against his chest, arms around them.
"John," Lestrade says, quietly.
John's eyes startle into awareness all at once, his body tightening in the fight or flight that Lestrade knows well. He's grateful John's not anywhere near a gun right now, or he'd be on his way to bleeding out on the carpet. John's eyes haven't registered him as a friendly yet. Lestrade feels sick. He kneels on the floor, carefully, holds his hand out in the universal gesture for surrender. "John," he says. It's as quiet and firm as he can make it, the voice he uses to talk people off of ledges. "Hey. Just me. It's only me."
Off of ledges. Horrible train of thought, that. Sherlock. Lestrade tightens a muscle in his thigh just to feel the strain of it for a second, keep him grounded.
John stares at him another second, and then he relaxes all at once; the tension bleeds out of his shoulders like his strings have been cut. "Lestrade," he murmurs. "God, I'm—"
"A mess." Seems silly to pretend otherwise. John makes a face at him. Lestrade settles in on the floor with him, right in the middle of the hall at an angle so they can see each other. The position has bad memories attached, but he does it anyway.
John scrubs both hands over his face, leaves them resting in his hair for a long moment. "Right," he says eventually. His voice is a dry wisp of itself, barely audible. "How did you..."
"Mrs Hudson called." Lestrade shifts, tucks one hand around his shin and pulls it up toward him in a half-stretch. He lets his skull press back into the wall behind him.
"I must have scared her," John sighs.
"Yeah, well, not something she's used to, is it? Not even when you're living with Sherlock." Lestrade winces as soon as the name comes out. Can't stop himself. John looks away. They're quiet while they both try to breathe for a second.
Abruptly, John clears his throat, uses his hands to try and smooth out the creases in his shirt. "Right, sorry about that, hadn't realized she'd call and—"
"It's fine," Lestrade cuts him off. It is. He'd hate himself for anything less. He levers himself to his feet. "I mean it. Don't apologize to me." His tone's harsher than he meant it to be. He reaches down and gives John a hand. The pull in his muscles, the re-centering of gravity through his shoulder and down into his knees, makes it easier to think, for whatever reason. John sways a little once he's standing; he looks terrible, eyes sunken in, skin waxy.
"We're getting coffee," Lestrade tells him. John tries to protest but Lestrade ignores him, physically tugs him to the hallway and down the stairs. "Come on. Let's get you out of here for a minute." John doesn't argue after that. He takes his coat and follows Lestrade out the door.
They sit in Speedy's for twenty minutes, and stir their coffees, and neither of them say a word. Things like PTSD and You haven't been sleeping and What the bloody hell are we supposed to do now float through the air, at least on Lestrade's side. John starts to look better as they sit, at least; his skin colors in a bit, and his eyes track the motion in the room on habit, not threat identification. Being away from Baker Street is clearly good for him.
Which makes it easy for him to finish off his coffee, put it down, look John in the eye and inform him, "You're coming back with me. The sofa-bed's not bad."
John looks surprised. "I don't want to intrude."
"Shut it," Lestrade says with a semblance of cheerfulness. John's phrasing isn't lost on either of them. I don't want to intrude doesn't mean I don't want to go. So that's it.
"I'll need to stop by the flat, at least." John finishes the last of his coffee. He rubs his finger along the edge of his cup, absently. "I should... say something. To Mrs Hudson."
Lestrade takes a breath. "Alright," he agrees. "And we'll see about packing you a bag, yeah? Just for a night."
They manage all of it without another incident. Mrs Hudson is lovely and supportive, and she hands Lestrade a package of tea biscuits on their way out the door. John kisses her on the cheek and hefts his bag over his shoulder, and they're gone from Baker Street.
"Greg," John says quietly, as they get to the car.
"Right," he says, and that's the last time either of them say anything like it again.
Kitty Riley's article gets published on Monday, but Lestrade doesn't pick it up until the day after. He reads it back to front, absorbs it all: Sherlock's supposed master criminal scheming, the creation of Moriarty and the unfair framing of Richard Brooke, Sherlock's apparent confession to the crimes just before he jumped in shame and disgrace.
Lestrade sits down and he thinks about it, lets the evidence sift through his mind. Because he's a detective first and foremost, and he wants the truth, even if it turns out he's been deluding himself and everyone else for the last six years. So he sits, and he thinks.
And here's the thing. If Sherlock had really done it all, if he'd managed somehow to pull the wool over everyone's eyes, including Lestrade's, there was still no possible way that John wouldn't have noticed. They were simply together too often, and Lestrade knows enough about their lives to appreciate how impossible it would have been to hide all of that, even for Sherlock.
Which means: If Sherlock Holmes is guilty of murder and crime and framing, then so is John. And John being a criminal, a murderer, a coward, even by association, is something that fits no evidence Lestrade can see. Even if he hadn't known Sherlock (which he did), even if he hadn't seen where he came from (which he had), Lestrade has met John Watson, and he's willing to hang his hat on that, no matter if everyone else—even Sherlock—tells him otherwise.
Here's the thing. Sherlock Holmes was no killer, but he always was a liar.
Lestrade doesn't believe it when the security guard out front of St. Bart's straightens at the snap of command in his tone, stammers it out. "There was—a man, he—no one saw, and there was this noise when he—just, there, right there—"
There is a smear of blood on the walk, about a foot away from the eaves of the building. Just exactly where it'd be if someone—
"Someone call it in?"
"Yessir. It only just—they've only just gotten the body inside."
Lestrade spins to stare at him. "When did this happen?"
The man looks at his watch, blinks slowly. "I...about ten minutes, sir? I don't..."
Right. Suicide, outside a hospital. He's beaten the response team from the station. The timing of Mycroft's text message just minutes ago scares him outright now.
John will need you.
And someone just—
"Oh, God," he says aloud. "Was there someone else with him?" It can't be.
"No sir, he was the only one—"
"Not on the roof, was there another man with him here! Who went inside with him?"
The man's face clears, relieved to have a solid answer. "Yessir. There was a shorter chap, came over to check the pulse, said he was a friend. He went in with them, but he was woozy, didn't look— "
It wasn't Sherlock. Couldn't have been. Not with that much blood on the walk. No.
Lestrade slams inside the building and sprints down the corridor. Antiseptic and floor polish burn in his nostrils. He doesn't know where he's going, so he pivots around the next corner and makes for the nearest nurse station. He reaches into his coat for his warrant card, remembers he doesn't have it. He completes the motion anyway and slaps his palm down on the desk, hand spread. The nurse jumps in alarm. "Police," he snaps. "Tell me where that man went."
She quails back from him. "I'm sorry, sir, who did you come to—"
"For—the one that just fell off the bloody building!"
She points silently to the left.
The left is where Molly works.
The left is the morgue.
It's barely been ten minutes, and she's pointing him at the morgue.
Lestrade has no idea what's going on, exactly, but he's scared to death. He tells himself it's impossible (improbable), ridiculous (unlikely). Of course it's connected to Sherlock, but he's being paranoid, just because of one text, there's no reason to assume—
He turns the corner.
And he sees John Watson.
John is sitting on the floor at the end of the hallway. His knees are curled up to his chest. As he approaches, Lestrade can see that he's bleeding a bit from the side of his head.
He's staring at the doors to the morgue, eyes glassy. And his face is...
Oh, Greg thinks with a kind of perfect clarity. Oh, my God.
The morning of Tuesday, May 29th , is bright and clear, the kind of early summer day that's only properly done in England. Seems like an insulting day for a funeral, honestly. Lestrade gets up at the crack of dawn and paces the flat for two hours until it's time to go. He has a necktie on until he reaches the door, but at the last second he tears it off and throws it to the floor.
He's always hated wearing them. Besides, he can't bear the thought of showing up looking like the kind of stuffed-up bureaucrat Sherlock despised. Respect today probably means a bit of insubordination, and the thought makes him lighter.
No church, of course. Sherlock wouldn't abide it, and Mycroft gives no signs of following propriety for propriety's sake in this. It's an apology, as much as the Holmes siblings were ever capable of them. Graveside turns out not to be an option either—Sherlock donated his body to science (which is totally unsurprising), and there's still too much media interest surrounding the whole thing. Anywhere in town would breed too many lookie-loos, journalists digging for photos and pointed questions. Too many opportunities for John or Greg or Mike Stamford to knock someone flat for making a smart-arse comment about the crackpot detective. Too many easy excuses for Mycroft to make someone disappear to Lebanon.
So the service actually gets held out in the country at the old Holmes estate, which Lestrade hadn't realized existed until now. Despite the fact that it's supposed to be a quiet affair with only a few dozen people, by the time Lestrade pulls up it's hard to find a parking spot in the huge ring of grass in the middle of the sweeping drive. He steps out of the car and just stands there a minute, hands on the bonnet. The sharp smell of grass and the heavy perfume of lilacs make his head heavy. He hasn't gotten this much fresh air in months. Sunlight slants bright across the shingles of the house, which is old and stately. It looks nothing like a place that he can imagine Sherlock growing up in; he wonders if they spent any time here, or whether it's just a place to own. Fat beams of mid-morning sunlight streak across the entrance into the garden around the back of the house. That's where the ceremony will be. It's crowded out to the yard already; Lestrade can see the backs of a few people queuing, waiting for an empty fold-out chair.
He recognizes some of them, enough to guess. Clients, the lot of them. The ones that Sherlock helped, the ones he saved, the ones he annoyed and belittled and ultimately won. The ones he supposedly tricked and betrayed and victimized, here to pay their respects. That speaks louder than anything else.
He's had to park in the very lee of the drive, which means he has an odd view along the line of the tall hedge that hems the garden toward the house. Which means he has the perfect angle to spot Mycroft Holmes, half-hidden in a small nook of shrubbery, immaculately suited, elbows tucked in to avoid snags. Smoking a cigarette.
For just a moment, Lestrade looks at him in profile, shadowed by the hedge, with the cigarette tipped lightly between two fingers, and he misses Sherlock so much that he can't breathe properly.
It's stunning to him.
He'd always half-expected to find Sherlock dead somewhere—initially because of the drugs, and later because of the mad chasing after criminals, and sometimes both at once. He's thought about it almost longingly at times, not seriously, imagining the day when the nuisance was off his hands.
Now, in the face of it, the reality is none of those things. He's lost a friend.
Lestrade closes his eyes for a moment. Breathes in the air. Taps his fingertips against the car just to feel something on his nerves. When he opens his eyes again, feeling more centered, Mycroft is standing directly in front of him, blocking the sun. He's still holding the cigarette in his left hand, though there's only a few good pulls left on it.
"Inspector," Mycroft greets him, quietly. Like they're in a club somewhere instead of outside in the sunlight.
"Greg," he corrects without thinking. He blinks at himself, finds that he means it. "Seriously," he says. "We've earned that, haven't we?"
Mycroft gives him half a smile. It's entirely fake, and Lestrade can't bear to look at it. "Greg," Mycroft says on a sigh. "Shall we?" He gestures at the garden.
Lestrade swallows, thickly. "Yeah. Alright."
Neither of them move.
After a moment of silence, Lestrade reaches out, nabs the cigarette from Mycroft's fingers, and takes the last solid lungful out of the end. The smoke clears his head, settles his hands. He wants another one. He wants a thousand. He pinches the stub out on the roof of his car and flicks the remains into the gravel of the drive instead. Mycroft makes a huffing noise.
"Those things'll kill you," Lestrade informs him seriously.
"Yes," Mycroft agrees.
"John get here?"
"Yes. It's about to start."
They go toward the garden together. Mycroft leaves him at the entrance with a nod. Lestrade finds a seat near the back and settles in, the smell of lilacs strong in his nose and the taste of smoke still lingering on his tongue.
Despite all official policy, precedent, and common sense, Lestrade does in fact keep his job. In fact, he is reinstated to his former position with nothing more than a disciplinary note attached to his service file. The probationary period still stands on his record, which hardly matters, since he's never cared for the thought of being promoted up to a desk job anyway.
Before he quite knows what's going on, he's back at his desk on a Wednesday, staring at the files that have built up waiting for him. Outside in the bullpen, Anderson is quietly packing up his things and moving out. He's been reassigned to another unit, requested it as soon as he heard Lestrade was staying, and Greg can't blame him for it. For the best, probably, especially since it sounds like he and Sally have had another falling out. Donovan is staying, though she's on holiday this week, probably because of whatever break-up she just suffered through.
He stares out the window at the people, the place he knows so well. He feels a prickling in his skin that has a lot to do with being home, and a bit to do with being watched.
There's a plaque on his door now with his name on it. He's never had one of those before.
Lestrade knows the work of Mycroft Holmes when he sees it. He should probably call and say thank you, once he stops being grateful and angry in equal measures.
Lestrade is minding his own business, trying to find ways to fill up his days while he waits for news from the probationary committee. Then one of Mycroft's black cars accosts him at the kerb outside of the bakery, two minutes past noon, and that's the end of lying low. He slides in, resigned. The leather of the seat is smooth and supple against his palms. The woman sitting across is vaguely familiar from one or two of the times this has happened before; brunette, petite, absorbed in her blackberry.
Lestrade stares her down, just to see if he'll get anything. Her eyes snap up from her blackberry and look him over, intense and concentrated. It's frightening. Something in her face softens at his reaction. She looks back down as she says, "Your presence is required at the reading of Sherlock Holmes' last will and testament, as per his written request."
"What?" he asks, stupidly. "We've already done the funeral!" She doesn't reply, which he's immediately grateful for. He doesn't manage another word until they pull up outside of Mycroft's bloody pretentious silent club, where a footman leads him through the quiet halls and up into a meeting room.
John, Mrs Hudson, and Mycroft are already in attendance. Over in the corner, a straight-backed, grey-haired man who is presumably some kind of solicitor sits with a briefcase open in his lap. Mycroft clears his throat and entirely fails to sound unassuming and casual when he says, "In—Greg. Thank you for joining us."
Lestrade and John exchange a speaking look. John actually rolls his eyes, which Greg admires him for. He brushes a hand over Mrs Hudson's shoulder, is surprised when she catches his fingers in a comforting squeeze before he manages to take it back. He ends up settled in the chair on her other side, in a row with Mrs Hudson and John Watson, in a position that does not by any rights belong to him.
Except that Sherlock asked him here, apparently, and Mycroft is gesturing to the stranger in the room and saying, "Mr Livins has been the solicitor of the Holmes family estate for many years, and as such he has assisted me in the executing of Sherlock's will, such as it is. If you'll all bear with us..."
Sherlock, it turns out, had a lot of money. Some kind of family inheritance that he apparently only ever spent on clothes, not to mention whatever he earned doing consulting. Lestrade's not sure why he's surprised by that. A lot of it goes to Bart's, along with the body, for things like research and scholarships. Nice of him, really. Lestrade wonders if they'll take it, now that Sherlock's name is a tabloid buzzword.
Mrs Hudson receives a substantial sum—enough to leave her silent with a hand over her mouth. The will specifies it as a retroactive payment for damages done to Baker Street. She also gets a large manilla folder that contains unspecified documents involving "a particular incident in Georgia." No one asks.
John gets everything else. Literally everything. Bank accounts, objects of possession, ownership of stocks in six different countries. Passwords to his own electronic devices, which Sherlock delighted in changing continually. A hand-written list of where to find things in the flat, which Lestrade purposefully doesn't glance at. Sherlock specifically wills John the skull "for its exemplary conversational abilities", which makes him bark out a laugh and put his head in his hands.
And finally they've reached the end, and Lestrade is feeling confused and a little irritated. He raises his eyebrows at Mycroft, who clears his throat again, quietly. "Yes," he says. "Mr Livins-" The other man reaches into his briefcase and pulls out an envelope. He hands it to Mycroft, who twirls it between his fingers for a moment before he hands it over to Lestrade.
Lestrade takes it and looks it over. There's nothing written on it, not even his name. He looks over at John, who shrugs, then at Mycroft, who shakes his head. "I have no idea," Mycroft admits. That must sting. "It was in amongst the other papers he'd left with me, and it is most certainly for you."
Sherlock left him an envelope (a clue) without a single bit of explanation or concern (come on, Inspector, keep up!). That is bloody typical.
"Right," he says. He looks at it for a moment longer before he tucks it into coat pocket.
"You're not going to open it?" Mrs Hudson asked the question, but it's clear that John and Mycroft and even Mr Livins are badly hiding their curiosity.
"Might explode on me," Lestrade says wryly.
He can't bear the thought of opening it. Not with other people here. He's relieved when no one calls him on it, and they all leave the Diogenes Club in peace.
Greg puts the sealed letter in a drawer of his desk at home, and he leaves it there.
The Friday after Lestrade's first day back at the Yard, Sally shows up at his flat around dinner time, dressed down and rocking on her heels, nervous.
"Hey," she says.
Lestrade blinks at her. She's supposed to be out on leave until next week. "Hey," he returns, and steps back to let her in. "Did I forget something?"
She turns abruptly to look at him, arms crossed over her chest. "Yeah, I think you did," she tells him. Her tone is biting. "I think you forgot that Sherlock Holmes was accused of being a criminal, and you called Watson to tell them we were coming!"
Lestrade's brain screeches to change gears. As soon as it does, the air ices over between them. Apparently this has been building up without him noticing. "I'm not going to explain myself to you," he says, and the anger in his gut makes his voice flat, level.
She lets out a harsh noise, something like a laugh. "No, you never do, do you. You learned that from the Freak-"
"Sergeant Donovan, watch your tone." It's a mistake, he knows it as soon as he says it. Pulling rank on her here, in this conversation, is the worst thing he could have done. He opens his mouth to take it back, but she just shakes her head.
"That's so typical," she says. "You may not care about the state of your job, but you could've given a little thought to ours. I could've been brought up for aiding and abetting, did you ever think of that?"
Lestrade takes a deep breath and leans back against the couch. He reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose, trying to delay the building headache. "Look," he says, more calmly. "Sally. I know you never quite got on with Sherlock-"
"Because he was a liar! He was a bloody criminal who was running around under our noses and I told you that from the very start-"
Something snaps, right in the middle of him. All the anger and frustration that he's been feeling, the dark uncertainty festering in his chest, blasts out of him at once. "Don't you dare," he tells her, and his tone is so sharp and so serious that Sally's mouth actually snaps closed. "I won't take that from you. I'll take it from Kitty Riley and the tabloids, because they don't know any better, and I'll even take it from the rest of the Yard if I have to, because half of them never worked with him. But I did, and so did you, and you know as well as I do that Sherlock Holmes didn't engineer a single blasted one of-"
"No, I don't know that! He was a bloody psychopath, he could have set up every single one of them! I don't have your faith-"
"What kind of detective are you?" he shouts. "You're blind! If you honestly think that our case close record in the last five years is the result of some—some omniscient psychopath who was looking to get his rocks off, then you're an idiot, Donovan!"
Sally stares at him, and he stares back. He can feel the line that just got crossed, can't quite manage to take it back. "God," she says at last. "He really got to you, didn't he. You sound just like him."
He has no idea what to say. Sally gives him one last pitying look, and then she turns on her heel and leaves. Lestrade can't bring himself to move. Closes his eyes instead.
He understands, six years too late, why Sherlock said the things he did. It's easy to call someone an idiot when you see the truth so clearly that you can't fathom why the rest of the world insists on being blind.
When John says that he's going with Mrs Hudson to the grave site tomorrow, Lestrade doesn't offer to go along. John isn't inviting him anyway. That's fine. They're tucked into a booth in the little bar off the lobby of John's hotel. Lestrade reaches across the space between them and rests a hand on his shoulder, understanding.
"Good luck," he says, and he means it.
John nods, once. Lestrade takes his hand back and they both look down into their beers. "Have you gone?" John asks him.
Lestrade hasn't gone. Isn't sure he ever plans to. He's never been much for tombstones. Besides, Sherlock's letter, the one thing he got out of the will, is still sitting in his desk at home, unopened. John doesn't know that.
"No," he says eventually. He's not sure how to say the rest, so he doesn't. "No, I haven't gone."
The whole world is leeching gray, starting from where John Watson sits before him, staring into space, utterly still.
"Is..." Lestrade doesn't recognize his own voice. He clears his throat and tries again. "Is he..."
There are a thousand ways he wants to finish that sentence. Inside, he thinks. Inside talking to Molly. Inside getting stitches put into his head from a stupid bout of heroics. Inside having a laugh at our expense, the prat. Inside, but fine, just a bit of a close one, hey guys.
John blinks heavily. His head moves as if has weights attached; it pivots on his neck just enough to see Lestrade. His eyes are too shiny, and his pupils aren't moving properly.
This is not John Watson. It's a hollow thing wearing his face.
Lestrade shudders down to his toes. "John," he says, helplessly.
John blinks again, and shakes his head. "Sh..." it's a soft noise, pressed out between his closed lips, like it hurts him. Lestrade takes a few steps closer. John's eyes focus enough to track his movement, and his eyes land on Lestrade's at last. "Sherlock," John says.
And that's the end of it.
"Oh, God." The world goes dizzy around him. Lestrade's knees hit the floor and the pain shoots through him. His forehead bumps against the wall by John's shoulder. "What—how did—"
John makes a pained noise, like someone's shot him. He starts to pitch forward, curling in on himself. Lestrade just manages to prop him up with a shoulder, pushes until John's pressed upright between Lestrade's arm across his chest and the wall at his back. "You're concussed," Lestrade says.
Obvious, Sherlock's voice replies in his head, and it's a surprising comfort.
John makes another horrible sound into his ear, and Lestrade helps him scramble to the nearest wastebasket just in time for the good doctor to be violently ill.
In the middle of John's wrenching heaves, the precise click of footsteps echoes toward them along the corridor. Lestrade feels a presence settle at his back, just to the left of him. He looks over his shoulder at the perfectly pressed trousers, the tip of the umbrella where it rests against the ground. He looks up at the steep angle, right into Mycroft's face.
There isn't a single human emotion on it. Lestrade's not sure why he's surprised by that.
When John finally subsides, Lestrade leans him carefully against the wall again. Mycroft joins them—he folds to the floor across from them, ignores the wrinkles that crease into the joints of his suit. For all their differences, Mycroft and Sherlock share an efficiency of movement, a way of cutting through space like a sharpened blade. Mycroft leans his head back against the wall, props his arms across his knees at a precise angle, and doesn't say a word.
They wait. Lestrade thinks that this must be what drowning feels like.
The service is brief and simple, and entirely lacking in the traditional Christian messages about hope and faith in another life after death. Lestrade hadn't realized he would miss them until they're gone. He finds himself yearning for the words, for the comfort he's come to find in them despite himself. There will be no more tears, he thinks, the phrase that had caught him most at his Mum's funeral two years ago. He'd thought it a bit soppy and sentimental at the time. He doesn't mind the idea so much now.
Comfort. Reassurance. Hope.
Sherlock would call it foolishness and fallacy. But Lestrade is sitting at the man's funeral, staring at the picture of him up in front, listening to a carefully-worded eulogy about the importance of knowledge and the power of vision, and the eloquence of details.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Sherlock wasn't right about everything.
Then the nondenominational presenter steps back quietly and offers the podium to anyone that would like to say a few words about Sherlock Holmes.
Every head, every pair of eyes, turns right to John where he sits by Mycroft in the first row. He doesn't move, doesn't seem to breathe, and the whole garden is silent, waiting, expectant.
Lestrade thinks about hope, and about faith, and taking leaps off of buildings. He cannot get his legs to move.
In the end, Mike Stamford turns out to be braver than all of them put together. He levers to his feet, trods up to claim the microphone. He pushes his glasses up his nose with a finger, then puts his hand in his pocket and turns to face the rest of them.
"When I met Sherlock Holmes, he was standing outside a biology lecture, shouting through the door about the algorithms of pollen mapping, and I thought, 'There's an odd duck.'" He smiles down at his shoes a bit, looks up again. "But then I was halfway down the hall and I thought, you know, he's not all wrong, is he. So I went up to ask, and he said he'd been tossed out of the lecture. And then I found out he wasn't even a student, and I thought, 'Lord, he's off his nutter.' And I invited him for coffee, and then I never quite managed to get rid of him, even when I tried." That gets him a laugh or two; Lestrade takes a breath of the lilac-heavy air and feels something in his chest relax.
Stamford gives a long sigh, leans against the podium. He stands that way for a moment, looking at something inside his head. Then he shrugs. "Look," he says. "I could give you a hundred reasons why Sherlock Holmes was the most brilliant man I've ever met. But that's not the point, is it. He'd tell you that himself." Another rumble of laughter. Mike huffs, runs a hand over his forehead before he continues, "I knew him for years, and even though he was a right berk sometimes, and he had his moments when any sane person would've tossed him through a window...I never knew him to be wrong." He puts his hand back in his pocket again. "I introduced Sherlock to John, just over a year ago now. Don't know how many of you knew that, but I'll own up to it. And I'm not inclined to regret it. Because I didn't do it as a curiosity or an experiment, I did it because they were both my friends." He looks down at them all, scans the crowed. "And that's it, really. Sherlock Holmes was a nutter and a brilliant man and a berk, but he was a friend. And he still is. And I can't say for a minute that I regret meeting him. I'll call it a privilege, until my dying day."
He pauses, as if considering whether to say more. Instead he nods, satisfied, and puts the microphone back, and returns to his seat.
There's another pregnant, heavy pause. Then a quarter of the people present surge to their feet and start queueing for the microphone, shuffling and jockeying for position. Lestrade slumps forward in his chair, elbows on his knees. Up front, Henry Knight has managed to push his way to the podium first. He picks it up and clears his throat a few times, nervous. "When I first met Sherlock Holmes," he says, voice wavering, "he told me that I was an idiot. And then he thanked me for smoking on his sofa. I thought he was mad, you know; that the website was just leading me on. But then he started in on what I'd had for breakfast, and then, well..."
They all go like that. Every single one of them, the testimonies of the cases, the blog entries that never got written. It goes on for well over an hour. Lestrade puts a hand over his mouth and smiles at the ground. It's that or dissolve into tears.
He doesn't get up to speak. Neither does John, or Molly or even Mrs Hudson. Lestrade realizes now that they never had to.
Late in the morning on July 5th, a Thursday, Lestrade looks up from his computer in time to catch a young woman standing just outside his office with her hand half-outstretched to put her knuckles against his open door. She meets his gaze, shrugs, and does it anyway, finishes out the movement with a light tap-tap on the wood before her hand drifts back to her side. "Inspector Lestrade?" she asks, like she isn't eye-level with his nameplate on the door.
"Last I checked," he agrees. Owning the title still surprises him. There are four aborted calls to Mycroft's supposedly official number in his mobile; he has begun to accept that he's never going to go through with asking why. He suspects it's better for all of them that way.
The woman slides inside his office and stands at something like attention by the open chair. "Sergeant Leigh Hopkins," she says by way of introduction.
"Hopkins," he repeats. It doesn't sound familiar, but that's not surprising, considering the traffic in and out of this place. "Have a seat, Sergeant. Which division?"
"Yours, sir. At least I hope so." She settles in, hands folded over one knee.
Lestrade leans back in his chair, feels his eyebrows raise. This kind of thing is pretty typical, but it's ballsy of her to do it herself, with no call-ahead. "Looking for an in, Hopkins? Crime's no walk in the park, you know. It's not the glamour and glitz you see on the telly."
"I'd imagine not, sir. I'm not much for the crime shows anyway." She watches him steadily. Her dark eyes and hair, the shape of her face, remind him quite a bit of his mother's sister, Aunt Alice. She looks like she could be related to half his family. It's disconcerting, a half-formed impulse that makes him feel he already knows her from somewhere.
He realizes he's been staring, and the silence gets awkward. He's surprised at how tired he feels, all of a sudden. He runs a hand over his face, scrubs it through his hair; his palm feel rough against his forehead. "Look," he says at last, on a sigh. "If you send me your res, I can probably put in a word with Dimmock. He's looking for a decent pair of hands. Might be-"
"With respect, I'm looking to work with you, specifically, sir."
And really, what? Where has she been the last month? Hopkins just looks at him, patient, eyes friendly. Lestrade runs their exchange thus far through his head again and comes up at the same place. "You're serious," he says, entirely baffled.
"Last I checked. Sir."
"I don't have the room," he says reflexively, even though it's not exactly true.
She lifts an eyebrow and cocks her head at him. "That's not entirely true, is it?"
She reminds him of Sherlock. It's impossible; wrong gender, wrong height, wrong build, not even the same coloring or expression. But there's just an absurd split-second when he feels that familiar twinge in his gut from getting his thoughts called out on him, a faint glimmer of quick thought in those eyes of hers, and it pegs something in him. She's familiar in very strange ways.
"I'll think about it," he says. The words come out without the consent of his brain.
"Thank you, Inspector." Hopkins offers him a genuine smile, just a small one, before she gets up and leaves the office.
As first impressions go, he has to admit it's a strong one.
Miraculously, Lestrade ends up with a Saturday off. He has no idea what to do with himself—it's only June 16th, he's just spent close to two weeks off of work on probation anyway. He doesn't have a single household chore left. It's a rainy, miserable day; the air is close and muggy around his skin. He feels claustrophobic in the flat, jumpy in his own skin. In the end he snatches a brolly out of his closet, pulls his collar up around his neck, and goes for a walk. Nowhere in particular, just wandering. About two hours later, he finally finds himself in Winchester.
He's soaked through, tired, too aware of his own thoughts. Lonely. It's an easy choice, in the end, to decide to pop by Baker Street to check on Mrs Hudson. Just to see how she's getting on, he tells himself. Besides, the thought of having a warm cup of tea with someone kind, someone who will let him sit while the air fills with idle chatter, is so appealing it makes him ache.
So he turns onto Baker Street and plods up to the familiar door.
He hasn't been here since he came to extract John, that first week after Sherlock jumped. He finds it harder than he expected to ring the bell. He closes his eyes and breathes until Mrs Hudson comes to answer it. She's a sight when she opens the door—dust smeared across one cheek, hair in disarray, sleeves rolled up to her elbows. "Oh!" she says. She flutters her hands a little before she invites him inside. "Oh, you poor thing, you're drenched through. Let me put on some tea!"
This is exactly what he wanted, so he doesn't argue. He takes his coat off and drapes it across the stair bannister like he always does. The umbrella gets left in the stand to dry. He ruffles both his hands through his hair and shakes his head until some of the water gets out of his ears. He really is sodden; his shoes make unhappy squelching noises when he moves, so he toes them off as well. Up at the top of the stairs, he sights a stack of boxes on the landing. He pads into Mrs Hudson's little kitchen just in time to be handed a cup of tea. He breathes in the steam with relief, closes his eyes in bliss for a second. Eventually he returns to reality again and manages to focus on the fact that Mrs Hudson looks absolutely shattered.
"How are you?" he asks, because it's a genuine concern now, not just an excuse.
"Oh, I'm getting along. It's just..." She heaves a long sigh and sits down abruptly in a chair. She waves her hands in a vague, empty kind of gesture. "I've been trying to pack up a few of Sherlock's things. I don't mind them being there, Lord knows. He left me enough that I don't have to rent the flat out at all, really, and I thought that if John..."
"Yeah," Lestrade agrees.
Mrs Hudson settles her palms around her mug to steady them. Lestrade does likewise; he tugs out the chair across from her and scoots into it so he can looks her in the eye better. He has a sense that it's best not to press, just now, so he sits there quietly and they drink their tea and keep each other company.
At last, Mrs Hudson props her chin and her hand and looks at him. "We went to the graveyard the other day, you know."
Lestrade puts his cup down. "Yeah, John mentioned."
"Yes, well," she sighs. She's quiet long enough that Greg thinks that's it, but then she shakes her head and says, "It's funny, isn't it. How little of the person is left, once they're in the ground. My husband—my second husband, you know—was a terrible man. Did Sherlock ever tell you that? I met Sherlock because he helped put my husband in prison, and then he made sure Harry got the death sentence. In America, you understand, years ago."
Lestrade stares at her. His world jitters quietly on its axis of perception. "No," he manages to choke out eventually. "I never heard that."
Mrs Hudson waves it away, like she was asking if he'd checked the weather report. "Well, that's all in the past now. But I remember going to the grave, just the once before I came back home. And I saw the stone with his name on it, and there was just...nothing. Not a blessed thing. He wasn't there, and I remembered feeling so relieved. I was so glad that he wasn't even in the ground, that he was just gone entirely. It was a comfort, I suppose." She gets up and takes the tea pot to the sink. He tries to help, but she waves him off. Once her back is to him, she continues, "I'd thought...when we went to see Sherlock's, I thought to myself, 'Well, that's that then.' But you know, it wasn't any different. It was just like standing there at Harry's patch of ground in Georgia. Only I didn't feel any closure at all, really. Sherlock wasn't there. Not a bit of him. And I thought it would feel like it was finished, but it's just the opposite, it seems. I stood there looking at that headstone, all black and cold, and it didn't feel like he was there at all. It felt like he would walk around the corner at any minute and put his hand on my shoulder." Her shoulders shake a little, but she recovers. "He feels so alive to me," she whispers. "And it's silly, to carry on like that. So I thought to myself that I best put some things in boxes."
Lestrade can't draw in an entire breath. He joins her at the sink, puts a hand gently on her shoulder. The gray light from outside leaves a strange, unearthly glow across Mrs Hudson's face. It brings out the lines around her eyes, the creases in her forehead, highlights the grey hairs that aren't quite hidden by the dye job. She looks older than she is, and she looks run down and tired and sad. Lonely. But there's something in the middle of her, a quiet strength that hasn't yet run out, that leaves a light in her eyes and a set to her shoulders.
He's never seen a more beautiful woman in his life..
He takes her shaking hands in his and makes a soothing noise. "I've got the day off," he tells her. "Let's see about getting some of those boxes packed up, hm?"
He spends the rest of the day there, and then Sunday, helping Mrs Hudson pack up the recognizable bits of Sherlock's life. A metric pile of papers goes into the trash; some things go into carefully labeled boxes for John to look for later. Lestrade loses a solid hour fiddling with a foreign wood block puzzle that he finds under Sherlock's dresser. In the end he pockets it, vows to bring it back once he's solved it. He can almost hear Sherlock's condescending scoff.
Late on Sunday night, they're as done as they can be. There are a lot of things still left, mostly in Sherlock's room, that John is going to have to sort through. But the flat is mostly boxed, sorted out and put away. Greg and Mrs Hudson sit on the landing with their feet on the top step, boxes at their back, and they drink tea in companionable silence. They're both streaked with dust, musty and rumpled. Lestrade's hair is sticking up at all angles from the amount of times he's run his hand through it.
They don't say a word, and when Lestrade finishes his tea, he leans back into a box of beakers. It feels solid against his spine. Like closure. Or at least the closest you can get from an empty coffin and the ghost of a man like Sherlock Holmes.
Lestrade ignores his paperwork and takes an hour that afternoon to ask after Leigh Hopkins. The name's been going around; it's clear that he's lost track of the gossip thread in the middle of everything else going on. Some people still aren't speaking to him anyway, so he gets most of it from Sally over lunch. Hopkins got appropriated over from Specials months ago on the recommendation of her BDO. She's come into the Sergeant ranking proper in the time since then. Half the brass are convinced she's going to be the next Robert Mark. Lestrade thinks if she is, they'll regret giving her the training when she gets that far, considering that a percentage of them are taking policy advice from a serial killer.
As far as he can tell, Hopkins can be anywhere she wants right now. She's impressed the hell out of everyone she's spent any time with. Lestrade has absolutely no idea why she showed up in the office of a washed-out Inspector just off of probation, whose name still makes people turn and walk the other direction in the break room for fear of professional contamination.
And then he thinks about it for two seconds, and he makes a despairing noise, and lets his head drop to smack into his desk. The cold pressure of the wood is soothing against his forehead, combats the throbbing in his temples. Sally pauses mid-word, chopsticks hovering between the carton and her mouth. "Sir?"
"Nothing," he says tiredly, and to the informed, the nothing very clearly says bloody Mycroft Holmes and his meddling ways.
It goes unheard, since John isn't in the vicinity and Sherlock-
Sherlock. Is dead.
God help them.
"Sir," Sally says. From the tone, she's tried it a few times already.
"It's fine," he says. It's not.
Donovan doesn't entirely get it, but she's not going to pry. They're not exactly on real speaking terms now (may not ever be again), and they both prefer it that way, at present. She just shrugs and heads back to her work. She leaves him the beef and broccoli, which is more than he expects.
Mycroft watches him over the rim of his coffee cup, head tilted. Lestrade refuses to take the bait. He takes a pull of his own espresso instead, doesn't say a word. Looks right back. He's gotten entirely less intimidated by Mycroft in the last few months. It's something of a blessing for both of them.
Finally Mycroft makes a small sound, irritation or amusement or both, and sets his cup down on its saucer with a precise motion. "Gregory." No one else calls him that except his sister, and then only when they're annoyed with each other. He raises both eyebrows. Mycroft sighs. "Greg. You'll have to open it eventually."
The letter is still in his desk drawer at work. He's taken to carrying it to and from with him. He hasn't touched the seal. Hasn't seemed like the right time yet, whatever that means. He's not sure how to explain it. Not sure he would, even if he could. Instead he just shrugs, a little helplessly. "Yeah. Eventually."
Mycroft is still watching him. Lestrade looks back, sees the lines on his forehead, the weight around his shoulders that didn't used to be there. Mycroft is an older man these days. He has a sudden instinct. "What did Sherlock leave you?"
Mycroft smiles—small, entirely broken around the edges. It's a split-second expression, barely there. It's the single most honest thing that Lestrade has ever seen from a Holmes. He looks away and fiddles with his coffee cup, and Lestrade honestly thinks he's overstepped a line, this time. But then Mycroft meets his eyes again. "He left me some very difficult responsibilities, which is no surprise. And a lifetime's worth of second-guessing."
"Second-guessing yourself, or him?"
"Hardly seems to matter," Mycroft admits. Lestrade is astounded he's been allowed to hear that. Still, that means...
"No letter," he murmurs. He's not sure how else to express the sympathy he's feeling so strongly right now, like a pull in the back of his throat. Knows it comes out anyway.
Mycroft smiles again, and it's more back to his usual repertoire of expressions, small and smug and entirely unreal. "No," he agrees. "Not for me."
Molly finds them in the hall when she exits the morgue at 4:20 pm. John's refused to move, so he's leaning back against the wall next to the bin with his head on his knees, trying to breathe. Lestrade has found a pen in his trouser pocket; he flips it end-over-end through his fingers, over and over again. Mycroft watches the movement absently. The smell of sick is sharp and acid in the air. John tries to get up as soon as Molly comes out, but Lestrade puts a hand on his shoulder, keeps him right where he is. Mycroft is the only one who stands to face her. He smooths his hand down his shirt once, futile, before he clears his throat. "Ms. Hooper," he says.
Molly eyes him up, and then she looks down at them, small and sad and gray. She's holding a clipboard clasped against her chest like a shield. She angles herself so she can talk to all three of them at once, her back to the doors of the morgue.
Her face tells them enough. But John is stubborn, and he stares Molly down. Makes her say it.
"I'm sorry," she says, quietly, and she's already choking up. Mycroft closes his eyes, just for a moment. Molly takes a deep breath, hiccups through it. She meets Lestrade's gaze, just briefly, rests on Mycroft for longer. And then she looks John right in the face. "He fell from fifteen stories up. He impacted the ground. The cranial damage was-"
John makes a wrenching sound and closes his eyes. Molly reaches out and lays a hand on his shoulder, waits until his eyes open again. She leans down and looks right at him, and she shakes her head. "John. He's dead."
"No," Lestrade whispers.
Molly looks at him, and she's crying openly now. "Sherlock is dead," she says.
There is a horrible, drowning silence.
Mycroft hitches in a breath, almost too soft to hear. "Thank you, Ms. Hooper," he says, without inflection. "I will be in touch with you about arrangements." He straightens himself. He collects his umbrella. And he turns on his heel, shoes echoing in the hall, and he leaves his brother in the morgue without another word.
Molly reaches out to touch John's arm, and it goads Lestrade into motion at last. They manage to heft John up between them, get him inside and settled down so Molly can shine a penlight in his eyes and lay him down.
It's three in the morning on Monday when he gets in from wrapping a case that lasted all weekend. Even though he's bone tired, he's not remotely ready to sleep yet. Somewhere in the last two days of chasing after suspects and fishing bodies out of the Themes and putting Hopkins through her paces, he's made up his mind about a few things. He sits down at his kitchen table, slides his palm along the edge of the wood. The corner is smooth and oiled down from the thousand other times he's done the same thing.
It's time, he realizes. Not so much because he feels like he's ready, or because something in particular happened today, or this week, that makes him feel prepared. He's simply realized that if he doesn't finally do it, doesn't open the blasted letter, he may never do it at all.
He's uncertain about so much, but he's discovered that he's not one to live with any more regrets than he can help. He's a lot of things, but a coward will not be one of them. Not today.
Lestrade reaches into his coat pocket, and he takes out the letter. Looks the blank envelope over again, brushes his fingers across the heavy grain of it. He tucks his forefinger under the edge of the flap and finally, carefully, peels it open.
There's a single piece of heavy white paper folded up inside. He lifts it out, smooths it across the grains of the table. The message turns out to be five words, collected neatly in the middle of the page.
Greg's hands start to shake, and his throat closes up. He reads it again. And then he puts his head down on the table, one hand covering Sherlock's writing, and he laughs and laughs and laughs, until he cries.
Hopkins moves into her new desk on July 11th. She's already shuffling her things around the computer monitor when Lestrade comes in at seven thirty. She sees him coming, steps to the side of her desk, and gives him a smile and a full-out salute. Lestrade makes a face at her. "Enough of that, Sergeant."
She subsides back into her chair, grins a little. "Sorry, sir. Knew I'd only get away with it once."
They're going to get along, he can tell already. There's no one else around yet—they're both an hour early—so instead of waving her into his office, Lestrade leans his hip against the corner of her desk instead. He puts his coffee down next to her pencil holder and sticks his hands in his pockets as he looks down at her, head tilted. "Alright, Hopkins. Tell me what you're doing here."
Her brows furrow. "I'm here because you accepted my transfer request, sir. And thank you for that, while we're on it."
He waves her off. "No, what are you doing here, really? You could be anywhere you please right now, so why here?"
She looks at him, and he looks at her, and they just stare each other down for a minute, trying to size each other up through body language. He regrets putting the coffee down, now. Eventually she gives a little shrug and pushes her chair back from the desk a bit, so she can cross one leg over the other. "I'm here because you have the best case-solve rate in the department, sir. I think you're the best there is to learn from, and I mean to get the best."
Lestrade lets his surprise register on his face. "Need I remind you that my case-solve record is thanks in large part to Sherlock Holmes?"
This time she's the one to wave him off. "Look, I've read the reports, all the ones I can get my hands on. Holmes didn't solve all of them for you. But even the ones he did..." she sighs and looks away for a second. "Sir, I don't know how you feel about this, so I apologize if I step on..." He nods, understanding. She takes a deep breath and continues, "I don't believe a word of it." She looks up at him again, very focused. "Well, I don't know enough about him to say that for sure, I suppose, but as far as his methods go? They're unparalleled, sir. They're brilliant, and they're effective, and you know that as well as I do, because you kept getting him back for cases. And you're not the only one. He couldn't have set them all up, it's ridiculous to think that. Which means he was right, and those reports of yours are the most fascinating things I've ever seen. I know good police work when I see it, alright? You're a good detective, sir. And Holmes was a good consultant. So that's why I'm here."
"Alright," Lestrade says, blankly. He can't find anything else to say. He feels like something in his chest has been scooped out and he's been left lighter. His clears his throat and resists the urge to run a hand through his hair, because there's no point giving away his tells to away this early in the game.
This is when the thought hits him, suddenly and fully formed, and entirely correct. He nods, mind made up. "Right. Have you read John Watson's blog?"
Hopkins thinks about it, then shakes her head. "Don't think I have, sir, come to mention it."
"Well," he says. He knows this is going to sound strange, but he is struck by the thought that, if she's really here for what she says, then she needs to know. "First assignment, Hopkins. You're going to go through John Watson's blogs. Call them consultant reports. Then you're going to find all of those cases in our official reports—mine, Dimmock's, Stratford's, whoever else. And you're going to compare the case notes. Come back to me when you have it done. The inquiry board's probably got a listing of all the included files, if you want a cheat sheet."
He's suggesting his own probationary paperwork as a reference. He wonders, vaguely, when this became his life. Hopkins is already pulling up her internet browser. "And what am I looking for in these exactly, sir?"
Lestrade thinks about watching Sherlock all those years, being continually amazed and befuddled and annoyed by those insane, brilliant deductions. He thinks about what he's learned, and how he's learned it, and he wonders how to pass that on. Wonders why it's suddenly so important to pass it on.
He considers how Sherlock would do this. And suddenly he knows. "You said you wanted the best," he says. "So you tell me. Make your own deductions. Compare the reports and then come tell me what you've learned."
She has John's blog pulled up already, hums an assent at him. Lestrade smiles a little and goes to his office to start the day. Unorthodox or not, he has a feeling that he just handled that exactly right.
"You're going to have to go back eventually," he tells John over drinks on Monday night. They're sprawled across Greg's furniture because neither of them felt like going out, and John's hotel room is bloody depressing. Lestrade tilts to rest sideways against the arm of the sofa and points at John with a serious—if slightly inebriated—finger. "Really," he insists. "At least to look through things. It's all packed up now. Mrs Hudson's going out of her mind all alone in that place."
John takes a long pull of his beer, puts it down, taps his fingertips against the neck of the bottle. "I don't know how to do it," he admits, so quietly that Lestrade has to lean forward to hear him. "I don't know how..."
"Go on," Lestrade prompts him. He knows how important this is.
John clears his throat. "I don't know how I'm supposed to go back in there and see all of it when he's—when Sherlock is-" he cuts off, closes his eyes, presses a hand to his chest for a brief moment. Feeling the wound he's about to lance open.
Greg shifts toward him again until he can rest a gentle hand on John's shoulder, until he can feel the tension all through his limbs. "Say it," he murmurs.
"You're not my therapist," John chokes out.
"I'm your friend," Lestrade replies.
John takes a deep breath. He opens his eyes. He turns to Lestrade.
"Sherlock is dead," he says. "There. Is that better? Ella made me say it yesterday. Everyone's so determined to make me say it, well there it is!" He's standing, suddenly, and he's shouting. "Sherlock is—he's my best friend, he's the only good thing to happen to me since I got shot, maybe even before. And he's always been three steps ahead of me, but I thought he needed me! I trusted him to tell me the truth, but people will remember him as the psychopath who paid Richard Brooke, and they'll believe it because there's just enough truth for them to swallow the lie! And I—I asked him. I asked him not to be dead. I stood there in front of his bloody tombstone and I begged a dead man to come back to life, because I don't know how to get on without him. Alright? He's my best friend and he left me behind!"
John stops abruptly and turns away, presses the heels of his hands into his eyes. Lestrade sits silently on the sofa and lets him collect himself. After a few long, painful minutes, John speaks, back still turned. "I'll go this weekend," he says. He sounds exhausted. "I'll start looking through his things."
"I'll go with you," Lestrade promises.
John turns to look at him then, as if he's going to protest. They stare each other down. In the end, John drops onto the sofa, and he picks up his beer again. "You're a good friend," John tells him.
"I'm not him, John." He has to point it out, just once, just so it's said.
"Good," John says fiercely. "Because I'm furious at him, and I'm tired of shouting."
Lestrade chuckles at that. "Good enough," he says, and it is. He finds an afghan to wrap around John's shoulders, and then he goes to bed.
On the morning of July 13th, Friday, Hopkins marches into his office, slams down a massive stack of papers, and collapses into his office chair with her head in her hands.
Lestrade puts down his motor-oil break room coffee, which he hasn't managed to get a drink of yet today, and pulls the files toward him. There are John's blogs, printed out and paper-clipped to official reports. Lestrade flips through them, sees that she's highlighted things in three different colours, drawn arrows, written long comments in some kind of shorthand in the margins. At several junctures, particularly in the reports Lestrade recognizes as his own, there are just exclamation points or question marks. It's clear that it's taken her the two days solid at work, and probably more at home, to go through it all. He reorders the papers into a neat pile and folds his hands on top of them. Hopkins hasn't moved. "Alright," he says. "What have you learned?"
She looks up at him through her fingers, and finally manages to straighten up. "I have learned," she says, with deliberate clearness, "that I know absolutely nothing about anything." She rubs her hands into her eyes. "Also, I need a drink."
Lestrade just manages to bite back a smile. She's grasped it, that exact feeling and tone of voice that Lestrade recognizes from himself and every other detective that's ever worked with Sherlock Holmes and glimpsed the brief edges of just how big the world is, and just how little of it the average human being comprehends. He pushes his undrunk coffee over to her side of the desk by way of sympathetic reward.
"That's not what I meant," she says, but she takes it anyway.
Lestrade is going to enjoy this. He settles back in his chair and laces his fingers behind his neck. "So, let's have it, then."
It takes them the entire rest of the day, and they forget to break for lunch.
Lestrade has never actually called Mycroft before; it's always been the other way round, and the number he has saved in his contacts no longer works. After some consideration, Lestrade fights down the chills of horrible suspicion that work down his spine, and he goes over to Baker Street on Sunday afternoon. Mrs Hudson lets him in with minimum fuss, especially after he tells her that it looks like John will be headed here sometime in the next week.
Once he's upstairs on his own, he stands in the middle of the sitting room, plants his hands on his hips, and addresses the thin air."You meddling sod," he says in a loud, clear voice. "Messing about with the Yard is one thing, holding my job, that I appreciate, but this is a step too far! You can't just go rearranging other people's careers at the drop of-"
His mobile rings in his pocket. He flips it open, and Mycroft sighs at him. "Must you be so dramatic?" the man asks in lieu of a greeting. "My brother has been a horrible influence on your character. The car is waiting outside." Lestrade goes over to the window and looks down, and there it is, the ubiquitous black car.
"I cannot believe you bugged your brother's flat," he says as he slides inside.
Mycroft flicks a hand at him, like the moral repercussions of highly sophisticated personal privacy invasion are an annoying fly that should be shooed into someone else's corner of the car.
Lestrade feels achingly tired all of a sudden. He lets out a long exhale and slumps into the corner of the seat. The car thrums beneath them and they pull away down the road. Mycroft's attention is on a file full of papers in his lap, and for the moment he seems content to ignore Greg entirely.
"Seriously," Lestrade says, when he can't take the quiet any longer. "You can't keep doing this."
Mycroft raises an eyebrow and settles back into his seat. "Inspector Lestrade. I arranged for you to keep your position because I feel—and Sherlock agreed with me in this regard—that the Metropolitan Police Force is significantly benefited by your continued presence as a law enforcement official."
Lestrade knows that's true, and it's almost flattering. But he's not in the mood today, so he counters, "You know that the place is at least half in the pocket of Moriarty, or Brooke, or whoever the hell's actually in charge there. Branches of the higher-ups are rotten or going soft, and you'd prefer to have someone at your beck and call with a warrant card that owes you favours."
"You make me sound quite uncharitable." Mycroft taps his forefinger against the files in his lap. "Regardless of your thoughts on your employment status, that is the only thing I can take the blame for in this situation. I have had no contact with Sergeant Leigh Hopkins at all. Though by all appearances, she will make an excellent addition to the Yard. I would think you would be quite excited to take her under your wing, as it were."
Lestrade attempts to stare him down. Mycroft keeps his expression perfectly bland and still, clearly just to be annoying, until Lestrade gives up. "You mean to tell me," he says slowly, sounding it out to himself, "that the brightest mind the Yard's seen in years, with more opportunities than any officer should have at that age, has taken a look at all her options and decided, of her own free will, to try and sign on with a washed-up detective who has a black mark on his record and virtually no social or political pull."
"That would seem to be the case."
Lestrade pinches the bridge of his nose. "But why?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," Mycroft says cheerfully. "Perhaps you should ask her."
The car rolls to a stop. Lestrade sighs. "Yeah, alright," he concedes. The door is opened by an assistant. Just as he's getting out, Lestrade turns back. "Hey, didn't we agree that you were going to use my name?"
It's Mycroft's turn to be a little surprised; at least that's how Lestrade chooses to interpret the way he reaches down and flicks an invisible piece of lint off his pants. "Greg," Mycroft says, pleasantly. "Have a lovely evening."
"Cheers," Lestrade returns, and gets out of the car proper, only to discover that he's been dropped at John's hotel.
John is waiting for him by the front doors, and he has a suitcase by his feet. Lestrade makes his way over and leans against the wall next to him for a moment, trying to shake the atmospheric pressure shift that always happens during a conversation with Mycroft.
John nods at the black car, which is making its way down the street again. "And how'd that go?"
"I have no idea," Lestrade says, quite honestly. "I had one question. Any normal human being could have had that conversation through text message and saved us all the trouble."
"Mycroft never texts when he can call," John says with a shrug. "Or better yet, when he can abduct you off the street and make you feel uneasy about your basic existence on his way to something else." He cranes to look around again. "Hang on, where's your car?"
"Oh, bugger." Lestrade looks around as well in vain hopes that—no, of course not. "It's at Baker Street where I left it." He takes a look at the suitcase at John's feet and finally does the math. "You're headed over, then?"
John looks away, down at his feet. "I was working up the nerve to hail a cab," he admits.
"Said I'd come along," Lestrade reminds him gently.
John blows out a breath, nods. "Well in that case, you can get us the cab."
Greg does, and they go.
It's easier than they expect, in the end. It's just a place, even a place with memories attached, and John's a soldier. He manages to get inside, through a conversation with Mrs Hudson, and upstairs to put his things away with Greg carefully at his elbow. They spend the rest of the day sorting through boxes without breaking anything—or anyone—into pieces.
He and John are supposed to be doing their usual Friday pub-crawl-and-complaint outing tonight, but Lestrade has a case he can't shake, and John ends up working late at the clinic he's been volunteering with. In the end, Lestrade goes over to Baker Street to wait for him, and he brings work along. Mrs Hudson lets him in with a smile, and Greg spreads things out on the coffee table so he can stare at scene photos and initial forensics reports.
He's missing something. He knows he is. It must be something obvious. Lestrade feels like he's blind. He keeps going round and round in circles, thinking the same things in the same ways. Isn't that the definition of insanity? He's starting to believe it.
Sherlock would have found it already, a small voice in his head says, very clearly. It makes Lestrade angry, suddenly, deep and visceral. He has to close his eyes and breathe through it. When he opens them again, nothing about the case has changed.
By the time John shows up at half seven, Lestrade's worked himself into a bit of a state.
"Hey," John says as he enters the sitting room. "Sorry about that, hope you didn't..." he trails off as he absorbs the sight Lestrade must make—his face, the tension in his shoulders, the spread of papers, the stack of case photos tossed around the sofa—and he goes still. "Ah," he says. "Tough case?"
And all at once, Lestrade remembers why he told himself he wouldn't bring work around John. He winces and reaches for the papers, tries to start collecting them. "Yeah. God, I'm sorry, you probably don't-"
"It's fine," John says with a little smile. Lestrade looks over at him, unconvinced. But John stands there and lets him do it—shoulders back, eyes direct, posture easy. For the first time since Sherlock jumped, John looks entirely himself. Lestrade feels even more out of touch than before.
"I can't figure it out," he admits. The words choke him coming out. He throws his pen down onto the table with more force than necessary, scrubs his hand through his hair and pulls until he can focus on something outside his own head. "Nothing makes sense! I don't have all the data, and it doesn't matter how many people I talk to, nothing new comes up and I have to tell that father and his kids that their mum is gone, because the last three disappeared too and I can't—"
John's gentle fingers on his wrist stops him short. "Hey," John says softly, and tugs Lestrade's hands away from his head. "Greg. Come on, you're going to pull your hair out. As a medical professional, I can assure you that there are less damaging ways of dealing with stress."
Lestrade huffs out a snort and relaxes a little. "Sorry," he says. "Didn't mean to..."
"It's really alright," John tells him. He sits on a clear patch of sofa. "I'm your friend, you can say anything you like."
Greg stares around at the debris of this case. Something small and sour festers in the base of his stomach. Inadequacy. Stupidity.
"I'm not him, John," he says. The words scare him to death—he hadn't meant to say them aloud, hadn't even realize he'd been feeling them so strongly until they materialized. He gestures at the mess he's made in John's sitting room. "Doesn't matter how much evidence I have or how many times I look at it. There are some things I just don't know, I can't solve things the way he could."
"No one can," John says.
"That's the bloody point!" Lestrade shouts, and he rocks to his feet. "No one else could ever do it! And there are criminals, murders, kidnappers who are getting away with it because no one else can ever manage to be bloody Sherlock Holmes! I'll never be that good, no one can be! There's a hole in the world that no one else can fill, no copper or detective, and bad guys are slipping through it, and I can't do a damn thing about it!"
He turns away to look out the window and tries to breathe. Tries to control himself. He reaches out a hand and presses his palm against the glass. "I'm tired to death of losing," he whispers. "I'm sick of watching people get away with it. And now there's no one to call. It's just me, and I can't pull a deduction out of my hat and magically point out the guy who did it. I'm not Sherlock Holmes."
He hears John's footsteps crunch over the papers on the floor. Feels the solid presence of him as he stands next to Lestrade at the window, shoulders not quite brushing. Greg keeps his eyes closed.
"I miss him," he says. It's very true, just now.
"I miss him too," John murmurs. Then they stand that way, not speaking, for a long time.
Lestrade hasn't been sleeping well. That's not unusual, really, but this is a different kind of exhaustion—he's having trouble turning his brain off, keeps picking at the edges of things in his mind, replaying bits of random conversations over and over as he waits to drift off. Most of it's about Sherlock. It figures that the man still keeps him up nights, even after being dead for three months.
He doesn't notice that it's affecting him during daylight hours, though, until Hopkins leans over in the middle of their usual post-case dinner hour and snaps her fingers two inches from his face. He frowns and bats her hand away. "Oy!"
"You're glazing over," she informs him. He levels a stern I am your superior glare at her, which she completely ignores. She's learning fast, this one. "Seriously, sir. You alright? You've been thinking awfully hard all week."
"Have I?" He looks back on the last few days and realizes she's right. He's not just tired, he's processing something, waiting for bits and pieces to come together to form a whole. It's an old mental tool that he's come to rely on for cases, but they don't have one on right now. "Wonder what that's about," he murmurs.
Hopkins raises an eyebrow at him, which is an expression he's becoming familiar with. She usually brings it out when she can't decide whether to be amused or concerned about his personal life choices. Lestrade balls up his napkin and throws it at her, which makes her laugh, and he doesn't think much more about it for the rest of the day.
Lestrade wakes up like a shot. He sits bolt upright and stares into the dark of his bedroom as his brain finally, finally catches up with everything it's been churning with since May. Things fall into a string in his head, one after the other. The red numbers glowing on his alarm clock tell him that it's 2:30am on Tuesday, August 29th . He heaves himself out of bed and scrambles for his mobile. As soon as he finds it he makes a break for his desk, where he digs out the letter from Sherlock. He brings both of them to the table with him and slaps a light on before he stands there staring down at them. Only then, with the lights on and with the evidence in front of him, does he let himself take a careful breath and think through it all again. He picks up his mobile, feels the weight of it in his palm. He pages through his contact history and thanks heaven that he hardly gets any texts these days.
On May 20th, Lestrade received the text that sent him to Bart's at 3:48pm.
He knows that Sherlock jumped at 3:46pm, because he was there for John's witness account.
Up until a few minutes ago, Lestrade has been under the impression that the text was from Mycroft, because it's signed with his initials, and his number is always blocked. Also, he used the S.E. shorthand, which only the two of them know. At least, he's always assumed that no one else knows.
Go to St. Bart's immediately.
Mycroft never texts if he can talk. Though he would have been busy that day, certainly. Any normal human being would have texted.
No Holmes has ever been a normal human being.
John will need you.
Sherlock didn't leave Mycroft anything in the will. He somehow managed to leave this note for Lestrade, though, in a place his brother didn't expect to find it, at some time when Mycroft didn't catch him doing it.
Lestrade sits down at the table very, very slowly. He's afraid his thoughts will break apart and dissolve like fragile slivers of a dream. His head is made of glass. He reaches out to smooth the letter open and reads it again, all five words of it.
It isn't enough evidence to prove anything, of course, not if that's all he has. It's a shaky case, but Greg Lestrade has learned a thing or two by now, and he knows. A text message sent two minutes after a suicide, no actual proof of authorship besides Sherlock. Emergency. A letter he never expected to receive, and that Mycroft never expected to give. A letter, Lestrade is beginning to suspect, that was penned sometime on the morning of May 20th when Sherlock knew for certain that Lestrade would do something worth saying thanks for.
John will need you.
They'll believe it because there's just enough truth for them to swallow the lie.
Sherlock Holmes is no killer. But he's always been a liar.
They never saw the body.
Obvious. Do try to keep up, Inspector.
Lestrade feels a smile crack his face, even as the rest of him is descending into a numb kind of shock. Because he knows, deep down in his bones where things are right or wrong, that he is absolutely right, and he was never meant to figure this out.
He's not Sherlock Holmes. Turns out he never had to be.
Lestrade reaches out his hands for support; one comes to rest on Sherlock's letter, and the other on his mobile.
"He's alive," he whispers.
The words feel strange on his tongue; they're so quiet that they're swallowed by the sounds of his breath heaving in his chest, his heart pounding thud-thud in his sternum and his wrists. For a long moment, he just breathes, and he feels the world reorder quietly around him.
On the other side of the morgue, where the lights are dimmed, there is a body on a slab. It is draped in a white sheet, anonymous and still. It looks like a statue, almost, some kind of abandoned monument to a king, left to wait forever for a carved-in face. Just an object, now, a symbol, no person present.
Lestrade closes his eyes and fights to breathe.
"Sherlock's alive," he says again.
The phone rings in his hand.
Author's Note: The title comes from the first stanza of Pablo Neruda's poem, "Don't Go Far Off":
"Don't go far off, not even for a day, because -
because - I don't know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep."
Thank you for your reading time! As always, it's a great honor and a pleasure to have your attention. Feel free to drop a line and tell me your thoughts and opinions, good or bad. The nonlinear aspect of this was tricky, and I'd appreciate your views on how it went over. Cheers!