Author: Rusty Armour
Characters: Lestrade, John, Sherlock, Donovan
Category: General, friendship, angst, hurt/comfort
Word Count: 4,056
Summary: The fall had been inevitable, but Lestrade hadn’t expected anyone to catch him when it happened.
Spoilers: Sherlock in general, I suppose.
Notes: This story was written for fengirl88 to celebrate her LJ’s first birthday, though the fic is incredibly late. It’s also not quite what I promised. I was supposed to write John/Lestrade slash. In fact, I had the whole thing mapped out in my head and had even done a bit of research on civil partnership (for a Lestrade backstory). Then, one Saturday morning, I was lying in bed when this one image flashed inside my head and started forming into an idea. That idea coalesced with some other ideas I’d been toying with, so I ended up with one idea and one story. It was a story that refused to leave me alone, and I knew I had to write it. I explained the situation to fengirl88, asking her how upset she would be if the promised story wasn’t slash, but a John/Lestrade friendship fic of the angst and hurt/comfort variety. Fortunately, she said she would be happy with any John/Lestrade story. I hope she still feels the same way after reading this.
I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to grassle for the EXCELLENT Britpick and beta. She really helped me a lot.
Disclaimer: With great power comes great responsibility. Thankfully, I have neither. Sherlock and its characters are owned by other people, though I feel fortunate to have been allowed to play in this wonderful sandbox.
Just seventeen more steps. Seventeen more steps and he might finally have justice. Seventeen more steps and Tina might finally rest in peace. Seventeen more steps and this might finally be over. Never had seventeen steps seemed like such an obstacle.
Lestrade wrapped his hand around the banister and hauled himself up the stairs. It was a journey that normally took seconds, but his legs felt like jelly and his feet were as heavy as lead.
When Lestrade reached the top of the stairs, he found the door to 221B open. Sherlock was draped across the sofa in his dressing gown. He didn’t budge, didn’t even open his eyes, as Lestrade entered the flat. For a moment, Lestrade wondered if Sherlock was asleep, but then Sherlock addressed him. “What do you want, Lestrade? It can’t be that urgent if you stopped at a pub first.”
It hadn’t been a pub, but John walked out of the kitchen before Lestrade could correct Sherlock. He stopped dead when he saw Lestrade. “Are you okay?”
Sherlock’s eyes flew open and he sat up. “What’s happened?”
Lestrade reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. He managed to pass it to Sherlock with a steady hand. “I’m calling in a favour.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “A favour? What favour would this be?” He opened the sheet of paper and read what was written on it. “IOU. Sherlock Holmes.” He snorted. “It’s a forgery.” He tried to thrust the piece of paper back at Lestrade, but John snatched it from him.
“It looks genuine to me,” John said.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were a handwriting expert.”
“You obviously aren’t if you can’t recognize your own signature.” Lestrade’s hands were shoved deep in his coat pockets and he wasn’t meeting Sherlock’s eyes.
Sherlock popped up from the sofa and took the IOU from John. “Was I high when I wrote this?”
Lestrade glanced quickly at the piece of paper. “No. Well, not exactly. You…you were coming down. Had come down. Mostly.”
“Oh!” Sherlock clapped his hands, crushing the IOU between his palms. “I was hunched over your toilet half the night, and you sat with me. Then you gave me some peppermint tea and put me to bed.”
In my bed, Lestrade thought. He had slept on the sofa and woke to find that piece of paper lying on his chest. It had been the first time since Tina’s disappearance that he’d been able to believe in salvation.
“When was this?” John asked.
Lestrade’s mind snapped back to the present again. “Four or five years ago.”
John shook his head in amazement. “You kept it all this time and didn’t try to collect?”
“I was saving it for something important,” Lestrade said.
John frowned, his eyes falling on Sherlock. “That’s assuming Sherlock will honour it.”
Sherlock had smoothed out the crumpled IOU and was studying it carefully. “A rare instance of guilt and remorse, but I was mostly in my right mind when I wrote it, so, yes, John, I’ll honour the debt.”
The relief that swept through Lestrade was so powerful it almost bowled him over.
Sherlock must have read the change in Lestrade’s demeanour, for he said, “I don’t often make promises, Lestrade, but I always keep the ones I do make. Tell me what you want.”
Lestrade nodded and took a deep breath, uttering words he never thought he’d hear himself speak. “I want you to help Gregson with a case.”
“Gregson?” Sherlock cried, and Lestrade didn’t think he’d ever seen him look so shocked. “Gregson? I thought the favour was for you, that I’d be helping you with one of your cases.”
Lestrade gritted his teeth. “It is my case. Was my case. I-I pulled myself off it and asked Gregson to take over.” It hadn’t been voluntary, of course, but Lestrade had known he wouldn’t be allowed to lead the investigation, so he’d requested Gregson. He might not like her, but he still respected her. He knew she was damn good at her job.
Sherlock seemed baffled for once. “I don’t understand. Why would you take yourself off a case?”
“Sherlock.” John was focusing on Lestrade as if he were one of his patients, and Lestrade wondered what he had done to merit such concern. Then John touched his arm and Lestrade flinched. “Look, why don’t you sit down? I’ve got some whisky, if Sherlock hasn’t used it in an experiment.”
“I think Lestrade has had enough to drink,” Sherlock said, “though I was mistaken about the pub. He visited a friend or, perhaps, a relative, and they didn’t drink because it was a social occasion. No, there was another reason.”
Lestrade glared at Sherlock then turned his attention back to John. “Why?”
John crossed his arms. “I don’t like the look of you.”
“Well, you’re not exactly my type either, John,” Lestrade said.
John sighed. “Lestrade – ”
Sherlock jumped in before John could finish. “You’re pale and your hands are shaking. They started shaking shortly after you arrived. That’s why you hid them in your pockets.” He leaned forward eagerly. “What happened, Lestrade? Why are you no longer in charge of this investigation?”
Lestrade swallowed around the lump in his throat. “Conflict of interest.”
“Conflict of interest?” Sherlock stared at Lestrade for a second before the answer came to him. “You knew the victim.”
“I have to go,” Lestrade said. Sherlock was too close to the truth, and Lestrade didn’t want to be there when he worked it out. He had reached the door when Sherlock struck.
“It’s your wife, isn’t it? Her body’s finally been found.”
Lestrade just managed to grab the door frame as his legs threatened to give out.
“Jesus, Sherlock!” John placed one hand on Lestrade’s stiff shoulders and tried to pry his fingers off the door frame with the other. “Come on. It’s okay. You can let go now.”
Lestrade gripped even tighter. No, it wasn’t okay. He couldn’t let go. It was the only thing holding him upright. “Leave me alone. Please.”
John dropped his arm, but stayed close to Lestrade.
Lestrade slowly released his grip, peeling one finger away at a time. Then he was standing without any support, but he couldn’t move. He was frozen. And it wasn’t just his hands that were shaking: it was every part of him.
John tried to wrap an arm around Lestrade’s shoulders, but Lestrade shoved it off. He hadn’t slept well the night before, as if he’d somehow known what horrors he’d have to face the following day. Combined with the alcohol, shock and grief, the lack of sleep had stripped away Lestrade’s defences. Maybe that’s why he was caught off guard when John pulled him back inside the flat and wrapped his arms around him. Lestrade tried to fight John as he felt everything he’d been trying to contain rushing to the surface, threatening to burst out.
Christ, not here. Not in front of them.
“Let me help you, Greg.” John said. “Please.”
The seal broke and, clutching John’s shirt in one fist, Lestrade started crying, long drawn out sobs that seemed to wrack his entire body.
John guided Lestrade’s head to his shoulder and rubbed his back. “That’s it. Get it all out.”
If Lestrade had been able to speak, he would have warned John that it would probably take a while to “get it all out”. In fact, he didn’t know if he would ever be able to stop, if that seemingly endless reservoir of tears could possibly dry up with the amount of sorrow that was flooding through him.
From the vicinity of the sofa, Sherlock said, “I had no idea he was in so much pain.”
John stroked the back of Lestrade’s head. “Even with brilliant deductive skills, you can never be sure how much someone’s suffering, Sherlock.”
Lestrade wanted to protest. It was all wrong. Usually, he was the one comforting the bereaved friend, relative or spouse. He was the one holding a hand, patting a shoulder, or embracing someone as they poured out their grief. He was a DI, for God’s sake. It had originally been his investigation.
Lestrade didn’t realize he’d stopped crying, or that his legs were buckling under him, until he heard John shout for Sherlock.
“I’ve got him.” Sherlock had his arms around Lestrade’s waist and was supporting him from behind.
Lestrade jolted awake and broke free of Sherlock’s arms. “I’m okay.”
“Of course you are,” Sherlock said, but one of his arms returned to Lestrade’s waist as he guided Lestrade to the sofa. Lestrade was barely seated when Sherlock began stripping off his coat, and John knelt down to unlace his shoes.
“What are you doing?”
Sherlock pushed Lestrade on his side, lifting his feet off the floor, while John slipped a cushion under Lestrade’s head.
“No, I have to…I need to – ”
“Shh…” John sat on the edge of the sofa and began rubbing Lestrade’s back again. “The only thing you need right now is sleep.”
Lestrade closed his eyes, though he told himself that it was to avoid seeing the look of pity on John’s face. He certainly had no intention of sleeping.
Lestrade was just drifting off when he heard Sherlock say, “He didn’t have to keep that ridiculous IOU all this time. He could have simply asked for help.”
John’s response was hushed, almost a whisper. “Maybe he was afraid you wouldn’t help him if the case wasn’t unique or interesting, though I suspect it was pride holding him back more than anything.”
“He’s never had trouble asking for help before tonight.”
“That’s because he was always asking for other people. This time, he was asking for himself.”
Lestrade woke to the sound of voices. Disoriented, he opened his eyes and found that he’d spent the entire night on the sofa at 221B Baker Street. Lestrade tossed aside his blanket and sat up.
The voices were coming from the kitchen. Assuming it was Sherlock and John, Lestrade was about to remind them of his presence when he noticed that one of the voices belonged to Donovan. Unable to face his sergeant, Lestrade stayed silent and still.
After about a minute, Lestrade realized Sherlock was absent from the conversation – and not just from the lack of shouting and insults. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop, he really didn’t, but it was a small flat with surprisingly good acoustics.
“She was a DS, like me, only she was in the Fraud Squad,” Donovan said. “She was part of a money laundering investigation when she disappeared.”
“Did he really see her, see the-the body, I mean?” John asked.
Donovan’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Yeah. Yeah, he did.” She cleared her throat. “Sorry. It’s just that – ”
“I know. It’s okay.”
Lestrade could imagine the compassion in John’s eyes, imagine him clasping Donovan’s shoulder or holding her hand.
Donovan must have gained strength from whatever form of comfort John provided because she seemed more herself when she spoke again. “He didn’t say anything. Not to any of us. He just announced that he was no longer on the case and left.”
“He was probably in shock,” John said. “He was definitely in a bad way when he came here.”
Donovan’s voice rose. “Yeah, but not to say a word, one bloody word…I only found out afterwards what happened when he saw the body. Anderson says he went as white as a sheet and looked as if he was going to pass out.”
“I’m amazed he didn’t pass out.”
Sally laughed sharply. “Oh, not that one. He’s too stubborn and bloody-minded for that.”
John laughed as well. “You’re not going to like this, but that sounds a lot like someone else we both know.”
“God, you’re right,” Donovan said. “No wonder the boss is able to put up with him.”
“From what I’ve heard, Lestrade is the only one who is willing to put up with him.”
Lestrade waited for Donovan to agree wholeheartedly with John, so he was surprised when she contradicted him.
“No, that’s not true. Gregson says she’s asked the freak to work with her a few times, but he’s always turned her down.”
“What? You’re joking? Well, it must have been the cases themselves. Sherlock mustn’t have found them interesting.”
“It wasn’t the cases, John. Gregson seems to think that he wasn’t interested in working with her because she wasn’t Lestrade. This is the first time Sherlock has volunteered to work with her – and that’s only because Lestrade asked him to.”
Lestrade clutched the arm of the sofa and squeezed his eyes shut as he felt them begin to fill with tears. Donovan had to be mistaken. What she was describing sounded a lot like loyalty, perhaps even friendship, but their relationship wasn’t like that, was it?
“Well, I don’t care why the freak’s helping her. I’m just bloody grateful he is.”
Lestrade’s eyes flew open. Come again?
“Yeah, you heard that right, but if you ever tell the freak I said so – ”
“No, no, I won’t say a word.”
“Okay, good. That’s-that’s good.”
Lestrade frowned. He knew that tone. Despite John’s promise, Donovan sounded unhappy.
“What’s the matter, Sally? Besides everything that’s going on already, that is.”
“Gregson wants me on her team.”
“Well, that’s good, isn’t it? You want to help him.”
“Yeah, but what if I can’t help him?” Donovan asked. “What if we can’t solve the case? What if we never know what happened? How would I ever be able to work with him again? How would I ever face him?”
“Sally.” The word was out of Lestrade’s mouth before he could stop it. He heard two chairs scraping across the kitchen floor, and then John and Donovan were stumbling into the living room.
Donovan marched to the sofa and stood over Lestrade, her hands on her hips. “How long have you been awake?”
Lestrade ran a hand across his face. “Long enough.”
Donovan sagged as if she’d been deflated.
Lestrade took Donovan’s wrist and pulled her down beside him. “You’re my DS. I need you on this case.”
“But-but she’s your wife, sir,” Donovan whispered.
“I trust few people as much as I trust you – you and Sherlock. That’s why I need you both there.” Lestrade’s grip on Donovan’s wrist tightened. “It has to be you. It can’t be anyone else.”
Donovan’s eyes flooded with tears. “But what if – ”
“You won’t fail me,” Lestrade said. “You never have and you never will. Just do your job. It’s enough, Sally.”
Donovan bit her lip and nodded. “Yes, sir.” She kissed Lestrade’s cheek. “Let me know if you need anything.” Donovan stood and locked eyes with John. “You’ll look after him, won’t you?”
John smiled. “Of course, Sally.”
Donovan took one last look at Lestrade then walked out the door. Lestrade waited until he heard Sally’s heels on the stairs before turning to John. “I could really do with a fag. Does Sherlock have any?”
John frowned. “I thought you’d quit.”
Lestrade leaned back and crossed his arms. “Why? Have you become a spokesperson for the British Lung Foundation?”
“Sherlock probably has some nicotine patches lying around,” John said. “I’ll fetch one for you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Lestrade rose from the sofa and glanced around the room for his shoes and coat.
“Where are you going?” John asked.
“I’m getting out of your hair,” Lestrade said. “Thanks for…for everything.” He scooped up his shoes from under the coffee table and slipped them on his feet. When he looked up, John had his coat. Lestrade held out his hand, but John didn’t pass it to him.
“I don’t think you should be alone right now.”
Lestrade felt his jaw clench. “I know I…fell apart last night, but I’m okay now.”
John shook his head. “No, you’re not. You’re anything but okay.”
Temper flaring, Lestrade tried to grab his coat, but John kept it out of reach. “I have to go to work, John,” he growled.
“Nice try,” John said, “but I know you’re on compassionate leave. Sally made that abundantly clear.”
Lestrade made a half-hearted swipe at his coat as John dodged around the armchair with the Union Jack cushion. Lestrade’s eyes narrowed. “I could arrest you.”
“For nicking your coat?” John asked. “That would just be embarrassing. I mean, it’s up to you, of course, but wouldn’t you rather go for a walk? It’s a lovely day. We could stop at Speedy’s for breakfast.”
Lestrade stared at John, confused. “A walk? Speedy’s? But don’t you have a job to go to?”
“Nope,” John said. “I took the day off.”
“I never thought I’d say this, but I feel sorry for Sherlock.” Lestrade sighed. “If I do this will you get off my back? Will you leave me alone?”
John nodded. “Certainly.”
“When I agreed to this walk, I assumed it would eventually end,” Lestrade said.
John’s eyes drifted from the lake to Lestrade. “Ah. That was your first mistake.”
Lestrade scowled. “No, my first mistake was going to Baker Street in the first place.”
“You don’t mean that,” John said.
“No, God help me, I don’t.” Lestrade shared some leftover crumbs from his lunch with the squirrel that had planted a paw on his shoe. They were sitting in Regent’s Park with two coffee cups and sandwich wrappers on the bench between them.
John’s eyes returned to a group of ducks. “May I ask you something?”
Lestrade threw some more crumbs down at the squirrel. “You can ask, but I won’t promise to answer.”
“Fair enough,” John said, though he hesitated for a moment before speaking. “Why didn’t you ask for Sherlock’s help sooner?”
“I didn’t have to. When we first met, he deduced I was a widower, which, as it turns out, was the truth, but, at the time, it was obviously a bit more complicated than that.” Lestrade took a long sip of coffee, collecting both his thoughts and his emotions. “When Sherlock realized his mistake, he stole the case file and investigated Tina’s disappearance himself, hoping to prove how clever he was, but Tina had been gone for more than a year at that point, and there was literally no trace of her – not even for the great Sherlock Holmes.” Lestrade knew how bitter he sounded, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
“London’s a big city. Even Sherlock can’t cover all of it.” John draped one arm over the back of the bench, shifting a little closer to Lestrade. “You still let him work with you, despite everything that happened.”
“Of course,” Lestrade said. “The kid was a genius. I would have been a fool not to.”
John became quiet after that, but Lestrade knew it wouldn’t last. John was a doctor. He needed to fix people. Lestrade assumed that was the reason why John had been drawn to a damaged copper when he could have been tearing across London with his best friend. Lestrade steeled himself for the inevitable.
A few minutes later, John said, “Is there anywhere you need to go? Anyone you need to see?”
Lestrade managed not to cringe. “Gregson’s probably going to want to talk to me before the end of the day, but there shouldn’t be anything else. I made a formal identification of…of the body yesterday and went to see Tina’s father before heading to Baker Street.”
Understanding dawned on John’s face, and Lestrade knew John was remembering the state his guest had been in the night before. “What about your side of the family?”
Lestrade closed his eyes. There was his mum. He needed to call her, but he wasn’t ready yet. She’d cry, make a big fuss, and then insist on coming to London. Well, at least she wouldn’t hit him with the same barrage of questions his father-in-law had thrown at him. Don had wanted to know if Tina had been alone when she died, if she’d suffered: questions Lestrade hadn’t possessed the answers to himself.
“Oh, hell.” Lestrade wiped a tear from his cheek. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I keep…I knew she was dead. I’ve known for years.”
John laid a hand on Lestrade’s shoulder. “Yes, but had you accepted it?”
Lestrade’s forehead creased. “I-I don’t know. I thought I had.”
“All right,” John said, “Let me put it another way. Did you grieve? I mean, did you really mourn her death?”
Lestrade remembered the way he had thrown himself into his work, thrown himself into other cases – that he’d done anything and everything he could to prevent himself from thinking about Tina. It had been how he’d coped or, rather, hadn’t coped. “No. No, I suppose I didn’t.”
John smiled sadly at Lestrade. “Well, that’s what you’re doing now. You’re going through the grieving process. It’s a good thing. It’s healthy.”
The damn sympathy was back. It was in John’s eyes, his voice, his whole manner. Lestrade couldn’t help being irritated by it. “And what makes you such an expert on the subject?”
“Because I’m a doctor and a soldier,” John said. “I’ve been in Afghanistan. I’ve seen more death than possibly even you could imagine – and I say that knowing what you do for a living.”
Lestrade bowed his head. Well, that had put him in his place – and rightfully so. “Sorry.”
“Forget it.” John squeezed Lestrade’s shoulder. “I’m not surprised you never mourned her death properly. You didn’t have closure before yesterday.”
Lestrade nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. I’ve seen it before with the families of murder victims.”
John sighed. “You’ve been carrying the weight of it for years, Greg. You have to release it.”
Lestrade brushed away another tear. “I’m not sure if I can. I’m not even sure if I know how to.”
“Well, I can help you with that – if you’ll let me,” John said.
Lestrade shook his head and looked away. “You shouldn’t have to. It’s not your job.”
“My job? What the hell is that supposed to mean?” John sounded angry as well as confused. “Oh, no. You don’t seriously believe…You think I’m here because Sherlock asked me to – ”
“No, not at all,” Lestrade said. “You’re here because you feel sorry for me and think it’s your job to help me.”
John’s fingers were digging into Lestrade’s shoulder. “I’m here because you’re my friend.”
“I’m not your friend,” Lestrade snapped. “Sherlock is. You wouldn’t have even met me if it weren’t for him. And this so-called friendship you’re referring to has been cases. Work, John.”
John couldn’t quite hide the hurt expression on his face. “Okay, maybe we aren’t friends, but I thought we were at least heading in that direction. I know I’d like to be your friend.”
John sounded completely sincere, but Lestrade couldn’t help questioning the timing of this declaration. Why now? he thought.
“Maybe when all of this is over,” Lestrade said. When everything isn’t so one-sided, when I can actually offer you something in return.
Somehow, John managed to hear what hadn’t been spoken. “That’s not how friendship works, Greg. There isn’t some invisible tally on who owes what.” He groaned when Lestrade frowned and still didn’t seem convinced. “Look, I don’t want anything from you – nothing beyond an ally against Sherlock when he’s being a prat and a mate who might join me for a drink down the pub.”
Lestrade wasn’t sure what had changed in that instant, but, before he knew it was happening, he found himself saying, “I like football. We could go some night when a match is on, or you could come round to mine.”
John’s mouth fell open in surprise, but he quickly recovered. “Yeah, I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.”
“Okay. Good.” Lestrade stood up, gathering their rubbish off the bench. “I want to go to the zoo. I’ve never been, but I was told that one of the penguins looks like Sherlock.”
John grinned. “Was it Donovan or Anderson who told you that?”
Lestrade tossed the litter in the nearest bin. “Donovan. She went last weekend with her niece.”
“Right,” John said. “This I have to see.”
Lestrade smiled and felt a bit of the weight lifting from him.