Having a professional title like "Detective Inspector", and a badge to flash, was incredibly handy at times. Nobody at the hospital was otherwise prepared to tell Lestrade anything, since he was not John's next of kin. He left Sherlock in the waiting room to make enquiries; on seeing him finally return, Sherlock scrambled to his feet.
"What's going on?" he blurted out. "Is John all right?"
Lestrade decided to bypass that question. "Sherlock," he said, "I want you to come outside with me."
"What…? Why? I asked you -"
"He's in surgery, and they won't tell me anything else, except that he's alive. Come outside with me. Now. We need to talk."
The hospital being designed roughly like a rabbit warren, it was a long time before they found the little courtyard garden to the west of the front doors. Garden was the wrong word to describe the place, though. You couldn't call several anaemic looking saplings in wire cages and a few weeds invading the path a garden. Lestrade said nothing on the way there. Sherlock trailed behind obediently until they reached a green-painted park bench. The only other person in sight was a nurse on her phone in the far corner of the courtyard.
His role in John's crisis being over, Lestrade's shock was now setting in. He groped around for the backrest of the park bench, tapping along it with his fingers like a blind man before he sank down. Sherlock, unasked, handed over a cigarette and lighter. After watching Lestrade make four failed attempts to get his shaking hands to light up, he lit up himself and passed the cigarette along to him. Lestrade put the unlit one in his wallet.
The last cigarette he'd had was the day before the pink-clad body of Jennifer Wilson had been found in Brixton.
Sherlock lit another cigarette for himself. He did not sit down, however. Lestrade burned through the first cigarette and was halfway through the second before Sherlock broke the silence.
"Lestrade," he said. "I know how this looks. I need you to understand that I had reasons for this."
"Reasons that I can't explain right now..."
Silence reigned for a few minutes.
"So I'm curious." Lestrade coughed a little. "What's it like to attend your own funeral?"
"I don't know…" Sherlock faltered, confused and clearly wondering if this was a trick question. "I didn't go to my funeral."
Lestrade looked up at him. "Yeah? Well, I fucking did!"
"I had reasons -"
Okay had never sounded more like shut up before. More silence; even Sherlock was vanquished for once. Lestrade finished his cigarette and ground the butt under his heel, completely ignoring the ashtray two feet to his left. He stood up as if to leave, and Sherlock lit up another cigarette.
And that was when Lestrade hit him.
An awkward punch, but a powerful one; it hit Sherlock between the nose and mouth. He'd not been prepared for it, and fell sprawling onto the grass. A choking, gurgling noise; then he raised himself on his palms, and suddenly spat out two teeth and a mouthful of dark blood.
The second the punch had connected, Lestrade's anger had flared up and then almost burned itself out. He looked at his hand, covered in his own blood and, he suspected, Sherlock's. Despite the sting in his knuckles, he felt almost… as if that hand didn't belong to him, or at least, that it had a mind of its own.
Sherlock wasn't getting up. Blood streamed from his nose and mouth onto the grass; he glanced up at Lestrade.
Lestrade had never seen a grown man so pathetically submissive in his life. He was no longer looking at a well-built, capable boxer and martial artist who was fifteen years his junior, and who could probably floor him right back if he had a mind to. He was looking at a sickly ten-year-old who was cowering because he knew that making eye contact was only going to make it worse.
"I wish I could be sorry about that, Sherlock," he said in a low voice. "But I can't right now. Because right now, I have to call Molly to tell her that her baby might not have a father."
Sherlock, blood still streaming from his nose and mouth, looked up at him again. Sudden, awful comprehension was dawning on his face.
"Yeah," Lestrade snapped. "Turns out you don't know everything after all. Imagine that."
"You will stay right out of this. Leave Molly alone. I mean it. If you want to do something useful, find out what's happening with your brother."
Mycroft had been arrested, and gone quietly. The last they'd seen of him was as he was awaiting a squad car back at the power station. So far as Lestrade was aware, Mycroft was going to be spending that night in a holding cell.
Lestrade stalked back inside to make his phone call; there was one he needed to make before he called Molly, however. He had, in his years on the force, made dozens of house calls to relay bad news. Sometimes, it was the worst news of all. And on all of those occasions, he'd had a female officer beside him at the time. Sometimes it was Donovan, sometimes Jones or even Lucy Parnell… but it was always one of them. If that kind of protocol was good for Scotland Yard's homicide squad, it was all right for him, too.
But he couldn't ask Donovan this time. God, not Sally Donovan.
Melissa Brennan was well known for being incapable of finding her ringing mobile in the vast inventory inside her handbag; this time, however, she answered on the fourth ring. "Greg." She sounded relaxed. "We'll be home soon, and nobody's credit record has been ruined today."
"Mel, listen," he said in a low voice. "Something's happened. Could you please come out to Chelsea and Westminster hospital, as soon as you can get here?"
A short silence on the other end. "Greg, are you okay?"
"It's not me. John Watson's been shot."
"He's been what? How the f-"
"And I need some help, please. Molly doesn't know yet. I'm not expecting her to take it well, and there's a kid on the way."
"... Oh, God, really?"
"Yeah. I think she might need a… woman friend around for this one, you know?"
It was a bit of a sad thing, Lestrade suddenly reflected to himself, that Melissa was what passed for one of Molly's closest female friends, even though the two women didn't really know each other well. But the only alternative "woman friends" to Melissa were Mrs Hudson and Harry. And Lestrade had a feeling that neither of them were going to be in any state to lend emotional support to Molly.
Melissa was still clearly trying to piece together what was going on, and the results were not eloquent. "But… is… John's going to be all right though… yes?"
"I don't know. Probably won't know for a while - he's still in surgery." Lestrade paused again. "Mel, do you remember me telling you about Sherlock Holmes? Well, it... it turns out he didn't commit suicide after all. He's here at the hospital with me."
"… Are you sure you're okay, Greg?"
"Oh for God's sake, I haven't lost the plot or anything," he snapped down the line. "I'm okay, and he's here, and he's definitely flesh and blood. I have no idea how he's here but frankly, he's the least of my problems right now."
"Okay," Melissa sounded placating, which was only the more annoying; Lestrade rarely saw her while she was working, but he had an idea that this was the tone of voice she used when dealing with the real nutters. "Okay, listen. I'm coming," she said. "Do you want me to bring anything?"
"Some fresh clothes. I'm…" covered in blood… "I need a change of clothes. Um. I've got to call Julie and let her know, too."
As much as Molly adored her husband, she had been single for over thirty years before marrying him. Alone-time was never a problem for her. Although alone was these days a rather odd choice of expression, and only applied if you factored out three cats. None of them seemed to sleep as much as cats were apparently meant to. Toby had just that morning decided to teach Casper the fine art of hunting - hunting Christmas ornaments hanging off the tree, that was - and all three seemed to believe that the wrapping paper Molly had brought out was not for wrapping presents in at all. No, it was for playing in and sitting on.
Molly had always enjoyed Christmas, even those Christmases when she had had little or nothing to really celebrate. She and her dad had made a lot of the season - for years, Christmas had just been the two of them together, having a marvellous time of it. She and John were planning on spending this year at Harry's again, but there was an element of "just us two"- their first Christmas as a married couple, and, Molly reflected as she wrapped presents and tried to shuffle Toby off the wrapping paper without offending him, it would be their last Christmas as a two-person family. Next Christmas, she'd be wrapping toys and baby clothes.
Happy thoughts - thoughts she was fighting monumentally to keep at the forefront of her mind. Because behind those thoughts, behind the prospect of Christmas and kittens and babies, she felt sick.
If John ever found out that Sherlock… well. That would be the end of things. John would never forgive her.
But he couldn't find out that Sherlock was still alive, she told herself. How could he? Both Holmes brothers had disappeared off the face of the earth. It had been fourteen months since she'd been out to Linwood and found it locked up and abandoned.
They said Mycroft had been transferred out somewhere - something to do with his work. But Mycroft's work was always shrouded in utmost secrecy, and in this case that included its location. Mycroft could be anywhere from Delhi to Auckland, for all Molly knew. And as for Sherlock - she couldn't even begin to enquire where Sherlock was these days. Because Sherlock was supposed to be six feet under.
And who knew? Maybe he was, now.
John would come back from Greg's, defeated and frustrated and probably not keen on talking it out, but he surely wouldn't come back knowing any more about Sherlock Holmes than he had when he'd left...
Toby nudged her fingers with his warm, leathery nose, as if to give her the hint that she'd been staring into space for quite long enough now and should get on to more useful things. She scrunched an offcut scrap of paper up into a ball and threw it, watching Toby gleefully scamper after it. Casper, meanwhile, was looking at it blankly, as if to wonder what on earth she was throwing paper around for.
She had reached out for the roll of paper again when she heard the high little trill of her phone.
Molly, like Melissa, rarely knew exactly where her mobile phone was at any given moment. From the sounds of things it was in her handbag this time, and her handbag was sitting on the kitchen counter. She got up with difficulty, nearly tripping over Smudge, and clambered over to the bench, burrowing through her bag and fishing the phone out just in time.
"Oh, hello," she said, having recognised Lestrade in advance from his Caller ID.
There was a slight pause on the other end. "Hi, it's… er, it's me…"
"Hi, Greg. Is John with you?" she asked, a little intrepidly. It was certainly Greg on the line, but she rarely heard him sound so... hesitant. "I know he was on his way out to see you, but that was hours ago…"
"Molly, um. Listen. Yes, he's with me… sort of… I - I need you to come out to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital as quickly as you can get here. Please."
Molly swallowed down something that felt like a razor blade. "Is - everything all right?"
"We'll talk when you get here. I'll meet you at the entrance. I may - er - may look a bit of a mess, but I don't want you to panic, okay?"
"Greg, what's happened?"
"We'll talk about it when you get here," he repeated. "I don't…" He trailed off, but Molly knew him too well; she was able to fill in the gap. I don't want to tell you this over the phone.
There was another long pause.
"All right," she said finally. "I'm coming. Greg, please, tell me one thing. Can you tell me one thing?"
"I can't promise that. But I can try."
"Is John alive?"
Molly cleared her throat. "His blood type is O positive," she said in a matter-of-fact way. "No known allergies. Relevant medical history is in his wallet, if you have it there with you…"
"We'll sort that bit out; don't worry about that. Just get a cab here as soon as you can. You… might want to bring yourself a change of clothes as well… toothbrush… stuff like that."
Another razor blade that she couldn't quite swallow down. "All right," she said at last.
"Good girl. It'll be okay, Molly."
Lestrade disconnected the call, feeling like the world's most heinous liar. There wasn't time to reflect on anything else, though; a voice broke into his thoughts.
Hayley Lestrade hadn't called her father Daddy in years. She and Melissa had just rounded the corner into the corridor; she'd caught sight of him and darted forward, despite Melissa's attempt to stop her.
"Hayley," she tried. "Your dad is-"
Hayley registered soaked in blood before Melissa could point this out; she stopped just short of launching herself at him and covered her mouth in horror.
"Dad…?" she ventured in a small voice.
"It's not me, Peanut, I'm all right." Beyond that one glimpse of himself in the ambulance rear-vision mirror, Lestrade had no idea about the true extent of how bad he looked; his daughter's reaction was quite enough, though. Melissa had faithfully brought him an overnight bag with a change of clothes in it. She laid it down at his feet and then leaned over to kiss him, finding a small unstained spot on his forehead for it.
"What's happening?" she asked gently.
"Molly's on her way." Lestrade did not, for one second, imagine that Melissa was referring to anything or anybody else. "I haven't explained it all yet. I don't know how John is..."
Lestrade frowned, confused. "What about Sherlock?"
"Well, wasn't - isn't - John a close friend of his? How's he taking all of this?"
Lestrade struggled with this for a few seconds. "I don't really know," he finally said. "I left him outside. But I suppose he's taking it okay. He doesn't... feel things the way normal people do."
Melissa glanced down at his skinned knuckles.
"Don't, Mel." Lestrade got up unsteadily, picking up the overnight bag. "I'm going to have a shower," he announced, "as soon as I can find someone who can tell me if they want to bag this for evidence or not. The last thing Molly's going to want to see when she gets here is… all this."
He turned both ways, trying to work out which direction to go. As he looked up the corridor to the west and toward the lifts, he caught a glimpse of Sherlock. At that distance he still looked dark and imposing, though close up he was almost as bloodstained and dishevelled as Lestrade himself was. He was hovering just around the corner, vigilant and still. Lestrade had never seen the man look so alone before.